Dissociative disorders can make you feel disconnected from your persona, previous experiences and behaviours.
Dissociative disorders are mental health conditions that can blur the reality of both past and present events. Studies suggest a large proportion of individuals living with dissociative disorders have experienced traumatic events. These conditions disconnect you from reality and are used as a coping mechanism, helping people to block out a traumatic experience or memory.
If you’re currently experiencing a dissociative disorder, or know of someone who is, mental health treatment can help reduce the symptoms.
What are dissociative disorders?
Dissociative disorders are mental health conditions that can distort reality and also your memory of past events.
When a person develops a dissociative disorder, it is usually a coping mechanism to overcome past traumatic experiences, such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Individuals involuntarily dissociate themselves from reality, and this can have devastating effects on their quality of life.
Sometimes, individuals will completely forget past events or develop multiple personalities to dissociate themselves from past trauma.
There are three main types of dissociative disorders, which the NHS classify as:
- Depersonalization Disorder
- Dissociative Amnesia
- Dissociative Identity Disorder
Types of dissociative disorders
The 1st thing we need to do is identify which dissociative disorder a person is currently suffering from. A range of medications and therapy treatments are available to help alleviate this mental health condition.
Some people may experience symptoms for only a few days, whilst for other people, it may be a long-term issue they have been living with for some time. This can also vary for the type of dissociative disorder they are currently experiencing.
Depersonalisation makes you feel disconnected from yourself like you’re watching your own life from afar, almost like a movie.
Derealisation is when everything around you seems strange and almost dreamlike like people and objects aren’t quite real. Time might feel weird, too, either slowing down or speeding up.
You can have depersonalisation, derealisation, or both at the same time. These feelings can be really distressing and might stick around for a while, from hours to months. They might come and go over many years or become a long-lasting part of your life.
Dissociative amnesia is when you have trouble remembering things about yourself or events from your past. It’s more severe than regular forgetfulness and isn’t caused by another medical issue.
Sometimes, you might find yourself in a strange place without knowing how you got there. These memory lapses can last for minutes, hours, or even days. In rare cases, they can stretch out for months or years.
The main symptom is sudden memory loss, especially about events that caused you stress or pain. This memory loss might focus on a specific time, like a traumatic event or intense combat, if a war veteran.
In some cases, you might completely forget who you are or wander away from your life, which is called dissociative fugue. This is like sleepwalking, where you may wonder about it but have no recollection of how or why you got there, and it can obviously be very distressing.
Dissociative identity disorder
Dissociative identity disorder (DID), previously called multiple personality disorder, is a condition where individuals may struggle with their sense of self and identity.
People diagnosed with DID may experience the sensation of having multiple identities, each with its own name, voice, personal history, and mannerisms. They may feel like there are several individuals living inside their mind, leading to periods of identity “switching.”
These different identities, or alters, can vary in gender, voice, mannerisms, and even physical characteristics. Some may need to wear reading glasses, for example. Additionally, each identity may have a different level of awareness about the others.
Symptoms of DID include memory gaps for everyday events and personal information, as well as experiencing distinct identities. Individuals with DID may also have episodes of amnesia and periods of confused wandering.
The Symptoms of Dissociative Disorders
Symptoms of dissociative disorders can vary from person to person. These can be combined with other mental health issues such as suicidal thoughts and, more typically, depression.
Commonly experienced symptoms of dissociative disorders include (but are not limited to):
- Emotional Detachment
- Mood Swings
- Identity Uncertainty
- Loss of memory
Dissociative can occur as your body attempts to defend itself from too much stress. These symptoms can vary from person to person, and the duration of symptoms can also vary. For some people, episodes will come and go, whilst some people will find themselves suffering from a disorder on a daily basis.
Treatment for Dissociative Disorders
Treatment for dissociative disorders involves a combination of therapies aimed at addressing the underlying causes and managing your symptoms effectively. Here are some common approaches we take at Asana Lodge:
Talking therapy, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), can help individuals explore and understand their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. Therapists work with patients to identify triggers, develop coping strategies, and integrate fragmented memories.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is a specialised therapy often used to treat trauma-related disorders, including dissociative disorders. It involves guided eye movements while recalling distressing memories, which can help process and reframe traumatic experiences.
While there are no specific medications to treat dissociative disorders, certain medications may be prescribed to manage co-occurring symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or sleep disturbances. These may include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or mood stabilisers.
Art therapy, music therapy, and other creative therapies can provide alternative ways for individuals to express themselves and process emotions, particularly when verbal communication is challenging.
Mindfulness and Grounding Techniques
Practices such as mindfulness meditation and grounding exercises can help individuals stay present in the moment and reduce dissociative episodes. Techniques may include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and sensory grounding exercises.
Collaboration with Healthcare Providers
Collaborating with a multidisciplinary team of healthcare providers, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and primary care physicians, can ensure comprehensive and coordinated care tailored to the individual’s needs.
It’s essential for individuals with dissociative disorders to work closely with mental health professionals to develop a personalised treatment plan that addresses their unique experiences and challenges. Treatment may be long-term and may require ongoing support to promote healing and recovery.
For more information on how we can treat dissociative disorders at Asana Lodge, please get in touch with our expert team. Simply call us on 01908 489 421 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll get in touch with you to discuss treatment options.