Dissociation

All of us have times when we feel ‘disconnected’. It could be that we are having a conversation with someone but our mind is elsewhere, or we arrive at a destination with no recollection of driving there. For most of us, these moments are occasional lapses that bear no impact on our daily lives. For others, however, disconnecting from reality becomes a defence mechanism.

When this happens, being disconnected can quickly turn into dissociation. If left untreated, this can evolve into a dissociative disorder. On this page, we will look at various effects of dissociation including the various disorders associated, such as dissociative identity disorder (DID).

If you are experiencing dissociation, you may look at yourself as if you are a stranger – unsure of who the person looking back at you in the mirror is, or indeed what is real. There are several mental health conditions that can cause dissociative symptoms including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder.

The following symptoms are examples of what you may experience:

  • feeling detached from your body
  • experiencing gaps in your memory
  • forgetting important information about yourself
  • feeling as if there is more than one person inside of you
  • hearing voices
  • feeling as if the world around you isn’t real
  • referring to yourself as ‘we’ rather than ‘I’
  • having out-of-body experiences
  • other people telling you that you have behaved out of character
  • feeling detached from your emotions
  • feeling numb or devoid of emotion

It can be very difficult to diagnose dissociation and dissociative disorders as many of the symptoms can be linked to other mental health issues. The very nature of the condition can also make the sufferer confused and reluctant to seek help, which may explain the low diagnosis rates. If you think you, or someone close to you, may be experiencing dissociative symptoms it is important to speak to your GP who can refer you to a mental health specialist with experience in dissociation.

Dissociative Disorders

Dissociative disorders occur when episodes of dissociation become recurrent and frequent. The following are examples of dissociative disorders:

  • Dissociative amnesia (characterised by an inability to remember key information about yourself or even a particular time in your life)
  • Dissociative amnesia with fugue (a typical fugue may see you assuming an alternative identity for a certain period of time – days or weeks.)
  • Depersonalisation or derealisation disorder (leading you to feel detached from your own body and as if your body isn’t ‘real’)
  • Dissociative Identity Disorder (One of the most complex disorders, it used to be known as multiple personality disorder. It is characterised by a range of identities that are in control of the body and mind at different times. The person is likely to experience severe amnesia and symptoms of depersonalisation disorder).
  • Other specified dissociative disorder (the experience of dissociative symptoms that don’t fit the other diagnoses).

Treatment

If you suspect you have a dissociative disorder your first port of call should be your GP. They will be able to refer you to a specialist who can go through your treatment options.

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