Dissociation and Dissociative Disorders

Dissociation and Dissociative Disorders

Dissociation and dissociative  disorders are mental health disorders that involve experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity.

What is Dissociation?

Many people may experience dissociation (or dissociate) during their life.

If you dissociate, you may feel disconnected from yourself and the world around you. For example, you may feel detached from your body or feel as though the world around you is unreal. But everyone’s experiences of dissociation are different.

Dissociation is one way the mind copes with too much stress, such as during a traumatic event.

Experiences of dissociation can last for a relatively short time (hours, days or months) or for much longer (sometimes years or decades). For this reason it’s important that someone struggling with dissociation or dissociative disorders get the help and support they need quickly.

If you dissociate for a long time, especially when you are young, you may develop a dissociative disorder such as Dissociate Identity Disorder or Depersonalisation-Derealisation Disorder.

When Might I Dissociate?

For many people, dissociation is a natural response to trauma that they can't control. It could be a response to a one-off traumatic event or ongoing trauma and abuse.

You might experience dissociation as a symptom of a mental health problem, for example Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder.

Or you may experience dissociation as a side effect of alcohol or some medication, or when coming off some medication.

Common Experiences of Dissociation

  • Memory loss (amnesia) of certain time periods, events, people and personal information.
  • A sense of being detached from yourself and your emotions.
  • A perception of the people and things around you as distorted and unreal.
  • A blurred sense of identity.
  • Other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety  and suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

There are three major dissociative disorders defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association:

  1. Dissociative Amnesia
  2. Dissociative Identity Disorder 
  3. Depersonalisation-Derealisation Disorder

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