Dissociative Disorders Overview and Guide
People with dissociative disorder may lose reality in some way involuntarily for moments or even prolonged periods of time. The symptoms of dissociative disorders will range from amnesia to alternate identities and will often develop as a result of trauma or abuse that is suffered. Dissociative disorders are a way for the mind to escape the difficulties of the memories that exists relating to the abuse, trauma or other causes.
The most common types of dissociative disorders include dissociative amnesia, dissociative identity disorder, dissociative fugue and depersonalization disorder. All of these disorders share similar symptoms and signs although they each carry their own additional implications which range in severity with the disorder.
Symptoms of Dissociative Disorders
All dissociative disorders include symptoms of memory loss or amnesia for certain periods of time. Events and people may be forgotton or the individual may lose memory of a specific time period such as that in which they endure abuse or trauma. Mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are also common symptoms of dissociative disorders. People who suffer from dissociative disorders will feel a sense of being detached from themselves which is also known as depersonalization.
Dissociative amnesia is characterized by a memory loss that is extensive and can’t be explained by a physical or neurological condition. Sudden amnesia may follow the experience of a traumatic even such as a car accident but this type of amnesia is quite rare. A more common type of amnesia occurs when an individual tries to recall a traumatic period in life. The individual suffering from amnesia will have a loss of memory of the event or the time period as well as the people involved.
Dissociative identity disorder is a condition that was once known as multiple personality disorder. This condition is a mental condition in which the person with “alter” or “switch” identities during stress. The idea here is that each identity has certain strengths and weaknesses and the individual suffering from this type of dissociative disorder will alter egos in order to effectively cope with the stress at hand. People with this type of disorder may feel like the they have other people living in their heads or talking inside of them.
Dissociative fugue is a type of dissociative disorder that causes people to place distance between themselves and their identity. People with this type of dissociative disorder may leave the house and travel far away and in the process completely lose focus of who they are adopting a whole new lifestyle and attitude. People who suffer from this type of dissociative disorder can blend in wherever they go and may have periods of the disorder that last for a few hours, months or even years. This type of disorder usually begins and ends very abruptly making it even more difficult to understand.
Depersonalization disorder is a dissociative disorder that is characterized by a sudden sense of being outside one’s self. This type of disorder makes the individual feel like they are observing their actions rather than actually taking part in them. For people with depersonalization disorder life feels like they are constantly or often watching a movie of themselves. This dissociative disorder may be accompanied by distortion of the size and shape of the body or of people or objects around the individual.
Dissociative Disorder Causes
Dissociative disorders are most the result of an individual trying to cope with a traumatic experience. These disorders may form in children who experience long term or chronic abuse physically, sexually or emotionally. People with dissociative disorders may or may not realize that they have a disorder and in many cases they do not realize that anything is wrong because the brain effectively masks the disorder as a way to cope.
During childhood the personal identity is still forming. As a child, the ability to step outside oneself is more possible than for an adult. This makes observance of trauma easy for a child to view as “happening to another person” other than themselves which is the beginning of a dissociative disorder. Children who learn how to dissociate in order to endure trauma for an extended period during their youth years can also use similar coping methods later in life during stressful situations.
Treatments for Dissociative Disorders
The most common treatment for dissociative disorders in psychotherapy. This type of therapy is usually conducted under the supervision of a counselor or therapist. Counseling provided at rehab centers by psychiatrists and mental health professionals can successfully help an individual suffering from dissociative disorders to regain control of the disorder and of life.
Psychotherapy for dissociative disorders involves techniques such as hypnosis that can help the individual to remember the traumatic events and to work through the experiences that caused the dissociative disorder in the first place. For people who suffer from dissociative disorders, therapy can be a very long and painful process. Remembering the events that triggered the disorder can rehash many old thoughts that have been covered up for many years as a result of the dissociative disorder.
Other types of treatment for dissociative disorders may involved additional therapies such as creative art therapy or cognitive therapy as well as medication. Creative art therapy is used to help people who have difficulty expressing their thoughts to get the thoughts out creatively. Creative arts help the individual to increase awareness of themselves and to cope with the symptoms and emotions of traumatic experiences. Cognitive therapy may also be beneficial for people with dissociative disorders by offering them new ways to replace negative beliefs or behaviors with positive ones.
Antidepressants and anti anxiety medications may be prescribed to people who suffer from dissociative disorders. No medications can specifically treat dissociative disorders but certain medications may be able to help alleviate some of the adverse symptoms of the disorder. Tranquilizers may be prescribed to help control the mental health symptoms that have caused or are associated with the dissociative disorders.