What is a Dissociative Disorder?
Dissociation is a coping skill that disconnects
traumatic memories from one’s consciousness, shielding
them from the pain or fear associated with the
trauma. The traumatic memories still exist but
are deeply buried within the mind. The memories
may resurface on their own or after being triggered
by something in the person’s life, usually appearing
as panic, anxiety, flashbacks, and nightmares.
Dissociation itself does not always suggest a disorder.
Everyone has the ability to dissociate. Daydreaming
or getting lost in music, a book or movie is a
form of dissociation. To cross over into a disorder,
the dissociation must interfere with everyday functioning.
What are the types of Dissociative Disorders?
There are five dissociative disorders in total. While
our main focus is on Dissociative Identity Disorder,
below are brief summaries of the other dissociative
disorders. For more information, please consult
a trained professional who can help you or visit
our resource page for helpful links.
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)
formerly called multiple personality disorder,
develops as a childhood coping mechanism.
To escape pain and trauma in childhood, the
mind splits off feelings, personality traits,
characteristics, and memories, into
separate compartments which then develop into
unique personality states. Each identity
can have its own name and personal history.
These personality states recurrently take
control of the individual’s behavior, accompanied
by an inability to recall important personal
information that is too extensive to be explained
by ordinary forgetfulness.
DID is a spectrum disorder with varying degrees
of severity. In some cases, certain parts
of a person's personalities are aware of important
personal information, whereas other personalities
are unaware. Some personalities appear to
know and interact with one another in an elaborate
inner world. In other cases, a person with
DID may be completely aware of all the parts
of their internal system.
Because the personalities often interact with
each other, people with DID report hearing
inner dialogue and the voices will comment
on their behavior or talk directly to them.
It is important to note the voices are heard
on the inside verses the outside as this is
one of the main distinguishers from schizophrenia.
People with DID will often lose track of time
and have amnesia to life events. They may
not be able to recall things they have done
or account for changes in their behavior. Some
may lose track of hours while some lose track
of days. They have feelings of detachment
from one's self and feelings that one's surroundings
While most people cannot recall much about the
first 3 to 5 years of life, people with dissociative
identity disorder may have considerable amnesia
for the period between the ages of 6 and 11
as well. Often times, people with DID will
refer to themselves in the plural.
most common of all dissociative disorders
and usually seen in conjunction with other
mental illness, dissociative amnesia occurs
when a person blocks out information, usually
associated with a stressful or traumatic event,
leaving him or her unable to remember important
personal information. The degree of memory
loss goes beyond normal forgetfulness and
includes gaps in memory for long periods of
time or of memories involving the traumatic
person with dissociative fugue temporarily
loses their sense of personal identity and
impulsively wanders away from home. They often
become confused about whom they are and may
even create new identities. The
fugue state may last several hours to several
weeks. Often times, after a person comes out
of the fugue state, they will have no memory
of the events that took place during the fugue.
This disorder is much more common in people
who experienced traumatic events such as an
accident or war.
Having depersonalization has sometimes been
described as being numb or in a dream, or
feeling like you are watching yourself from
outside your body. There is a sense
of being disconnected or detached from one’s
often occurs after a person experiences life-threatening
danger, such as an accident, assault, or serious
illness or injury. Symptoms may be temporary
or persist or recur for many years. People
with the disorder often have a great deal
of difficulty describing their symptoms and
may fear or believe that they are going crazy.
Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (DDNOS)
a person has characteristics of several different
dissociative disorders but does not meet criteria
to be diagnosed with a specific one, they
are identified as having DDNOS.