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Dissociative Disorders

People with dissociative disorders experience an involuntary disconnect with reality, usually in response to psychological trauma or memories of past traumatic events. Some of the ways they escape reality is through selective amnesia, developing alters (or alternative identities), losing identity, and other coping mechanisms.

Studies show that more than 70% of people experience one or more episodes of a dissociative disorder, but only 2% of the U.S population experience persistent dissociative disorders.

Clinically Reviewed by: Charee Marquez, LMFT
Review Date: 3/1/2023

Symptoms of Dissociative Disorders

  • Amnesia, or memory loss, of past traumatic events and their details
  • Lacking a sense of identity, or a complete loss of personal identity
  • Out of body experiences, feeling disconnected from body
  • Emotional detachment, detachment from emotional self

Other symptoms may include suicidal ideation, self-mutilation, and self-harm. Dissociative disorders may create challenges in social settings, an inability to cope with stress, and other health problems such as anxiety and depression.

Types of Dissociative Disorders

The 3 main types of dissociative disorders are:

Dissociative Amnesia

This disorder causes short term or long term memory loss about a particular event, or one’s own history or identity.

  • Localized Amnesia symptoms include losing memories about a period of time.
  • Selective Amnesia symptoms include not remembering certain details about certain events
  • Generalized Amnesia symptoms include a complete loss of identity or life history
Dissociative Identity Disorder

This disorder is identified by switching between two or more alternative personalities, each having its own identity, including mannerisms, preferences, memories, and often individual names.

  • Memory loss symptoms include distinctly different sets of memories (or gaps in memory) between the personalities
  • Other symptoms include suicidal ideation and attempts, self-harm and self-mutilation
Depersonalization / Derealization Disorder

This disorder is identified by a feeling of detachment from one’s own body, mind and self. They feel depersonalized from their identity. When they feel detached from other people around them and their surroundings it’s called derealization

  • Depersonalization symptoms include being an outside observer of oneself, watching one’s own actions and behaviors from a distance
  • Derealization symptoms include a sense of unreality, with a loss of perception of time, space and surroundings

Causes of Dissociative Disorders

  • A severe trauma or past traumatic event
  • Long-term abuse or violence
  • Inability to cope with life’s events, especially during childhood
  • Brain injuries and brain tumors
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Substance abuse
  • Highly restricted social and cultural environments

Treatment of Dissociative Disorders

Although there are no medications that can cure dissociative disorders, antidepressants are sometimes prescribed for treating associated symptoms.

Various formats of therapy have been shown to be effective in treating dissociative disorders including:


Opinions are varied regarding hypnosis as a treatment, however it still remains an effective diagnosis as well as a treatment of dissociative disorders. Hypnosis can aid diagnosis by facilitating switching between personalities and in treatment by helping to reintegrate the personalities.


Conventional talk therapy has been shown to be the most effective treatment for dissociative disorders by helping patients reprocess past traumatic experiences in a supportive safe space, and then helping them to reintegrate their identities.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on negative thought patterns that are related to the patient’s dissociative disorders, and by replacing them with realistic, or positive thoughts and beliefs.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy helps dissociative disorder patients to learn how to manage overwhelming emotions by using techniques such as mindfulness practices and emotion regulation.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Specialists using EMDR therapy stimulate a dissociative disorder patient’s traumatic thoughts at the same time as physical actions such as focusing on eye movements. This process can help alleviate stress caused by painful thoughts and memories while helping the patients reprocess them.

While Dissociative Disorders can be debilitating, seeking treatment and supportive communities can help reduce dissociative episodes. Having a good diet, sleeping well, and practicing mindfulness techniques are a few positive coping strategies to maintain a balanced daily life. 

Reach out to California Prime Recovery to discuss treatment options.

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