Dissociative Disorders

Dissociative disorders are mental health conditions characterized by disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, environment, behaviors, and identity. People with dissociative disorders flee reality in unhealthy, involuntary ways that interfere with their ability to function in daily life.

A dissociative disorder can affect individuals of all ages, races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic situations. Typically, dissociative disorders emerge as a response to trauma and serve to repress painful memories. This condition generally affects children who grow up experiencing long-term physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. It can also affect individuals who lived through natural disasters and war.

Types of Dissociative Disorders

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there are three types of dissociative disorders:

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) – Previously known as multiple personality disorder or split personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder is a rare psychiatric condition that affects nearly 1.5% of the world’s population. Individuals with DID have two or more distinct identities. These personalities influence their behaviors at various times. Each identity has its own history, characteristics, and interests. Dissociative identity disorder is a severe form of dissociation, a mental process that results in the disconnection of a person’s thoughts, memories, emotions, behaviors, and sense of self.

Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder

Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder – is characterized by a persistent or episodic feeling of detachment or being outside of oneself – viewing one’s behaviors, emotions, thoughts, and self as if watching a movie (depersonalization). People and objects around you may feel distant, hazy, or dreamy; time may seem slowed or accelerated, and the world may appear surreal (derealization). You could either feel detached from yourself, reality, or both. These distressing experiences may only last a few minutes or come and go over the course of years.

Dissociative Amnesia

Dissociative Amnesia – The primary symptom is a loss of memory that is both persistent and difficult to explain medically. You have lost all memory of yourself, recent events, and the people in your life, especially those that may have caused you distress. Dissociative amnesia might be limited to recent experiences, such as trauma or abuse, or it can be more extreme and cause you to forget everything about yourself. Amnestic episodes typically begin abruptly and can persist for a few minutes, a few days, or even months or years.

Signs and Symptoms

Depending on the specific dissociative disorder, people may exhibit any number of signs and symptoms, including but not limited to the following:

  • Substantial memory loss of specific times, people, places, and even personal information
  • Out-of-body experiences, such as feeling detached from oneself
  • Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation
  • A feeling of emotional detachment or emotional numbness
  • Losing your sense of reality
  • Confused feelings about who you are

Diagnostic criteria for dissociative identity disorder include the presence of the following symptoms:

  • Coexistence of two or more separate identities accompanied by distinct personalities, memory, and thought process.
  • Memory loss despite repeated attempts to recall common experiences, personal details, or traumatic experiences.
  • Significantly distressing or problematic symptoms in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning.

Individuals with dissociative disorders are at increased risk for complications and co-occurring disorders, including:

  • Self-injury and self-harm
  • Suicidal ideations and behaviors
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Substance use disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression and anxiety disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Physical manifestations such as dizziness or non-epileptic seizures

Diagnosis and Treatment

The diagnosis of dissociative disorders is based on an examination of the patient’s symptoms and medical history. A physician may conduct tests to rule out medical issues that can induce memory loss and a sensation of unreality (for example, head injury, brain lesions or tumors, sleep deprivation, or intoxication). When medical factors have been ruled out, a mental health professional is consulted for an evaluation.

Once a diagnosis is made and the specific dissociative disorder identified, the condition is treated through psychotherapies or medications, including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Medications such as antidepressants for treating related conditions

Turning Point Centers provide adults with the highest quality mental health care. Our compassionate clinicians offer individualized care to those battling mental health conditions through residential treatment, day treatment (PHP), and intensive outpatient programs.

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