What are Dissociative Disorders and Conditions?
Dissociative conditions involve a dissociation or interruption from consciousness, awareness, identity or memory. They may result from psychological trauma or severe stress. Dissociative disorders are further categorized into dissociative amnesia, dissociative identity disorder, and depersonalization disorder. Dissociative symptoms can interfere with normal functioning, adversely affecting work, school or interpersonal relationships.
This was not depression. This was not “workaholism.” I have a fairly severe mental illness that makes it hard to do my job — in fact, makes me totally ill-suited for my job. I have a form of dissociative disorder that makes the world seem like it’s not real, as if things aren’t taking place. It’s hard to explain, but you feel untethered. And because nothing seems real, it’s hard to connect with the world or the people in it because they’re not there. You’re not there. That’s why I rarely saw my family back then: It’s hard to care when everything feels as if it’s taking place in your imagination. And if you’re distant with people, especially a woman you’re romantically involved with, they eventually leave.
— Adam Duritz, Counting Crows.
What are the symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Dissociative Disorders develop in response to severe stress. Examples may include wartime experiences, natural disasters, rape, incest, or even psychotic episodes (including placement in psychiatric hospitals). Dissociative identity disorder is also associated with dissociative amnesia. Dissociative amnesia involves the inability to remember past experiences or personal information. Memory loss is more extensive than normal forgetfulness. Dissociative identity disorder was formerly known as multiple personality disorder. Alternate personalities arise related to exposure to stress. Individuals with this disorder experience the presence of one or more people talking and “living” inside of them. Depersonalization disorder is a period where a person has the sensation they are outside of their body, observing their own actions from a different vantage point. Depersonalization disorder can be associated with body image distortions and feelings that the world is “unreal.”
People with Dissociative Disorders may also experience depression, mood lability, suicidal thoughts or attempts, sleep disorders (insomnia, night terrors, and sleep walking), or panic attacks and phobias (flashbacks, reactions to reminders of the trauma). Furthermore, compulsions and rituals, borderline psychotic symptoms, somatization issues such as headaches, trances or “out of body experiences” or eating disorders may occur.
What causes a Dissociative Disorder?
Dissociation is both a protective and pathological response to trauma, real or threatened. Dissociative problems often arise from childhood experiences of sexual or severe physical abuse, during a time when personal identity is developing. In dissociating, feelings, thoughts, perceptions and memories of trauma can be pushed away from consciousness. This allows a child to be able to function more normally. Less frequently, dissociation arises in adulthood, again in response to severe trauma including wartime experiences, violence, rape, or assault.