EXPLAINING DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS

DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS: are so-called because they are marked by a dissociation from or interruption of a person’s fundamental aspects of waking consciousness (such as one’s personal identity, one’s personal history, etc.). Dissociative disorders come in many forms, the most famous of which is dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder). All of the dissociative disorders are thought to stem from trauma experienced by the individual with this disorder.  

The dissociative aspect is thought to be a coping mechanism — the person literally dissociates himself from a situation or experience too traumatic to integrate with his conscious self. Symptoms of these disorders, or even one or more of the disorders themselves, are also seen in a number of other mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

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Dissociative amnesia: This disorder is characterized by a blocking out of critical personal information, usually of a traumatic or stressful nature. Dissociative amnesia, unlike other types of amnesia, does not result from other medical trauma (e.g. a blow to the head).

Dissociative amnesia has several subtypes:

Localized amnesia is present in an individual who has no memory of specific events that took place, usually traumatic. The loss of memory is localized with a specific window of time. For example, a survivor of a car wreck who has no memory of the experience until two days later is experiencing localized amnesia.

Selective amnesia happens when a person can recall only small parts of events that took place in a defined period of time. For example, an abuse victim may recall only some parts of the series of events around the abuse.

Generalized amnesia is diagnosed when a person’s amnesia encompasses his or her entire life.

Systematized amnesia is characterized by a loss of memory for a specific category of information. A person with this disorder might, for example, be missing all memories about one specific family member.

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Dissociative fugue is a rare disorder. An individual with dissociative fugue suddenly and unexpectedly takes physical leave of his or her surroundings and sets off on a journey of some kind. These journeys can last hours, or even several days or months. Individuals experiencing a dissociative fugue have traveled over thousands of miles. An individual in a fugue state is unaware of or confused about his identity, and in some cases will assume a new identity (although this is the exception).

Dissociative identity disorder (DID), which has been known as multiple personality disorder, is the most famous of the dissociative disorders. An individual suffering from DID has more than one distinct identity or personality state that surfaces in the individual on a recurring basis. This disorder is also marked by differences in memory which vary with the individual’s “alters,” or other personalities. For more information on this, see the NAMI factsheet on dissociative identity disorder.

Depersonalization disorder is marked by a feeling of detachment or distance from one’s own experience, body, or self. These feelings of depersonalization are recurrent. Of the dissociative disorders, depersonalization is the one most easily identified with by the general public; one can easily relate to feeling as they in a dream, or being “spaced out.” Feeling out of control of one’s actions and movements is something that people describe when intoxicated.

An individual with depersonalization disorder has this experience so frequently and so severely that it interrupts his or her functioning and experience. A person’s experience with depersonalization can be so severe that he or she believes the external world is unreal or distorted.

Treatment

Since dissociative disorders seem to be triggered as a response to trauma or abuse, treatment for individuals with such a disorder may stress psychotherapy, although a combination of psychopharmacological and psychosocial treatments is often used. Many of the symptoms of dissociative disorders occur with other disorders, such as anxiety and depression, and can be controlled by the same drugs used to treat those disorders. A person in treatment for a dissociative disorder might benefit from antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication.

Reviewed by Jack D. Maser, Ph.D. of the National Institute of Mental Health, Rockville, MD

This article can be found on: NAMI website: www.nami.org

Source: NAMI–The National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1-800-950-NAMI.

**I’ve had many problems with dissociation.  Discussing this disorder in therapy I realized, most times during my childhood, when my abusive mother screamed at me, ranted or went into a childish tantrum I went to la-la land.  What easier way to tune someone out.  I believe it became a habit in other situations also, even following me into adulthood; a coping mechanism.  

7 thoughts on “EXPLAINING DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS

  1. Secret Keeper says:

    This is very interesting. My therapist talks sometimes about this with me when I question if my memories of abuse are real. They are in my head but I see them like a movie…like I am watching them happen. It causes me to question if my abuse actually happened. I know some things did happen, and I remember those events differently. I’ve always carried them with me and periodically thought about them. This is the case with my physical abuse. But the sexual abuse memories are so foggy and I feel them in my body sometimes when I think about them, and they didn’t start surfacing until about a year ago. I have a really hard time connecting with them. My therapist explained this to me saying it’s because I most likely dissociated during the experience to cope with the trauma of it. I’ve been trying to understand this more, so thank you for posting this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • cherished79 says:

      Thanks for sharing. I think I also dissociated when the sexual abuse was occurring, a coping mechanism when you’re 6 years old and wonder what the hell is going on and you know you hate it and are so confused. Somehow it feels as if you can get through it for that moment when your mind checks out and you’re not really there. For me, this came into use when my toxic family spewed their emotional abuse on me. It’s a hard one to understand, but once you are aware that you have dissociated, you realize how horrible your abuse was and what steps you had to take to avoid completely being destroyed more than you were at the time. How sad is it that the support wasn’t there when it should have been. Therapy for me has been a godsend, medication would never have brought this to light. Hugs to you

      Liked by 1 person

      • Secret Keeper says:

        This also comes into use with my toxic family and their emotional abuse. I feel everything you say here. Thank you for sharing it. Therapy has also been a Godsend to me. I have so much more awareness of myself now…it’s overwhelming sometimes!

        Liked by 1 person

        • cherished79 says:

          It is, and unfair that it takes so long for the journey into adulthood feeling worthless, lack of self-esteem/confidence to begin to heal from the pain. It’s taken me 20+ years of therapy to discover that I’m an unloved daughter of a narcissistic mother who never really wanted me in the first place. Let’s face it, the truth hurts but at least I finally went NO CONTACT, so no more hurtful words. Hugs, Deb

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Tina - Invisible Illnesses Blog says:

    I have PTSD, I thought I did not see what I actually saw. I swore I didn’t see it. But I could tell details that were so minute that it proved I saw it. Years of therapy finally got me to believe I actually saw it. More recently, I was being taken off a medication and I became “unattached” to myself. I did not feel like me at all. My husband noticed right away and had me to the dr quickly. I always read your posts, they always hit so close to home for me. Thank you for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • cherished79 says:

      I still have to catch myself as I can ‘detach’ so easily, yet never knew I did this until I was splitting off in conversations during therapy sessions. One session last year, while discussing the impact of my mother’s emotional abuse, I was dissociating throughout the session. I was upset when my therapist said “I can’t work with you when you’re like this”, and I recognize that. How could she when I’ve blocked out everything around me and I’m almost in a frozen state. It’s difficult to explain if it’s never happened to you, but I feel safe in that state because no one can hurt or bother me there. I realize it’s not a positive method, but with PTSD, it’s the way I handle anxiety and stress.

      Thanks for sharing and commenting. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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