Dissociative Disorders

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An essay about the four main types of Dissociative Disorders.

Submitted: June 06, 2011

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Submitted: June 06, 2011



What Would You Do? What would you do if you woke up one morning in a different place, could not remember anything about yourself, or had another personality (let’s say her name is Isabel) living inside of you? People with a dissociative disorder live with these symptoms everyday. Someone with a dissociative disorder “escapes reality in ways that are involuntary and unhealthy,” (“Dissociative disorders- MayoClinic.com” definition) says one expert. This involves, “a disturbance of consciousness, memories, identity, or perception of the environment,” (“Mental Disorders” Dissociative Disorders) according to another. These types of disorders are usually developed as a way to deal with trauma, they are also often found in children and adults subjected to chronic abuse of some kind (emotional, physical...), or sometimes because of a home environment that is frightening or unpredictable. Children are more susceptible because personal identity is still developing. ("Dissociative disorders- MayoClinic.com" definition). A dissociative disorder disrupts how a person lives their life, and even what they remember about it; being informed about these disorders can help you know how to react to and help people who have one of them.

First, one type of dissociative disorder is called Dissociative Amnesia. The American Psychiatric Association, a group of specialists, describes it as being “characterized by an inability to recall important personal information, usually of a traumatic or stressful nature, that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness,” (“Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders” 477). The main symptom is an unexplainable loss of memories. Or, severe memory loss that is very extensive and that cannot be explained by a medical condition. This rarely comes on suddenly after a traumatic event, it usually comes on gradually ("Dissociative disorders- MayoClinic.com" symptoms). It is thought to be caused by traumatic or stressful experiences either endured or witnessed, or by intense internal conflict (Simeon). There are four types of dissociative amnesia, and they have to do with how severe the memory loss is. Localized amnesia is when patients cannot remember certain events or periods of time that were traumatic or stressful (battles, torture...). Generalized amnesia is described as when a person cannot remember anything (past, identity...). Continuous amnesia is when a patient cannot remember any events up to and including the present time. They are aware of their surroundings, but cannot recall anything that occurs. Systematized amnesia occurs when a person losses memory of certain information and categories of information (places, people...) (Idan). Dissociative Amnesia is one type of disorder that involves loss of memories.

Second, another form of dissociative disorder has been named Dissociative Fugue. “Dissociative Fugue is characterized by sudden, unexpected travel away from home or one’s customary place of work, accompanied by an inability to recall one’s past and confusion about personal identity or the assumption of a new identity,” (“Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders” 477). The main indication is the act of separating from and forgetting your life and identity, some take on a different self in their new place of living. Or, according to one expert, “[c]reating physical distance from your real identity,” ("Dissociative disorders- MayoClinic.com" symptoms). An example of something that could happen as a result of this disorder is if you suddenly leave your home in Maine and travel away, forgetting who you are and obtaining a new personality/identity in France. A few years later, you return to your original identity and cannot recall how you got to France or what you did there. Dissociative Fugue is a second type of dissociative disorder.

Third, another type is Dissociative Identity Disorder. “Dissociative Identity Disorder (formally Multiple Personality Disorder) is characterized by the presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states that recurrently take control of the individual’s behavior accompanied by an inability to recall important personal information that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness,” (“Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders” 477). The main sign of having this disorder is having multiple “people” inside your mind and/or suddenly changing between identities, each with its own personality and history. Or, having more than one distinct personality, each having unique ways of thinking, behaving, and emotional expression and sometimes having different memories. At times personalities overlap- sharing some traits and memories. Some people have different patterns of brain activity for each personality (Walker). One source describes it as changing to alternate identities in times of extreme stress; you may feel the presence of one or more people speaking or living in your head ("Dissociative disorders- MayoClinic.com" symptoms). The cause of dissociative identity disorder is unknown, and the level of awareness of these other personalities varies by person, or identity. One professor says that some people are aware that they have distinct personalities, while others are unaware; and that the cause of this disorder is unknown (Walker). Another specialist says that there are differences in how aware each identity is of the others ("Dissociative disorders- MayoClinic.com" symptoms). A third form of dissociative disorder is Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Fourth, another type is Depersonalization Disorder. “Depersonalization Disorder is characterized by a persistent or recurrent feeling of being detached from one’s mental processes or body that is accompanied by intact reality testing...(awareness that it is only a feeling and that he or she is not really an automaton),” (“Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders” 477 and 488). The main symptom is feeling like an outside observer of your mind and/or physical self, not just once or twice, but often. Or feeling as if you were in a dream. It can be “[c]haracterized by a sudden sense of being outside of yourself, observing your actions from a distance as though watching a movie.” Size/shape of people/yourself/objects can seem blurred or distorted. Time may seem to slow down or feel unreal ("Dissociative disorders- MayoClinic.com" symptoms). Also, the depersonalization must be unexplainable, because it can be brought on as a side-effect of substances or other disorders. According to Daphne Simeon, an expert, the “depersonalization does not occur exclusively during the course of another mental disorder and is not due to direct effects of substance abuse or general medication...This disorder frequently coexists with mood, anxiety, and psychotic disorders.” A last type of dissociative disorder is Depersonalization Disorder.

In conclusion, being aware of what the main dissociative disorders are can help you know how to help or interact with people that have one of them. Dissociative amnesia is when a person has extensive and unexplainable memory loss. Dissociative fugue is when a person suddenly and unexpectedly leaves where they live, not remembering anything, and may start a new life with a new identity. Dissociative identity disorder is when a person has multiple personalities living inside their head, and switches between these personalities suddenly. Depersonalization disorder is when a person often feels as if they are not inside of their body or mind. Disorders are a part of the ordinary lives of many people, it is easy to generalize about what the person is going through, learning about disorders can help stop this.

Works Cited

Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 4th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1994. Print.

"Dissociative disorders - MayoClinic.com." Mayo Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2011. . Idan, Sharon. "Medscape: Medscape Access."Medscape: Medscape Access. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2011.

"Mental Disorders." Encyclopedia. World News Digest. Facts On File News Services, n.d. Web. 23 May 2011.

Simeon, Daphne. "Introduction: Dissociative Disorders: Merck Manual Professional ." Merck & Co., Inc. is a global research-driven pharmaceutical products company. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2011.

Walker, Elaine F. "Dissociative Identity Disorder." Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Grolier Online, 2011. Web. 21 May. 2011.

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