Dissociative disorders involve a breakdown in memory, awareness, identity and/or perception. The four main types are:
· Dissociative amnesia: Here, the person can’t remember important personal information surrounding a traumatic experience. This creates gaps in their personal history.
· Dissociative fugue: This is where the person impulsively wanders or disappears from their home - and can’t remember who they are, or anything about their past. Thus, they feel confused with no consistent identity. Usually, they move to a new location immediately after a stressful event. To others who do not know the individual, they appear to be functioning normally. The condition is usually diagnosed when family members find their lost relative
· Dissociative identity disorder: Previously known as “multiple personality disorder”, this is where a person switches between two or more identities. Each has control of the person at different times. Also, each identity has its own name, history and personality. The person only remembers a selection of personal information - depending on which identity is currently controlling them
· Depersonalization disorder: Key symptoms are a feeling of detachment or estrangement from the self. The person feels as if they are living in a dream, detached and looking down at their body, or watching themselves on a movie screen. Thus, they feel as if they’re “losing their mind”.
Dissociative disorders are thought to be a way of coping with trauma. They are most commonly seen in individuals who have experienced chronic childhood physic, sexual or emotional abuse. It may also be associated with growing up in a home which is frightening, chaotic or highly unpredictable. For example, Kluft (1987) reviewed the issues involved in multiple personality disorder and found that in 97% of the cases the person had experienced child abuse, and usually this was sexual abuse.
The following factors are believed to predispose a person to developing dissociative disorder:
· The child is dissociation-prone (That is, they have high hypnotisability)
· The child was molested or seriously abused
· He or she was unable to escape the abuse
· The child dissociated to psychically escape from the trauma
· This mode of coping was used to deal with less traumatic events in the future
CBT is the primary treatment for dissociative disorders as it is important to teach the clients new ways to cope with stress. Hypnosis is another popular technique as it provides a way for the person to work through traumatic experiences. Some therapists use art therapy as way of dealing with the memories. Although no specific medications are prescribed, sometimes a doctor will suggest tranquilizers, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication.