What is a Dissociative Disorder and How to Handle it

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Dissociative disorders are mental health conditions that involve issues with emotions, identity, memory, perception, sense of self and behavior. Dissociative disorders can interfere with an individual’s mental functioning. People who are suffering from dissociative disorders usually feel as though they are outside of their own body as they feel detached. Dissociative disorders are also associated with trauma.

According to Dan Blair, LMFT, LCPC, NCPC, CAMS, “Disassociating may feel like dreaming. It’s unreal. Later on, looking back, usually through therapy for PTSD, a person can reflect and realize they disassociated.”



The Different Types of Dissociative Disorders:


Although the above disorders are linked, some of them might have slightly different symptoms.


The Causes of Dissociative Disorders:

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Dissociative disorders are usually caused by a traumatic event that one has witnessed or experienced. It can be anything from wars, natural disasters, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, or an unstable home environment. Children who suffer traumatic experiences should be treated immediately, or else they are at a high risk of developing a dissociative disorder. Apart from that, the experiences that were endured during childhood can manifest at a later stage in life.


Details of the Different Type of Dissociative Disorders:


Dissociative Identity Disorder:

This is also known as the multiple personality disorder. This is when an individual can literally switch identities. People who suffer from dissociative identity disorders can feel as though there are two or more different people living inside their minds and bodies. Each identity can also have a unique history, name, and characteristics. It can even go as far as physical qualities such as changes in voice and need for eye spectacles. Dissociative identity and dissociative amnesia are also linked.


Derealization/Depersonalization Disorder:

Derealization/Depersonalization disorder involves being outside of “one’s self”. It’s like watching a movie and watching yourself in that movie. This disorder leaves individuals feeling detached from themselves. The world may come across as unreal to people who suffer from this disorder. The symptoms can last only for few moments or sometimes, even years. Some symptoms can also come and go.

Dissociative Amnesia:

This disorder allows an individual to block off certain events and periods of their lives. The main symptom of dissociative amnesia is memory loss. Unlike normal forgetfulness, this amnesia blocks out all the traumatic events. People are unable to recall certain events due to the amnesia. Though the incidents aren’t completely forgotten, the memories linger deep in the mind and certain things might trigger the traumatic experience.

As pointed out by Celeste Campbell, PsyD, “The sudden intermittent memory loss you describe is not typical of a traumatic brain injury. Memory loss following brain injury is usually for events immediately before or following the incident. Difficulty learning and remembering new information is also common.”

Complications and Risks That Come with Dissociative Disorders:

People who suffer from dissociative disorders have an increased risk of the following factors:

  • Suicidal feelings
  • Drug or alcohol addiction
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Post-traumatic stress disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Personality Disorder

If you are suffering from anxiety because of your disorder, be sure to remind yourself of this: “When you allow yourself to feel the anxiety without resistance, you may find it’s not as intolerable as you think, and you may even learn more about the root of your anxiety,” stated by Christina G. Hibbert, PsyD.

How are Dissociative Disorders Diagnosed?

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A psychiatrist will perform a physical and psychiatric examination on the patient. Physical examinations are performed to determine if the patient has suffered from any head injuries, neurological disorders, lack of sleep and the likes. The psychiatric examination is performed by asking the patient about their emotions, lifestyle, feelings and etc. Family members might be required to come in and answer a couple of questions with regards to the patient’s condition, as well.


It’s important to seek help from a professional if you suspect that you’re suffering from a dissociative disorder. It’s also vital that you answer all the questions honestly. In this way, your psychiatrist can give you an accurate diagnosis. You can also speak openly about your issues to mental health specialists and don’t be afraid to ask your doctor about questions plaguing your mind.


How is Dissociative Disorder Treated?

Even though there is no medication that can treat dissociative disorders, psychiatrists usually prescribe anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications to help relieve the patient’s symptoms. Psychotherapy is also used as a means to treat the patient. This therapy style allows the individual to talk to the therapist about their feelings, emotions, and past issues. The therapist can help the patient in dealing with their traumatic experiences.