Dissociative Disorder is another type of memory disorder that develops as a defense mechanism following some serious trauma. An individual may attempt to escape from the reality of ongoing abuse, violent attacks, disasters, or combat by mentally disconnecting their thoughts, identity, consciousness, or memories from what is real to what is not real. By unconsciously escaping into a make-believe world, the person finds refuge from the trauma or threatening situation around them. In doing so, they can physically endure the trauma while mentally removing themselves from the scene emotionally. As the situation becomes worse or repeats itself, their escape into dissociation becomes more frequent or more complex until sometimes it becomes difficult for them to tell what is real and what is not. Memory loss becomes their means of self-preservation.
There are three types of dissociative disorders – dissociative amnesia, depersonalization disorder, and dissociative identity disorder.
Dissociative Amnesia – The person may forget most of their personal information (name, personal history, friends). There are several types of dissociative amnesia.
- Localized – The person cannot remember a specific event or has a particular memory gap. For example, losing all memory of a car accident where they sustained serious injuries.
- Selective – Forgetting a particular part of an event, such as the moment of impact during a car accident.
- Continuous – A person forgets each new event as it occurs following a traumatic occurrence.
- Systematized – Loss of memories related to a specific category or individual, such as forgetting someone who died in an accident due to the painful memories associated with the event.
- Generalized – Loss of all former memories, including their identity and personal history. This form of amnesia is very rare and usually associated with severe trauma.
Dissociative Fugue is often associated with dissociative amnesia and occurs in only 0.2% of all amnesia cases. A fugue state is a condition where the person mentally or physically escapes an environment that is threatening or intolerable. They may leave for a few minutes, hours, days, or months. Like dissociative amnesia, the person does not know who they are, but they also travel away from their home, often wandering around bewildered and confused. Once they come out of the Fugue, they have no memory of what occurred while in the fugue state. However, they may start a new life during the Fugue and act entirely normal.
Depersonalization Disorder feels like being detached or disconnected from your body and thoughts. Those with the condition say it feels like they float above themselves, observing what they do “from the outside looking in,” somewhat as if in a dream. Episodes may last minutes or years.
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) – Formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, people with DID develop more than one complete identity. The separate identities control the behaviors of the individual at different times. Each identity has a unique history, traits, ages, genders, and personalities. Alternate identities do not know one another, creating gaps in memories for the primary identity, who may not know about the alternates. The appearance of the alternates is unpredictable and uncontrollable but appears more often during periods of stress and anxiety. DID is rare, occurring in only 1% of the population.
Common signs and symptoms of Dissociative conditions include:
- Significant memory loss of specific times, people, and events.
- Out-of-body experiences (Like watching yourself outside your body)
- A sense of detachment from your emotions or emotional numbness
- Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide
- A lack of a sense of self-identity
If you know someone experiencing these symptoms encourage them to seek the help of a mental health professional.