Understanding Dissociative Disorders

What are dissociative disorders?

Simply put, dissociative disorders are a mental health condition where a person feels detached from themselves, other people and the world around them.  They can suffer from memory loss, blanking out memories and long periods of time, have doubts about who they are, feel little or no pain and can develop distinct multiple personalities.  There are three main types of dissociative disorder:

Depersonalization/Derealisation Disorder

Depersonalization is where a person feels detached from their mind and body, like they are watching themselves.

Derealisation is where the world doesn’t seem real.

You can have these feelings separately or at the same time and it can last anything from a few moments or for years.

Dissociative Identity Disorder

Formerly known as “multiple personality disorder” this is where a person develops several distinct personalities, which can each be dominant at different times.  The person may not be aware of the other personalities and may suffer from amnesia or memory loss when they are in control.  

Dissociative Amnesia

Causes a person to have long periods of memory loss which can last hours or days, in rare cases this has even lasted for months or years. They can not only lose memories but actual skills or talents and can find themselves somewhere without knowing why, or how they got there.


People often develop dissociative disorders after suffering from abuse or trauma in childhood or a traumatic event like sexual or physical abuse, military combat, natural disaster or invasive medical procedures.  Dissociation is a defence mechanism our body uses to help us cope with trauma in the short-term.  This is fine when we are faced with the situation but if it continues long after the event it becomes problematic.  

Physical Symptoms

·      Feeling little or no pain

·      Finding yourself somewhere without knowing how or why you are there

·      Insomnia

·      Mood swings

Psychological Symptoms

·      Feeling like you don’t know who you are

·      Feeling disconnected from reality and the world around you

·      Developing multiple personalities

·      Memory loss or losing time

Associated Conditions

·      Anxiety

·      Panic Attacks

·      Depression

·      Suicidal thoughts                                                                                             

·      OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder)

·      Phobias

·      Eating disorders

·      PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)

Self Help

There is information available on line about ways to help with symptoms.  These include things like keeping a journal, visualisation techniques to help manage anxiety and stress.  Grounding techniques such as listening to sounds around you, breathing slowly or walking barefoot can help you feel more connected to the present.  Obvious thinks like getting a good night’s sleep, eating well and exercising can all help you to cope better by improving energy levels and lifting your mood.

Professional Help

If you think you may be suffering from a dissociative disorder you should speak to your doctor.  They will be able to check to ensure there is no underlying medical condition causing your symptoms, things like drug or alcohol misuse, or a head injury.  You shouldn’t feel embarrassed to tell your doctor your symptoms as he will need to know to diagnose you properly. 

Whilst there are no specific medications to treat dissociation, your doctor can prescribe medications for associated conditions like anxiety, panic attacks and depression.  You can recover from dissociation disorders although it can take several years. 

Talking therapies like counselling and psychotherapy as well as EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) will be a big part of recovery.  CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and clinical hypnotherapy have also been used as they have been found to be helpful.  Written by Jan, Jeana and Wendy at Barnsley Hypnosis and Counselling (UK).  For more free information click above link.