Dissociative Disorder: Causes, Signs, Symptoms, Diagnosis

What is Dissociative Disorder?

Dissociative disorder is something that results in a disconnection between your thoughts, identity, actions, surroundings and the memories. It is the disorder wherein the person tries to move away from the reality of life.

Dissociative Disorder

What is Dissociation in Mental Health?

Dissociation is nothing but a condition wherein the person is not able to connect with their feelings, thoughts, memories, and identity. There are different types of dissociation like a dissociative fugue, dissociative identity, dissociative amnesia and depersonalization disorder.

What are the Four Types of Dissociative Disorders?

SCID-D, also known as Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Dissociative Disorder is the way through which you can know whether the person is suffering from any kind of dissociative disorder or not. These are dissociative identity disorder, dissociative amnesia, depersonalization disorder and dissociative fugue.

Causes of Dissociative Disorder

Trauma could be a possible cause for dissociative disorder. Dissociative disorder is usually a way to deal with the trauma and found mostly in children who are going through physical or emotional abuse. If the environment at home is not good, there are high chances that kids may get frightened and develop dissociative disorder. Stress is also one of the reasons of dissociative disorder.

At a young age, the kids are forming their personal identity, therefore, it is quite easy for them to move away from it. The above-given conditions and increased stress can provoke the kids to develop dissociative disorder.

Signs and Symptoms of Dissociative Disorder

The signs and symptoms of the dissociative disorder are given below.

  • Stress in personal family life, as well as work, can be one of the reasons for dissociative disorder.
  • Depression, suicidal attempts, and anxiety can be the symptoms of dissociative disorder.
  • Blurred sense of identity.
  • Temporary memory loss or amnesia is also a major sign of dissociative disorder.
  • Moving away from your personal identity.

There are three major kinds of dissociative disorders described in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as published by American Psychiatric Association.

  • Dissociative Amnesia Disorder: Dissociative Amnesia Disorder is the first kind of dissociative disorder and its most important symptom is the memory loss. It is quite severe because you are unable to recall any information about people, events and other happenings around you. It usually results in complete memory loss and related to events as well as people. Amnesia may continue for few minutes or it can be hours and months too depending on the condition. One gets confused and is unable to remember anything thus moving away from their life.
  • Dissociative Identity Disorder: You can also call Dissociative Identity Disorder as Multiple Personality Disorder wherein the person switches from one identity to the other. You might get the feeling of representing many people within you. All the identities may differ in their name, characteristics, gender, physical qualities, mannerism and lots more. The way of behaving with people is also different from the identities. People suffering from this kind of disorder may have dissociative amnesia and dissociative fugue too.
  • Depersonalization – Derealization Disorder: Depersonalization – Derealization Disorder is the next kind of dissociative disorder wherein the person gets disconnected from the real life activities. Their thoughts, actions, and feelings seem to take them away from people and may seem unreal for them. Derealization and depersonalization both may be experienced by the person. The signs and symptoms usually come and go but continue for years.

When to go to the Specialist for Dissociative Disorder?

If in case someone in your family or friends comes across any of the above symptoms, it is time to consult the doctor and seek their advice regarding it.

The very first thing is to get the medical attention on an urgent basis so that the person can be brought under control. People suffering from traumas or unusual behavior require urgent consultation from the doctor. The person may commit suicide if they are too stressed or are suffering from any kind of pressure.

In case the symptoms are just at the primary level, you still need to consult the doctor but there is no emergency. Your doctor may ask you a few questions related to your condition in order to diagnose the degree of the dissociative disorder. In some of the cases you may be asked to refer a psychiatrist as well but depending on the condition and the requirement.

The doctor will ask a few questions to you. It is important to provide them clear and complete information for better diagnosis of dissociative disorder. These questions can be.

  • Tell me about the symptoms?
  • When was the first time you or someone else noticed such symptoms?
  • When are the cases when you do not remember anything?
  • Have you experienced the condition when you did not know how to reach your home or office?
  • Did you feel someone else’s identity within you?
  • Have you ever felt that there are several persons within you with different identities?
  • What are the other changes that you or others have observed in you?
  • Do you feel depressed very often and if yes then when?
  • Does your condition of dissociative disorder affect your work and life?
  • Do thoughts of harming others or yourself ever come to your mind?
  • Do you drink and if yes then how often?
  • Have you ever worked in the military department?
  • Have you ever been abused in childhood?
  • Has someone touched you against your consent?
  • Someone in your family has been abused in their childhood?
  • Are you receiving treatment for any other medical condition or illness?

In an emergency situation for dissociative disorder:

In case you get the thought of harming yourself or other people, you can call on 191 or someone in your local area where you can be attended by the doctor. If you are in the US, you can call on a toll-free number of National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) and receive the assistance of an experienced counselor.

Tests to Diagnose Dissociative Disorder

Diagnosis of the dissociative disorder is done on the basis of the symptoms and the history as reviewed by the specialist. Sometimes a few tests may also be done to find out the other forms of medical conditions like head or brain injury, sleep deprivation etc… In case it is found that you are not suffering any such illness, they may advise you to consult a psychiatric or in other cases referred to a mental health doctor if any of the above symptoms are found.

If you are suffering from dissociative disorder, your condition must meet the criteria mentioned in the DSM which stands for Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and is prepared by the APA or American Psychiatric Association. The information is available in this manual is employed to find out the health conditions of an individual and diagnose them in a better way.

Tests to Diagnose Dissociative Amnesia Disorder

In order to diagnose the dissociative amnesia disorder, DSM follows the given criteria:

  • If you have suffered from trauma or any stressful situation for one or more times and are unable to remember anything about it. You do not remember where it happened, when it happened and other important details about it. You have lost the memories of that event and are unable to recollect the thoughts later when asked.
  • If your signs of memory loss are not due to any mental illness faced by you, nor due to any post-traumatic condition. Neither it is due to the consumption of alcohol or any kind of drugs that are harmful to you.
  • One may also experience dissociative fugue in the case of forceful travel or confused wandering. You are unable to remember about the travel and have lost personal identity.
  • Your stress in personal life and workplace has resulted in such a disorder or there might be other areas in life which are troubling you.

Dissociative Identity Disorder

In order to diagnose the dissociative identity disorder, DSM follows the below criteria.

  • You bring out the identity of two or more people from yourself. Every identity that you project is different and has their own perception of the world, things and people around them.
  • You might not be in a condition to remember the details of the day to day activities of life. Like you might not be able to recall the information of any event that you had visited or are unable to relate the incidents or connect with your thoughts.
  • The symptoms as told by you may not be accepted as a part of the cultural or the religious practice.
  • Your symptoms are not because of any drug or the intake of alcohol. In the case of kids, this is not due to any fantasy play or other sorts of fantasy things.
  • Your condition may lead to a lot of issues in your personal life and the work area as well. It may cause problems in coordinating both of them and at the same time affect other areas too.

Depersonalization- Derealization Disorder

According to DSM, this is the criteria to find out whether a person is suffering from a depersonalization-derealization disorder or not.

  • If you are unable to connect with yourself and find that you are moving away from your identity. It means you are depersonalizing with your thoughts, actions, emotions, and feelings. You feel that the surroundings around you are unreal and you get the intimation as if you are in another world or dreaming the whole day.
  • You face the condition of depersonalization or derealization even when you know that it is not true.
  • Your symptoms do not show up in the case of other disorder, mental illness, panic disorder and other conditions. You have not taken any alcohol or drug which has caused this disorder or any other temporal lobe epilepsy.
  • The depersonalization-derealization disorder may affect your personal life as well as a workplace to a large extent.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 6, 2018

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