What is “Dissociative Disorder?”

There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding the disorders labeled “Dissociative.” Dissociative disorders are a group of conditions that disrupt memory, identity and perception.  These conditions usually develop as a defense mechanisms to trauma in ones’ life.

Dissociative disorders affect awareness, meaning a person’s ability to observe the world around them accurately.  Sometimes a person seems to lose track of their own identity.  Memory loss is common, also known as “dissociative amnesia,” as though a certain period of time has been experienced by someone else.

Not Always “Sybil”
Not all dissociative disorders are the same.  Many people may have the incorrect understanding that all dissociative disorders are of the split identity type, also known as dissociative identity disorder.  That being said, these types of disorders are more common than was believed for many years.  Dissociative Identity Disorder—also previously known as “Multiple Personality Disorder” (think “Sybil”)—it has been discovered are frequently misdiagnosed for years as sufferers are often very skilled at hiding it and it is just difficult to actually “catch” an episode of dissociation.

Childhood Trauma
Dissociative disorders are believed to be triggered by traumatic events, typically in childhood.  Witnessing violence, natural disasters, or being sexually abused, are just a few of the types of events that have been known to trigger dissociative disorders.

Misdiagnoses can result in some unnecessary complications, such as the use of antipsychotic medications with long-term side effects.  Some of the illnesses that dissociative disorders are mistaken for are anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.

Missing the Mark
The misdiagnoses of anxiety disorder are most likely attributed to the facts that people who dissociate experience a lot of anxiety!  This is because of the memory loss and confusion that accompanies it.  Bipolar disorder is characterized by mood swings and at a glance, dissociation can look just like mood swings.  ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is identified by lack of focus and inattention, which is also common with dissociative disorders.  ADHD can also produce what appears to be memory loss, although what is actually occurring is inattentiveness resulting in inability to recall.

While medications can provide relief from symptoms that arise from secondary mental health conditions caused by or related to dissociative disorders, there is no drug that can specifically treat dissociative disorders themselves.

The Coping Road
The most common and successful dissociative disorder treatment is psychotherapy, otherwise known as talk therapy.  When you’ve developed a trusting relationship with a professional therapist, he or she can guide you to understanding the root cause of your dissociation and help you develop better ways to cope with your traumatic memories, as well as ongoing, daily stress.

Whether you are suffering from dissociative amnesia, dissociative identity disorder, or another related dissociative condition, it is imperative that you seek help from a professional therapist with experience and credentials to assist with your dissociative disorder treatment.

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