What are Dissociative Disorders?

Dissociative disorders are a complex group of mental health conditions that significantly impact a person's memory, identity, emotions, perception, behavior, and sense of self. These disorders are characterized by a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions, and identity. This disconnection can severely disrupt every aspect of mental functioning, leading to significant difficulties in daily life.

Symptoms of Dissociative Disorders

Symptoms of dissociative disorders vary depending on the specific disorder, but often include:

Types of Dissociative Disorders

The American Psychiatric Association recognizes three major types of dissociative disorders:

  1. Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder: This disorder is marked by recurring episodes of depersonalization—feeling detached from your own thoughts, body, or sensations—and derealization, where the world around you feels unreal or dreamlike. Individuals may describe feeling as though they are an outside observer of their own life or that time seems to be distorted. These episodes can be profoundly disturbing and may interfere significantly with daily functioning.
  2. Dissociative Amnesia: The main symptom of dissociative amnesia is significant memory loss that goes beyond normal forgetfulness and cannot be attributed to a medical condition. This loss of memory typically involves traumatic or stressful events and can vary in duration, from brief episodes to more prolonged periods. In its most extreme form, dissociative fugue, an individual may actually travel away from their home or workplace and assume a new identity, with no recollection of their past.
  3. Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID): Once called “Multiple Personality Disorder,” DID is characterized by the presence of two or more distinct identity or personality states, each with its own pattern of perceiving and interacting with the world. These identities may have their own names, histories, and characteristics, including differences in voice, mannerisms, and possibly even physical traits. DID is associated with severe trauma, typically during early childhood, such as ongoing emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.

How Do Dissociative Disorders Develop?

Dissociative disorders often develop in response to trauma, serving as a psychological escape from the intense emotional pain associated with these events. 

DID is most often caused by extended childhood trauma. In children, the childhood capacity for 'magical thinking' can facilitate this escape, allowing them to imagine themselves as separate from the traumatic experiences. This can manifest as envisioning a different "self" who is enduring the trauma, effectively compartmentalizing the painful memories or emotions as belonging to someone else.

Depersonalization Disorder and Dissociative Amnesia are frequently caused by childhood trauma as well, but can also be caused by circumstances in adult life, such as trauma, extreme stress, prolonged depression or anxiety, or substance abuse.

Related Conditions

Dissociative disorders often coexist with other mental health conditions, particularly those related to trauma, such as:

How Are Dissociative Disorders Diagnosed and Treated?

Diagnosing dissociative disorders involves a thorough review of symptoms, as well as family and personal history. A medical doctor may conduct tests to rule out physical conditions that could mimic dissociative symptoms, such as neurological disorders or intoxication. Once physical causes are excluded, a mental health specialist, such as a Psychologist, will evaluate the individual's mental health. This can involve psychological assessments, interviews with family and friends, and a thorough review of personal history.

Treatment for dissociative disorders is multifaceted, typically involving psychotherapy as the primary approach. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) are also common treatments. These therapies help individuals understand and cope with their dissociative symptoms, work through the trauma that triggered the disorder, and develop healthier coping mechanisms. In some cases, medication may be prescribed to address symptoms of co-occurring disorders, such as depression or anxiety.

When to Get Help

Dissociative disorders are serious mental health conditions that can significantly impact an individual’s ability to manage their daily life. They can also cause impulsive behavior, self harm and suicidal behavior, and behavior that harms others. However, these disorders are treatable, and a person’s quality of life and functioning can be greatly improved with treatment. 

It’s important to get help if you suspect that you or someone you know might be suffering from a dissociative disorder. If symptoms are severe or include self harm or suicidal behavior, get professional help or go to the Emergency Room for immediate treatment. However, it’s better to get help before symptoms progress to that level. If you notice any symptoms of dissociation (feelings of detachment, a perception of people and things as unreal, a blurred sense of identity), make an appointment with your doctor for evaluation as soon as you can.

Treatment for Dissociative Disorders at Medens Health

Suffering from a dissociative disorder does not mean that you can’t live a functional and meaningful life. At Medens Health, our trained mental health professionals can guide you through your healing journey, helping you manage your symptoms, process underlying trauma, and develop healthy coping strategies. We offer a wide range of psychological assessments and can work with you and your doctor to determine which ones might be needed for you.

For dissociative disorder treatment, please reach out to us online or by phone/text at (833) 624-5400. You can also get started here.


The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical or mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who is qualified to give you safe, professional, and ethical advice regarding your mental health.

If you or someone you are responsible for is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should call 9-1-1 and/or take them to the nearest emergency room.