Dissociative disorders represent a disconnection between thoughts, identity, consciousness, and memory. The split occurs as an involuntary escape from reality. People from all age groups and racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds can experience a dissociative disorder.
The symptoms of a dissociative disorder usually first develop as a response to a traumatic event, such as abuse or military combat, to keep those memories under control. Stressful situations can worsen symptoms and cause problems with functioning in everyday activities. However, the symptoms a person experiences will depend on the type of dissociative disorder that a person has.
Treatment for dissociative disorders often involves psychotherapy and medication. Though finding an effective treatment plan can be difficult, many people can live healthy and productive lives.
Symptoms and signs of dissociative disorders include:
- Significant memory loss of specific times, people and events
- Out-of-body experiences, such as feeling as though you are watching a movie of yourself
- Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide
- A sense of detachment from your emotions, or emotional numbness
- A lack of a sense of self-identity
There are three types of dissociative disorders:
- Dissociative Amnesia. The main symptom is difficulty remembering important information about one’s self. Dissociative amnesia often follows a traumatic event, such as combat or abuse. The onset is usually sudden and can last minutes, hours, days, or, rarely, months or years.
- Depersonalization disorder. This disorder involves ongoing feelings of detachment from actions, feelings, thoughts, and sensations, as if watching a movie (depersonalization). Sometimes other people and things feel unreal to them (derealization). A person may experience depersonalization, derealization, or both. Symptoms can last just a matter of moments or return at times over the years. The average onset age is 16, although depersonalization episodes can start anywhere from early to mid-childhood.
- Dissociative identity disorder. This disorder was formerly known as multiple personality disorder based on the unique characteristic of alternating multiple identities plaguing the individual. The person describes feeling as if one or more voices attempts to take control of their mind. Often these identities may have unique names, characteristics, mannerisms, and voices — people with DID experience gaps in memory of everyday events, personal information, and trauma.