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Dissociative Disorders: What It Is, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Dissociative disorders are a group of mental health conditions that involve a disconnection between a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of identity. These disorders are often the result of traumatic experiences, and can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. In this article, we will explore the different types of dissociative disorders, their causes, symptoms, and available treatments.

What are dissociative disorders?

Dissociative disorders are mental health conditions that involve a disruption in a person’s normal cognitive and psychological functioning. These disorders are characterized by a disconnection between a person’s thoughts, feelings, memories, and/or sense of identity.

Types of dissociative disorders

There are three main types of dissociative disorders:

a. Dissociative Amnesia

Dissociative amnesia is a type of dissociative disorder that involves memory loss. It can be caused by a traumatic event or stress, and may result in a person forgetting important personal information or past events. In some cases, dissociative amnesia may also cause a person to forget their entire identity.

b. Dissociative Identity Disorder

Dissociative identity disorder, also known as multiple personality disorder, is a type of dissociative disorder that involves a person developing two or more distinct personalities. These personalities may have their own memories, behaviors, and identities, and may take control of the person’s behavior at different times.

c. Depersonalization-Derealization Disorder

Depersonalization-derealization disorder is a type of dissociative disorder that involves feeling disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings. People with this disorder may feel as if they are observing themselves from outside of their body or that the world around them is not real.

Causes of dissociative disorders

The exact causes of dissociative disorders are not fully understood. However, research has shown that they often result from traumatic experiences, particularly those that occur during childhood. Other possible causes include genetics and neurological factors.

a. Trauma and abuse

Trauma and abuse are some of the most common causes of dissociative disorders. These experiences can be physical, emotional, or sexual in nature, and may result in a person developing dissociative symptoms as a coping mechanism.

b. Genetics

Some research suggests that there may be a genetic component to dissociative disorders. However, more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between genetics and dissociation.

c. Neurological factors

There is also some evidence to suggest that neurological factors may play a role in dissociative disorders. For example, some studies have found that people with dissociative disorders may have differences in brain structure or function compared to those without these disorders.

Symptoms of dissociative disorders

The symptoms of dissociative disorders can vary depending on the specific type of disorder a person has. However, some common symptoms include:

a. Memory loss or gaps

People with dissociative amnesia may experience memory loss or gaps related to a traumatic event, while those with dissociative identity disorder may have lapses in memory or experience a sense of losing time.

b. Distorted sense of reality

People with depersonalization-derealization disorder may experience a sense of detachment from their body or surroundings, and may feel as though they are in a dream-like state.

c. Emotional numbness

People with dissociative disorders may also experience emotional numbness, or a lack of emotion in response to certain situations.

d. Dissociative seizures

Dissociative seizures, also known as psychogenic non-epileptic seizures, are a type of seizure that can occur in people with dissociative disorders. These seizures are not caused by abnormal brain activity and may be triggered by emotional stress.

Diagnosis of dissociative disorders

Diagnosing dissociative disorders can be challenging, as the symptoms can be similar to those of other mental health conditions. However, mental health professionals may use a combination of interviews, questionnaires, and psychological assessments to make a diagnosis.

Treatment of dissociative disorders

Treatment for dissociative disorders often involves a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and self-help techniques.

a. Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is often the primary treatment for dissociative disorders. Therapists may use a variety of techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy, to help people manage their symptoms and develop coping strategies.

b. Medications

In some cases, medication may be used to treat certain symptoms of dissociative disorders, such as depression or anxiety. However, there is no specific medication that is approved for the treatment of dissociative disorders.

c. Self-help techniques

Self-help techniques, such as mindfulness meditation or relaxation exercises, may also be helpful in managing dissociative symptoms.

Conclusion

Dissociative disorders can have a significant impact on a person’s life, but with proper diagnosis and treatment, it is possible to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of a dissociative disorder, it is important to seek professional help.

FAQs

Can dissociative disorders be cured?

While there is no cure for dissociative disorders, with proper treatment, many people are able to manage their symptoms and live fulfilling lives.

Are dissociative disorders common?

Dissociative disorders are relatively rare, affecting less than 1% of the population.

Is dissociative identity disorder real?

Yes, dissociative identity disorder is a real condition that can be diagnosed and treated by mental health professionals.

What should I do if I think I have a dissociative disorder?

If you are experiencing symptoms of a dissociative disorder, it is important to seek professional help from a mental health provider.

How long does treatment for dissociative disorders last?

The length of treatment for dissociative disorders can vary depending on the severity of symptoms and individual needs. Some people may require long-term therapy or medication management, while others may be able to manage their symptoms with self-help techniques.

Sources

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
    • This is the official manual used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental health conditions, including dissociative disorders.
  2. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). Dissociative disorders.
    • This website provides information on the different types of dissociative disorders, symptoms, and treatment options.
  3. International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. (2011). Guidelines for treating dissociative identity disorder in adults, third revision.
    • This resource provides guidelines for mental health professionals on how to best treat dissociative identity disorder.
  4. Brand, B. L., et al. (2012). Dissociative disorders: An overview of assessment, phenomenology, and treatment.
    • This article provides an overview of dissociative disorders, including their assessment, symptoms, and treatment options.
  5. Kluft, R. P. (2014). Basic concepts in the treatment of dissociative identity disorder.
    • This article provides an in-depth look at the treatment of dissociative identity disorder, including the use of psychotherapy and medication.

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