What are Dissociative Disorders?

When there is an interruption or a collapse in a person’s perception, memory, identity, or awareness their defense mechanisms can kick in and cause what is called, dissociative disorders. Psychological trauma is usually the root cause.

There are a few different ways that dissociative disorders can surface and all are recognized by the American Psychiatric Association's DSM-5. Dissociative disorders can manifest as what used to be known as multiple personality disorder (MPD), dissociative amnesia, and detachment from oneself.

In general, dissociative disorders cause a disturbance in how a person thinks, their level of awareness, their memory, and/or their awareness. Dissociative disorders can last just a short time or they can last for a while. The feeling of going insane, having an out of body experience, losing control, and the inability to remember things are all part of this disorder.

Dissociative disorders are most common after a traumatic event. People that have been physically or sexually abused, those who suffer from anxiety or panic disorders, and sufferers of PTSD are most vulnerable to this disorder. This is an escape mechanism but it is not only uncontrolled but it is also very damaging.

Dissociative disorders hinder a person from being able to live and function in a healthy lifestyle. Stress definitely makes things worse. This can be treated using medication and psychotherapy very successfully. If you or someone you care about is exhibiting signs of a dissociative disorder will you be able to spot it and seek help?

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  • I don't know if I would be able to spot someone with a dissociative order.  Are you saying that after a person has a traumatic event, like say someone blew up a building near them, the shock they go into is a dissociative disorder that is caused by the event? This stays with them then? They don't just get over what happened? My confusion is I guess because I thought that multiple personalities was something else, it was  when a person had several different personalities that would interact at various intervals in the day to day activities. Not necessarily due to a trama but something in the individuals own psyche.

    Maybe I am confusing this with PTSD where someone, like a veteran fears that some of the terrible things they experienced in war are happening again. Are they dissociative at that moment? Do they have a different core personality that takes over, or is it the same personality just freaking out because something is making them feel like they are under attack or back at the war zone?
  • I have always wondered about these disorders, they are very interesting to me. Not in diagnosing them in others, but wondering if a person themselves could figure out they had this. How would they know, if they can not remember? 

    There are many periods of my life that I can not remember, does that mean something bad happened and I dissociated, or I just have a bad memory? It is interesting to think about.
  • I have kind of the same feeling with Diane...I don't know much about these nor have experienced them amongst any of my friends. I do tend to show some signs of the above mentioned symptoms but that doesn't mean I am dissociated or anything. I do tend to at times depersonalize things as well....do you really believe that this is a disorder? It doesn't seem to affect me that much but rather helps me be more objective about things in certain situations..whats your take on this?
  • My friend shows these types of symptoms and I think she has some sort of disassociation.  She gets really upset about it as she knows that she has things missing in her day.  Sometimes it can just be small, sometimes huge chunks of time.  She worries, really worries, that she will end up somewhere and not know how she got there.  She also has self harmed herself and then cannot remember why she has done it and again this is massively distressing for her.  It seems to happen anytime and anywhere without any pattern.  She also gets really anxious and can go into panic quite easily. This has stopped her doing quite a lot of things.  She also sometimes does not seem 'with it' and has told me that she feels like she is in a bubble and although we are there she doesn't feel part of things.  Its hard to describe really.  As far as I know she has not had any trauma in her life but do wonder if it could be anything to do with when she was a baby maybe or something neurological as I think there is research that has looked at this and also attachment issues when you are a baby.  Bit complicated, but I just want her to feel okay as she is really depressed and I don't feel I can help her much.
  • I think that dissociative disorders happen after traumatic events like you mentioned and basically they mess a person up. Therapy is necessary in many cases. 
  • I guess if you know a person for a long period of time, and you know a lot about their life, you might be able to piece together that something's not right. Also I feel that some people/personalities might be more prone to disassociate than others, although I could be wrong. For example I know some people who like to ignore pieces of information, or aren't interested in the whole story, they just want to kind of sail down the river of life with earplugs and blinders on... I feel sometimes a person like that might be more prone to disassociate because they have a lot of trouble dealing with tragedies and terrible life events.
  • I still don't think I really understand what this is. Are you saying after a traumatic event, a person would have a sense of losing reality as well as confusion, memory loss and not knowing who they are? Or is what I am saying something else I am really interested to understand what this is.
  • I have an interest in dissociative identity disorder. I've seen many youtube videos made by people with the disorder and have spent a significant amount of time on Reddit reading first hand experiences, which is what I am most interested in. There is a DID subreddit, where many people with the disorder can come and talk about their experiences and "alters". If anyone here is interested, check out reddit.com/r/did. 
  • It makes a scary reading. The fact that psychiatric disorders are so distinct and varied is incredible. However, the root cause for most of the disorders is trauma and stress as the author makes it clear. Everyone should have their own escape routes from stress and worry and share their feelings with like-minded people. Mitigating stress is very important to lead purposeful lives.
  • I'm interested in dissociative disorders. In the UK, DID is not recognised as a disorder. I struggle with the idea. It's difficult because I've been told of different personalities I have displayed that I have no memory of. I also dissociate but I am aware of it.
    As a child, I wouldn't remember falling asleep or waking up...the last thing I would remember is seeing either a gravel path or clock works on my wall (imagined). It was a useful coping tool for me back then...it doesn't serve a purpose now but it still happens...I can pinpoint obvious triggers but not others. I'll be walking around the supermarket and then I 'switch'. I either feel like I'm dreaming or I lose time. I often very detached from myself...im so used to it that I'm probably only aware of the detachment when I'm not detached, if that makes sense.

    I know anxiety is a trigger so I have to manage my anxiety in a different way. Hard work though and sometimes it's just easier to induce the feeling by getting off my head :/
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