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Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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