Dissociative disorders are mental disorders that involve experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity. People with dissociative disorders escape reality in ways that are involuntary and unhealthy and cause problems with functioning in everyday life.
Dissociative disorders usually develop as a reaction to trauma and help keep difficult memories at bay. Symptoms — ranging from amnesia to alternate identities — depend in part on the type of dissociative disorder you have. Times of stress can temporarily worsen symptoms, making them more obvious.
Treatment for dissociative disorders may include talk therapy (psychotherapy) and medication. Although treating dissociative disorders can be difficult, many people learn new ways of coping and lead healthy, productive lives.
Signs and symptoms depend on the type of dissociative disorders you have, but may include:
• Memory loss (amnesia) of certain time periods, events, people and personal information
• A sense of being detached from yourself and your emotions
• A perception of the people and things around you as distorted and unreal
• A blurred sense of identity
• Significant stress or problems in your relationships, work or other important areas of your life
• Inability to cope well with emotional or professional stress
• Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors
There are three major dissociative disorders defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American
People who experience long-term physical, sexual or emotional abuse during childhood are at greatest risk of developing dissociative disorders.
Children and adults who experience other traumatic events, such as war, natural disasters, kidnapping, torture, or extended, traumatic, early-life medical procedures, also may develop these conditions.
People with dissociative disorders are at increased risk of complications and associated disorders, such as:
• Self-harm or mutilation
• Suicidal thoughts and behavior
• Sexual dysfunction
• Alcoholism and drug use disorders
• Depression and anxiety disorders
• Post-traumatic stress disorder
• Personality disorders
• Sleep disorders, including nightmares, insomnia and sleepwalking
• Eating disorders
• Physical symptoms such as lightheadedness or non-epileptic seizures
• Major difficulties in personal relationships and at work
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