top of page

Dissociative disorders

Dissociative disorders are a group of mental health conditions characterized by disruptions or gaps in memory, consciousness, identity, or perception. These disruptions often occur as a response to trauma or extreme stress and can significantly impact an individual's sense of self and daily functioning. There are several types of dissociative disorders, including Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), Dissociative Amnesia, and Depersonalization-Derealization Disorder.



Dissociative Amnesia: Inability to recall important personal information, often related to traumatic or stressful events, that cannot be explained by normal forgetfulness.
Depersonalization: Feeling detached from oneself or as if one is observing themselves from outside their own body. This can lead to a sense of unreality or feeling like an automaton.
Derealization: Experiencing a sense of unreality or detachment from the external world. The environment may seem distorted or dreamlike.
Identity Confusion: In Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), individuals may have multiple distinct identities or personality states, each with its own way of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
Identity Alteration: In DID, individuals may switch between different identities, potentially leading to gaps in memory or awareness of one's actions.
Loss of Time: In DID, individuals may experience periods of time for which they have no memory, often referred to as "lost time."
Flashbacks: Vivid and distressing recollections of traumatic events.
Depression and Anxiety: Many individuals with dissociative disorders also experience symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Mood Swings: Fluctuations in mood, including periods of sadness, anxiety, or irritability.
Self-Harm or Suicidal Thoughts: In severe cases, individuals may engage in self-harming behaviours or have thoughts of suicide.


The exact cause of dissociative disorders is believed to be related to severe trauma or stress, particularly during early childhood. Some potential contributing factors include:
Severe Trauma: Experiencing physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, especially during early developmental stages, can contribute to the development of dissociative disorders.
Other Traumatic Events: Witnessing or experiencing other highly distressing events, such as natural disasters or accidents, can also be a contributing factor.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs): Exposure to a range of adverse experiences during childhood, such as neglect, household dysfunction, or parental substance abuse, can increase the risk of dissociative disorders.
Protective Mechanism: Dissociation can be a coping mechanism that helps individuals temporarily distance themselves from overwhelming or traumatic experiences.


A diagnosis of dissociative disorders is typically made by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist. The diagnosis is based on a thorough assessment that may include:
Clinical Interview: The mental health professional will conduct a detailed interview to gather information about the individual's experiences, history, and any triggering events.
Diagnostic Criteria: The diagnosis of a specific dissociative disorder is based on specific criteria outlined in diagnostic manuals such as the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition).
Rule Out Other Conditions: The professional will ensure that the symptoms are not better explained by another mental health condition or medical issue.


Treatment for dissociative disorders typically involves a combination of therapies:
Psychotherapy: Individual therapy, particularly specialized forms such as Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), can help individuals process and integrate traumatic experiences.
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT): DBT can help individuals learn skills to regulate emotions and improve interpersonal relationships.
Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage specific symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, or dissociation.
Integration Work: For individuals with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), integration therapy may be used to help merge distinct identities into a cohesive sense of self.
Grounding Techniques: Learning and practicing grounding techniques can help individuals stay present and connected to reality during moments of dissociation.
Supportive Environment: Creating a safe and supportive environment is crucial for individuals with dissociative disorders to facilitate healing and recovery.
It's important to note that treatment plans are highly individualized, and what works for one person may not work for another. A mental health professional will work closely with the individual to develop a tailored approach to their specific needs and circumstances. Early intervention and consistent support are crucial for managing dissociative disorders and promoting healing and well-being.

bottom of page