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Introduction to Dissociative Disorders

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

person looking in mirrorWelcome to our Dissociative Disorders topic center. These conditions involve a person being separated from reality or feeling separate from their own body, thoughts, and behaviors. These symptoms can affect every part of their life.

Very mild forms are common in all people. This can include the feeling of 'spacing out' for a bit. Another example would be someone having the sensation of being separate from their thoughts as though they are an alien in their body.

More severe forms often happen after very stressful events such as war, death, abuse and other traumatic situation. There are three conditions in this category including:

  • Dissociative Amnesia - involves a loss of memory for personal information that happens because of traumatic events.
  • Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder - involves either or both of the following: 1) ongoing experiences of feeling like you are separate from your thoughts, feelings or body. You may feel emotionally or physically numb or like things that you are experiencing are not quite real/happening. 2) ongoing experiences where other people or objects around you don't feel real, seem distorted, or like they are in a dream/foggy state.
  • Dissociative Identity Disorder (often called multiple personality disorder in the past) - this condition often happens after traumatic events and/or abuse occurring as a child. The child separates themselves as a way of coping with the abuse or memories of it. This causes problems with the child's developing sense of self. Instead of a single self, it causes multiple personality pieces with different memories and identities.

Even though Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) often involves this separation from reality, it is now classified as a Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorder. Please see our Trauma section for more information on PTSD.