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Dissociative Disorders: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Kristin Hall

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 8/20/2022

If you are feeling a disconnect between your thoughts and identity, you may be dealing with a dissociative disorder. 

This type of mental health condition can have a really big impact on your day-to-day life. Because of this, it’s important to identify if you have this type of disorder so that you can be on the lookout for symptoms and find the right treatment for you.

Learning more about dissociative disorders can arm you with important information should you be experiencing these issues.

What Are Dissociative Disorders?

Dissociative disorders are defined by an involuntary dissociation from reality and disconnection from thoughts, consciousness, identity and memory.

This type of disorder can affect people of all ages, races and backgrounds — however, women are more likely than men to develop this disorder. About 75 percent of people will experience a dissociative episode in their lifetime. However, it’s much less common for people to experience chronic issues — just two percent of people do.

There are actually three types of dissociative disorders. They are: 

  • Dissociative amnesia: If you can’t recall information about yourself on an ongoing basis, you may be dealing with this form of dissociative disorder.

  • Dissociative identity disorder: Connected to overwhelming experiences, this was previously called multiple personality disorder. A person with this disorder may feel they have multiple identities living within.

  • Depersonalization or derealization disorder: Someone with this has ongoing experience with either depersonalization (feeling outside of one’s mind or body) or derealization (feeling like things aren’t real). 

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What Causes Dissociative Disorders?

Dissociative disorders are most often caused by trauma of some kind.

If you’ve been through something traumatic (like an assault or military combat), dissociating can help you cope with what’s going on. Later, it could be tough to even remember what happened because you dissociated.

Dissociative disorders can also stem from long-term stress, like the type caused by being in an abusive household while growing up. It’s believed that you may be especially prone to dissociate during childhood because you don’t have other coping mechanisms to deal with highly stressful or traumatic occurrences.

Symptoms of Dissociative Disorders

The different dissociative disorders have slightly different symptoms. That’s actually partially how a mental health professional is able to diagnose the different disorders. 

Common symptoms of dissociative amnesia include: 

  • Being unable to remember an event or time period

  • Being unable to remember a specific part of an event

  • Totally blocking out life history — this is rarer

People with dissociative identity disorder may notice the following symptoms:

  • Having two or more identities, with each identity having specific traits

  • Shifting between identities randomly and involuntarily 

  • Missing memories

  • Trouble functioning in daily life

  • Suicide attempts or self-harm

If you have depersonalization/derealization disorder you will have feelings of being detached from your own body and/or mind or feel like you aren’t attached to your surroundings. People with this disorder usually know what they are feeling isn’t normal and symptoms can start in childhood.

How Do You Treat Dissociative Disorders?

The most common form of treatment for dissociative disorders is psychotherapy. The thinking is that through therapy, you can learn to gain control over your dissociative symptoms.

Both cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) may be used. 

In CBT you work with a mental health provider to identify negative patterns (in this case, ones connected to dissociation) and figure out ways to change that behavior.

DBT is something often used for borderline personality disorder. It is similar to CBT, but was developed for people who feel intense emotions. The idea behind this form of therapy is to help people accept what is going on in their lives so they can then work to move past it.

In addition to therapy, if your dissociative disorder causes depression, you may be given antidepressants to treat those symptoms. 

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Dissociative Disorders: What Comes Next?

Dissociative disorders have to do with dissociating from reality in some way or another. There are actually three different types — dissociative amnesia, dissociative identity disorder and depersonalization or derealization disorder. 

Dissociative identity disorder used to be called multiple personality disorder because it involves feeling like you have multiple distinct identities within you.

These types of conditions usually pop up after a traumatic event — like experiencing a natural disaster, violence or serving in the military. Long-term stress, such as the kind caused by emotional abuse or sexual abuse, can also be triggering.

Whether you experience a stressful event or a series of traumatic experiences, signs of these mental disorders include memory loss, having alternate personalities, feelings that everyday events are being impacted and more.

Therapy has been found to be an effective treatment. Medication may also be prescribed to help with certain symptoms. 

Mental health professionals are trained to identify if you have a dissociative disorder. If you feel like you may, schedule an assessment with a healthcare provider or mental health specialist. You can share if you’ve had any gaps in memory or other symptoms and they will be able to advise you on what to do to deal with your condition.

5 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Dissociative Disorder. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Dissociative-Disorders
  2. What Are Dissociative Disorders? American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved from https://psychiatry.org/patients-families/dissociative-disorders/what-are-dissociative-disorders
  3. Dissociative Disorders. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17749-dissociative-disorders-#symptoms-and-causes
  4. What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral
  5. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/22838-dialectical-behavior-therapy-dbt

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

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