Dissociative Disorders

What are Dissociative Disorders?


Dissociative disorders which are trauma-related disorders are a group of mental health conditions characterized by a disconnection or disruption in a person’s normal sense of identity, memory, consciousness, or perception. 

Some individuals may be more psychologically vulnerable to dissociation due to factors like history of mental health issues.

Developing dissociative disorder is our body’s way of coping against traumatizing experiences.


What is meant by dissociation?


Dissociation in dissociative disorders refers to a mental process where an individual disconnects or separates various aspects of their consciousness, identity, memory or perception. It often involves a sense of detachment from one’s thoughts, emotions, body or surroundings.


Origin of Dissociative disorders


Often originate from severe psychological trauma or stress, particularly during childhood. The origin of dissociative disorder can be trauma and stress such as sexual and physical abuse, having difficulties in forming secure attachments with caregivers during childhood, or experiencing traumatic events during childhood. 


4 types of Dissociative disorders:


1. Depersonalisation-derealisation disorder


Characterized by persistent and distressing experiences of depersonalization and/or derealization. 

Where Depersonalization is the feeling of being detached or disconnected from oneself. People with Depersonalisation-derealisation disorder may have a sense that they are observing themselves from the outside or that their thoughts, emotions, and actions are not their own. 

Individuals with Depersonalisation-derealisation disorder may perceive the world as if it’s distorted, dreamlike, or unreal, even though they know it is real, as if you are in a dream or watching a movie.

Imagine someone is walking through a park on a sunny day. As they stroll along the path, they suddenly begin to feel a sense of depersonalization. They might describe the experience as feeling like they are watching themselves from outside their body, almost as if they are a spectator to their own actions. They feel disconnected from their own thoughts and emotions, as if they are happening to someone else.

Simultaneously, this person experiences derealization. The park around them starts to seem distorted and unreal. The vibrant colors of the flowers and trees appear muted, and the sounds of children playing sound distant and surreal, as if they are in a dream.

Despite knowing that they are in a real park on a sunny day, these feelings of depersonalization and derealization persist and cause significant distress. This is a simplified example of what someone with Depersonalisation-derealisation disorder might go through, illustrating the sense of detachment from both oneself and the surrounding environment that characterizes the disorder.


2. Dissociative amnesia


Dissociative amnesia is when a person forgets important things about themselves or their life. it’s not like normal forgetfulness; it’s more extreme. This can happen because the mind tries to protect itself from very upsetting or traumatic memories. So, it’s like your brain putting these memories in a hidden box to keep you from feeling too much pain. But sometimes, this memory loss can be a problem because the person can’t remember important things causing memory disturbance. 

Imagine a person named Sarah who experienced a very traumatic car accident as a child. The accident was so scary and painful that her mind decided to block out all memories of it to protect her from the emotional pain. As a result, Sarah can’t remember anything about the accident. She might not recall her car, the place where it happened, or even who was with her. 


3. Dissociative identity disorder


Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is when a person has more than one distinct personality inside them. It’s like having different people living in the same body. These different personalities can have their own names, memories, and behaviors. It usually happens because of severe stress or trauma. 


4. Other specified dissociative disorder


Other specified dissociative disorders is a diagnosis given when an individual experiences significant dissociative symptoms but doesn’t meet the full criteria for a specific dissociative disorder like DID. 

Imagine a person who occasionally loses track of time or has moments of feeling like they are watching themselves from outside their body. These episodes cause them distress, but they don’t have multiple distinct personalities like in Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). 


5. Unspecified Dissociative Disorder


Unspecified Dissociative Disorder is a diagnosis used when a person exhibits dissociative symptoms, but these symptoms don’t align with any specific dissociative disorder criteria.

Consider someone who experiences periods of feeling disconnected from reality or having gaps in their memory but doesn’t fit the specific criteria for any of the defined dissociative disorders. They may be given a diagnosis of unspecified dissociative disorder to acknowledge their symptoms and provide appropriate treatment, even though their experience don’t align precisely with established categories




What are 3 main symptoms of dissociative disorder?


Identity Disruption: Individuals with dissociative disorders like DID experience distinct, separate identities or personality states, often referred to as “alters”. These identities may have their own name, memories, and characteristics.

Amnesia: There are gaps in memory that can’t be explained by normal forgetfulness. These memory lapse can involve everyday events or even long periods of time when one identity is not aware of what another identity did.

Distress or Impairment: dissociative disorders cause significant distress and impairment in daily life. It can affect a person’s relationships, work, and overall functioning. This distress is often related to the challenges of managing different identities and dealing with amnesia.


Is schizophrenia a dissociative disorder?


No, schizophrenia is not a dissociative disorder. Schizophrenia is a separate and distinct mental disorder characterized by symptoms such as hallucination, delusions. disorganized thinking and speech with impaired social and occupational functioning. It involves a disruption in thought processes and perception of reality.

In contrast, dissociative disorders involve a disruption in a person’s normal sense of identity, memory, consciousness, or perception, often as a response to trauma. 


Is dissociation really a coping mechanism?


Dissociation is our body’s way of protection against stressful and traumatizing events. It is our body’s coping mechanism. 


Final Words


In conclusion, dissociative disorders represent a complex category of mental health conditions. These disorders have a profound impact on an individual’s life, affecting their daily functioning and overall well-being. 


Understanding and addressing dissociative disorders require a comprehensive approach, often involving psychotherapy and support from mental health professionals. Increased awareness, early intervention, and effective treatment are essential in helping individuals regain control of their lives and find healing. 


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