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Understanding Mental Disorder

Dissociative Disorders

Overview of dissociative disorders

Dissociative disorders, although difficult to explain to someone not experiencing it, are primarily defined as a disruption and/or discontinuity in the usual integration of consciousness, memory, identity, emotion and perception, among other areas. Dissociative disorders are on a spectrum and can vary from derealisation-depersonalisation disorder to dissociative identity disorder. Dissociative disorders can significantly impact psychological functioning, however can be receptive to the right treatment.

Symptoms of dissociative disorders

Do you experience derealisation (the subjective experience of unreality in the world, or detachment from ones surroundings, for example, feeling that you are in a dream or in a film, that yourself and the world are separated by a ‘veil’)? Do you experience depersonalisation (an introspective, subjective experience of unreality in the world, feeling disconnected to the body, self and mind, for example feeling like your specific body points, such as hands, don’t belong to you)? Do you regularly have irregular gaps when recalling the day, personal information or past events, that are not consistent with ordinary forgetting? Have you experienced sudden alternation into a secondary personality state, often referred to as having ‘multiple personalities’, sometimes changing voice or personal preferences? If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it is important to seek help as you may be suffering from a dissociative disorder. When left untreated, symptoms may worsen. It is important to note that some symptoms of a dissociative disorder may also be found in anxiety disorders and mood disorders.


Dissociative disorders are usually the product of trauma, although the exact cause of dissociative disorders is unclear. These traumas may include experiencing overwhelming events or extreme violence such as kidnapping, childhood abuse or experiencing war. The reason we dissociate in times of extreme stress is usually because we are unable to fight or flee in the scenario, for example being a child and experiencing severe neglect. Therefore, we ‘freeze’ (numbing of body and mind) or ‘flop’ (shutting down of thinking processes).


With the correct treatment, everyone has a chance of recovering from a dissociative disorder. Talking therapies, eye movement sensitisation reprocessing (EMDR) and medication have been shown to be effective in treatment dissociative disorders, sometimes used in combinations. Talking therapies are likely to take an integrative approach, with elements of CBT and psychodynamic psychotherapy being used. CBT helps us to reduce anxiety and change negative thinking patterns, while psychodynamic psychotherapy explores relationships and thoughts and may discuss childhood experiences. EMDR helps deal with past traumas and requires you to make side-to-side eye movements while relaying traumas. Medications may be beneficial in reducing specific symptoms of dissociative disorders. For example, medications may help with anxiety or depressive symptoms of dissociative disorders.

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