Dissociative disorders aren’t that common. Only about two percent of adults meet the criteria to be diagnosed with a full-blown disorder. However, for people who are affected, identifying symptoms and getting treatment are crucial. Sadly, this process can be tricky. That’s because as much as 75 percent of people experience at least one dissociative episode in their lives. Chances are high that if you haven’t experienced an episode yet, you may at some point in your life.
Although some of the symptoms of dissociative disorders are similar, there are different types of dissociation and dissociative disorders and episodes. Here are the three main disorders, as well as tips for getting help and living with one of these disorders long-term.
Dissociative amnesia involves memory loss, but not just any kind of memory loss. You don’t have anything to worry about if you can’t remember the name of your cousin’s new girlfriend or where you put your keys. Instead, it involves not remembering important information about who you are as a person, your past, or life experiences.
Episodes often come on suddenly and without warning. The episode will likely last minutes, hours, or days. In some cases, a single episode can last months or years. Episodes can occur multiple times throughout your lifetime, and they are often associated with stressful or traumatic events. For example, a combat veteran may be unable to recall the events they experienced overseas, but they may not have trouble recalling the coffee they ordered with breakfast.
This disorder can sometimes also involve dissociative fugue, which involves traveling or wandering without any recollection of how you got to your destination. When it occurs at night, it is easily confused with sleepwalking.
Dissociative Identity Disorder
Dissociative identity disorder used to be known as as “multiple personality disorder,” but this term is now outdated and considered offensive. It is characterized by an alternation between at least two different distinct personalities within the same person. Each personality often has a unique name, mannerisms, and voice. It isn’t uncommon for people to suffer from amnesia or fugue when they have dissociative identity disorder, due to different “personalities” taking control.
It is thought that this disorder develops as a result of childhood trauma or other traumatic stress, like war or severe physical abuse. Dissociative identity disorder is thought to develop to allow the person to disconnect from traumatic memories. Individuals can maintain a surprisingly healthy lifestyle in the short term with dissociative identity disorder because they allow people live as if the trauma never occurred.
It is important to note that there is some debate over whether this type of dissociative disorder is a separate issue, or if it’s really just a form of another disorder, like borderline personality disorder. While that conversation is important, if you are experiencing symptoms, the important thing is that you receive mental health treatment.
Depersonalization Derealization Disorder
Depersonalization disorders involve feeling detached from yourself or your identity. It can feel like you’re watching a movie instead of experiencing your life from a first-person point of view. Although it is classified as its own disorder, it can be experienced for a wide variety of reasons. Depression and anxiety can make you feel detached from yourself, as can drug use, and even having a migraine. Derealization is another form of depersonalization disorder that makes it seem like the things or people around you seem unreal instead of being detached from yourself.
Some people experience an episode as a result of a profound spiritual experience. Others may have a fleeting experience when things are a little more stressful than normal. By themselves, these do not necessarily mean you have a mental illness. To be diagnosed, these symptoms must create significant, consistent problems in your life.
Managing a Dissociative Episode
There are things you can do to cope whether you have been diagnosed or you’re simply going through a tough time.
Learning how to ground yourself can be helpful for everyone. It involves finding ways to be present in the current moment. It could be something as simple as taking off your shoes to stand in the grass, breathing deeply, or sitting with a pet.
Paying attention to your senses can be a great way to bring yourself back to reality. Start by observing one sense at a time and engage them if they aren’t being used. For example, you could light a candle or take a bath.
Exercise has many health benefits. As it turns out, it can help when a person experiences a dissociative episode too. Whether you go to the gym, lift weights in your living room, or take a walk around the block, it can help you focus on your health and live in the moment.
Getting Help for Dissociative Disorders
Part of learning how to manage dissociative disorders and episodes is knowing when it’s time to get help. Learning the techniques listed above can be very difficult to do on your own if you have been diagnosed with a disorder or you suspect that you should be diagnosed.
Participating in a behavioral health program is the best way to learn how to manage your disorder. A treatment center like Baton Rouge Behavioral Hospital offers a wide variety of programs that can help. An inpatient mental health program can help by giving you a space to focus on your mental well-being, while a dual diagnosis program may be the best choice if you’re also struggling with an addiction.
No matter what program you choose, you’ll benefit from one-on-one therapy sessions with mental health professionals, support groups that enable you to talk about life’s challenges with peers who have been where you are, and recreational therapy that can help you learn how to manage stress and reduce dissociative episodes from occurring in the future.
If you want to learn more about the programs that are available to you if you are living with a mental illness, or if you wonder if you could be diagnosed with one of the dissociative disorders listed above, call Baton Rouge Behavioral Hospital at 225-300-8470. You can also click here to fill out our contact form and we’ll get back to you with the answers to any questions you may have.