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Dissociative Disorders

Introduction to Dissociative Disorders

Dissociative Disorders

Welcome to our Dissociative Disorders topic center. These conditions involve a person being separated from reality or feeling separate from their own body, thoughts, and behaviors. These symptoms can affect every part of their life.

Very mild forms are common in all people. This can include the feeling of 'spacing out' for a bit. Another example would be someone having the sensation of being separate from their thoughts as though they are an alien in their body.

More severe forms often happen after very stressful events such as war, death, abuse and other traumatic situation. There are three conditions in this category including:

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What are dissociative disorders?

  • These conditions involve a person being separated from reality or feeling separate from their own body, thoughts, and behaviors. These symptoms can affect every part of their life.
  • Very mild forms are common in all people. This can include the feeling of 'spacing out' for a bit. Another example would be someone having the sensation of being separate from their thoughts as though they are an alien in their body.
  • More severe forms often happen after very stressful events such as war, death, abuse and other traumatic situation.
  • There are three conditions in this category including:
    • Dissociative Amnesia - involves a loss of memory for personal information that happens because of traumatic events.
    • Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder - involves either or both of the following: 1) ongoing experiences of feeling like you are separate from your thoughts, feelings or body. You may feel emotionally or physically numb or like things that you are experiencing are not quite real/happening. 2) ongoing experiences where other people or objects around you don't feel real, seem distorted, or like they are in a dream/foggy state.
    • Dissociative Identity Disorder (often called multiple personality disorder in the past) - this condition often happens after traumatic events and/or abuse occurring as a child. The child separates themselves as a way of coping with the abuse or memories of it. This causes problems with the child's developing sense of self. Instead of a single self, it causes multiple personality pieces with different memories and identities.

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What is Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder?

  • Symptoms include:
    • Either one or both of the following happens:
      • Depersonalization - ongoing experiences of feeling like you are separate from your thoughts, feelings or body. You may feel emotionally or physically numb or like things that you are experiencing are not quite real/happening.
      • Derealization - ongoing experiences where other people or objects around you don't feel real, seem distorted, or like they are in a dream/foggy state.
    • During these episodes, the person knows who they are and where they are, but things just don't feel/seem quite right.
    • these issues cause stress in the person's life or trouble at work, in relationships with others, or other daily activities.
    • these issues aren't happening because of the effects of a substance (medication or drug of abuse).
    • there isn't another medical or mental health issue that explains the symptoms.
  • Occasional episodes that occur for hours or even days are fairly common in the general population. As many as 50% of all adults have experienced one of these states at least once in their life. Only about 2% meet all the criteria for this condition though.
  • People that try to avoid harm and have immature defenses, like acting out and not adapting well to stress or difficult situations are at risk for this condition.
  • Also, those that had trauma as a child is also at risk. This could include physical or emotional abuse or neglect, growing up with someone that is seriously ill (physically or mentally), the unexpected death of a parent or close family member, or witnessing domestic violence in the home.
  • The main treatment for this condition is psychotherapy. The therapist will help the person deal with what happened and understand the causes of the condition.
  • Stress management techniques will also be used to help the person handle the situation and to better cope with stressful situations that they face in the future. Once the person has learned coping skills, the therapist may then begin working with the person on the traumatic memories and experiences that came before the condition.

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What is Dissociative Amnesia?

  • This condition happens when someone is unable to recall important information that would normally be easily recalled, which is called amnesia. This includes information like name, home address, where they work or go to school, etc. This is not just simple forgetfulness.
  • This is not a common condition with only 1 or 2% of people suffering from it.
  • It has been seen in children, teens and adults. It is harder for a child to have the condition because their ability to remember information is not as good as in an adult, so figuring out if the condition is really the issue can be difficult.
  • Risk factors include exposure to traumatic experiences, either a single time or ongoing. This can include witnessing violence, being in a terrible accident, physical or sexual abuse, or being the victim of violence.
  • This can happen with other mental health conditions, including personality disorders.
  • The main treatment for this condition is psychotherapy where the therapist will help the person come to terms with what happened and understand the causes of the condition.
  • Stress management techniques will also be used to help the person handle the situation and to better cope with stressful situations that they face in the future.
  • Medication can be also used to treat symptoms such as anxiety, depression or trouble sleeping, but does not cure the overall condition.

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What is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)?

  • This condition used to be called multiple personality disorder.
  • Symptoms include:
    • a person's identity has two or more different personalities that exist separate from each other.
    • the person displays differences in thoughts, behaviors, personality, memory, and even different body behaviors (walking differently). This may be noticed by other people or the person may feel that someone else has taken control of their mind and body.
    • gaps in memory of day-to-day activities, personal identity information, or other important events. The different personalities often have their own names, life histories, experiences, thoughts and feelings. They may be a different gender. They may also have different medical issues. For example, one may need to wear glasses or contacts when the main person doesn't normally. They can also sound and even walk differently.
    • not being related to a cultural or religious practice.
    • not being caused by a medical condition, a substance (medication or drug of abuse) and in children, cannot be explained by an imaginary friend or other pretend play.
  • This condition only happens to about 1.5% of people. It can be seen at any age, including in children and teens.
  • This condition occurs after traumatic events, especially physical or sexual abuse as a child. As many of 90% of those with this condition experienced child abuse or neglect.
  • The main treatment for this condition is psychotherapy where the therapist will work with the person to united the various personalities into a single personality. This new single identity may keep parts that come from the others.
  • Medication can be used to treat specific symptoms. There is no medication that cures the overall condition. But usually medication is not used because of the different personality states.
  • There are also self-help support groups that have formed on the internet and within larger cities/areas.

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