Dissociative Disorders have been diagnosed in approximately 10% of the population, but researchers believe that up to an additional 7% of the population may have undiagnosed Dissociating Disorders. There are five different disorders that are classified as dissociative disorders by the DSM IV. These are as follows:
- Dissociative Amnesia Disorder
- Dissociative Fugue Disorder
- Dissociative Identity Disorder
- Depersonalization Disorder
What are Dissociative Disorders?
Dissociative Disorders occur when the brain needs to distance itself radically from traumatic emotions or experiences. This is a form of psychological defense that helps people with these conditions cope after an event that has caused great emotional pain. People with Dissociative Disorders need to escape from overwhelming memories or feelings, and their mind resorts to strategies such amnesia (loss of memories) or creation of alternate identities, in order to help them do so. This allows them to separate unbearable memories from their day-to-day feelings.
Symptoms of Dissociative Disorder
While there may be some common signs of Dissociative Disorders such as: unexplained lapses of time, mood swings, difficulty sleeping, flashbacks, or panic attacks, each dissociative disorder has its own set of unique symptoms:
Dissociative Amnesia Disorder
People with this condition have difficulty recalling information or events related to a traumatic episode in the past. Even though the memories persist in the unconscious mind, the conscious mind is able to block out difficult memories and the intense pain and distress that they could cause. Generally, non-traumatic memories remain fully intact in dissociative amnesia. Researchers find that people with dissociative amnesia may have one of five different types of memory loss. One is localized loss, or memory loss in which the individual has trouble remembering the time period surrounding the traumatic event. Another is selective loss, in which the person remembers only limited details from the specified day that they experienced the emotional shock. A third type of memory loss is generalized amnesia, because a person loses all aspects of his or her identity and lifetime experiences. In continuous memory loss, amnesia envelops everything from the traumatic event forward. The final type of memory loss is called systematized amnesia because all of the forgotten pieces of information center on the same person, place, or time.
Dissociative Fugue Disorder
This is a diagnosis for people who find themselves feeling profoundly disconnected from their normal surroundings. Many travel without remembering their trips, and some are confused about how they go to where they are and what they should be doing. People with dissociative fugue disorder may develop completely new identities during these fugue periods, which may last for anywhere from several hours to several years. Once the fugue is over, people with this condition often deal with guilt, shame and depression, and this disorder is often found to exist alongside the symptoms of dissociative identity disorder.
Dissociative Identity Disorder
This diagnosis is given when patients appear to have two or more personalities contained within them. At one time this was labeled “Multiple Personality Disorder”. The personalities, known as “alters,” may be a completely different age, sex, or nationality than the patient and may have different speech and behavior patterns as well. Some of the most recognizable signs are people not remembering past important events and finding notes that they have made written in a different style or handwriting. Patients also report running into people who recognize them, but they do not recall ever having met them. Some with dissociative identity disorder report feeling as if they are watching a video of themselves, rather than being an active participant in their own lives. Some even fail to recognize their own reflections. In addition to the switching of dominant personalities, people with this disorder may experience compulsive behaviors, depression, insomnia, anxiety, or hallucinations and may even consider self-harm at times.
People with this disorder feel that some of all of their lives are dream-like, as if what is presently happening to them is not real. This feeling may end in a few minutes or may last many years. Depersonalization may result in robotic-like behaviors and anxiety attacks. Depression can result from this loss of a vivid connection with reality.
Causes of Dissociative Disorders
When people experience traumatic events, their brain often develops a coping mechanism to deal with what has happened. Many patients seem to have developed a Dissociative Disorder because of one of the following traumatic experiences:
- Childhood abuse
- Experience of war
- Experiencing or witnessing violence
- Being an accident victim or witnessing a horrible accident
- Becoming the victim of or witnessing a brutal crime
- Undergoing painfully invasive medical procedures
Dissociative Disorders are the mind’s way of reacting to severely stressful situations. These disorders appear to occur more frequently in those who have been under prolonged stress.
Treatment Options for Dissociative Disorders
Because there are no prescription drugs that have been proven successful in the treatment of Dissociative Disorders, doctors are limited to treating patients with medicines that work well for certain symptoms. For example, patients with a Dissociative Disorder may be prescribed medications to help them sleep, relieve their anxiety or to treat Depression.
In addition, people with Dissociative Disorders need to undergo intensive psychological therapy to move them toward recovery and help them function more easily in their daily lives. These treatments might include: psychotherapy, family therapy, creative therapy, somatic therapy, eye-movement desensitization, cognitive therapy or hypnosis. All of these treatment plans will focus on helping patients uncover the causes of their distress and find more productive ways to manage their pain and suffering.
Dissociative Disorders FAQ
The following questions and answers are intended to help patients who have been diagnosed with Dissociative Disorders more fully understand the implications of these conditions:
What types of tests are required for doctors to diagnose a Dissociative Disorder?
When diagnosing Dissociative Disorders, doctors must first eliminate other probable causes of the patient’s distressing symptoms, such as diseases of the brain, head trauma injuries, substance abuse problems, or a severe need for sleep. Doctors will utilize the guidelines spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to evaluate the patient. Doctors will seek to obtain a complete medical and personal history. A thorough interview process and review of past medical records can usually complete the process, but some doctors may ask a patient with a Dissociative Disorder to undergo hypnosis as well.
At what ages do Dissociative Disorders usually manifest?
Dissociative disorders may come on suddenly after a traumatic occurrence, especially when suffered during childhood. The average age of onset for a dissociative fugue is 16.
Do people really have more than one personality?
Actually, doctors now prefer to call these controlling entities by other terms, including “alters,” “ego states,” “identities” or “states of consciousness.” These different “parts” of some people do, however, seem to have differing personas, mannerisms, voices, and opinions.
What is the prognosis for recovery from Dissociative Disorders?
While some patients experience a spontaneous recovery of memories at some point, most never fully remember the details of their past. For Dissociative Identity Disorder, long term psychotherapy can help patients reintegrate all of their identities so that they function together as a single unit. At some point, patients begin to regain a true sense of themselves and are able to deal with their past pain in more healthy ways.
Why Should Patients Choose Bridges to Recovery for Dissociative Disorders Residential Treatment?
Although the prognosis for recovery may be somewhat better for Dissociative Disorders than for other serious mental illnesses, patients need to feel an extra sense of safety in order to begin their journey back to good mental health. Bridges to Recovery Residential Treatment Centers provide highly trained doctors and counselors in a beautiful, comfortable setting to give patients the security they crave in order to move towards their treatment and life goals and get back on track. Bridges to Recovery has a history of successful treatment of patients experiencing Dissociative Disorders. Treatment is especially important because people with Dissociative Disorders are at risk to develop other psychiatric problems, such as alcoholism, drug addictions or eating disorders unless they get excellent treatment to help them manage their symptoms.
At Bridges to Recovery Residential Treatment Centers, all patients are carefully evaluated, and a treatment plan is created especially for their particular needs. Although the medical team will concentrate on the mental disorders that are causing distress, they will also use a whole person approach and treat any underlying substance abuse or physical ailments as well. Residential treatment allows patients to focus on getting well without many of the daily distractions and inconveniences that make life stressful. During a stay at Bridges to Recovery, patients will be practice beneficial ways to manage their emotions once they leave the facility, and the staff will follow their progress to prevent any relapses into old patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior.