Dissociation is a mental process where a person disconnects from their thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity. Dissociative disorders include dissociative amnesia, dissociative fugue, depersonalisation disorder and dissociative identity disorder.
People who experience a traumatic event will often have some degree of dissociation during the event itself or in the following hours, days or weeks. For example, the event seems ‘unreal’ or the person feels detached from what’s going on around them as if watching the events on television. In most cases, the dissociation resolves without the need for treatment.
Some people, however, develop a dissociative disorder that requires treatment. Dissociative disorders are controversial and complex problems that need a specific diagnosis, treatment and support. If you are concerned that you or a loved one may have a dissociative disorder, it is important to seek professional help.
Symptoms and signs of dissociative disorders depend on the type and severity, but may include:
- Feeling disconnected from yourself
- Problems with handling intense emotions
- Sudden and unexpected shifts in mood – for example, feeling very sad for no reason
- Depression or anxiety problems, or both
- Feeling as though the world is distorted or not real (called ‘derealisation’)
- Memory problems that aren’t linked to physical injury or medical conditions
- Other cognitive (thought-related) problems such as concentration problems
- Significant memory lapses such as forgetting important personal information
- Feeling compelled to behave in a certain way
- Identity confusion – for example, behaving in a way that the person would normally find offensive or abhorrent.