Dissociative Disorders – A Better Understanding

Dissociative Disorders – A Better Understanding

There are different stereotypes, opinions, and subconscious thoughts that go along with the term ‘Dissociative Disorders.’ Unfortunately, those stereotypes aren’t usually fair, and the assessments people make about these types of disorders can be dangerously false. Because dissociative disorders affect a relatively small number of people (roughly 200,000), we tend not to consider them to be as serious as we might with other mental or physical health issues, but that small number packs a big punch in terms of what these disorders can do, and how they can affect those dealing with them, and the people surrounding them.

Types of Dissociative Disorders

By definition, a dissociative disorder is characterized by an involuntary escape from reality. There is a ‘disconnection’ of thoughts, identity, memory, and consciousness. Many of these disorders arise because of a prior traumatic event, but no one is immune from it. They can happen at any age, to any race, or gender. However, a common candidate for dissociative disorder can oftentimes be children, who have suffered long-term emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. The disorder allows them to escape, become someone else, and forget about/cope with the pain and trauma they’ve had to deal with. Realistically, a dissociative disorder is nothing more than an extreme defense mechanism from our own thoughts.

Types Of Dissociative Disorders

Because dissociative disorders can be different things to different people, depending on their idea of ‘escape,’ there are different categories to make the disorders easier to understand, including:

Dissociative Amnesia – Difficulty remembering important information about yourself, such as abuse, or even identity.
Depersonalization – Lasting feelings of detachment from everything personal.
Dissociative Identity Disorder – Alternating between multiple personalities/identities.

What To Look For

Even though dissociative disorders can show up differently for different people, there are a few common traits to consider, including memory loss of specific events or people, out-of-body experiences, additional mental health issues (depression, anxiety, etc.), a lack of self-identity.

Dissociative disorders oftentimes go hand in hand with other, similar issues, including PTSD, so it’s not uncommon for them to be misdiagnosed, or mistaken for something else. Treatment can include anything from psychotherapies, to rapid eye movement conditioning, or even the introduction of similar medicines used to treat things like depression.

Dissociative disorders can be terrifying for the people having to go through them, and the families and friends surrounding those people. Yes, they are viewed as a way for an individual to escape, but there’s a good chance they are only harming themselves further in the process. If you think someone you know may be struggling with a dissociative disorder, it’s ultimately up to them to seek out the kind of help they need, but don’t be afraid to gently encourage it, if the disorder has become a real problem in their everyday life.

To read more on Dissociative Disorders and other mental health topics visit, Dr. Lynn Alexander, Palo Alto Therapy & Counseling