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Dissociative Disorder

Dissociative Disorder


A dissociative disorder is a defense mechanism in which one's identity, memories, ideas, feelings, or perceptions are separated from conscious awareness. They cannot be recalled or experienced voluntarily

What is going on in the body?

After a traumatic event, dissociation enables a person to numb his or her current feelings. It causes a temporary but drastic experience of feeling separate from one's self, not exisiting, or being in an unreal world. It can cause a dreamlike state.


What are the causes and risks of the condition?

A dissociative disorder is thought to be the result of a person's defense against some form of trauma. Overwhelming stress usually causes dissociative disorders. The stress may be caused by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, accident, or disaster. It may be also caused by a person experiencing inner conflict. The mind is forced to separate unacceptable information and feelings from conscious thought. Dissociative disorders are often found among children who have experienced sexual abuse.


What can be done to prevent the condition?

To help prevent dissociative disorder, prompt treatment should be given to someone who experiences a traumatic event.


How is the condition diagnosed?

Diagnosis of a dissociative disorder is based on the presence of the symptoms. A complete medical examination is performed to determine if a physical condition may be causing the disorder. Also, a complete psychological history will be conducted to assess for possible sources of trauma and stress. Sometimes, psychological tests will be conducted to help make the diagnosis.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

A person with a dissociative disorder often has significant adjustment problems in all life areas. The person's ability to perform work tasks or interact interpersonally is often severely impaired.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

There are no risks to others, as dissociative disorders are not contagious.


What are the treatments for the condition?

Treatment for a dissociative disorder is aimed at helping the person regain a sense of identity and mastery over his or her environment. Cognitive behavioral therapy is reasonably effective. A counselor should be sensitive and empathetic. This will help the person restore a sense of self and self-esteem.
Clear, direct, and non-threatening communication by the therapist to the person is essential. The therapist will establish firm boundaries for what is expected from both the person and the therapist. In times of acute stress, a person with a dissociative disorder may require short-term hospitalization. Occasionally, antipsychotic or antidepressant medications are used to control symptoms.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Side effects depend on the specific medications used, but may include allergic reactions and drowsiness.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

A person with a dissociative disorder often requires long-term psychotherapy and supervision.


How is the condition monitored?

Family members and the person's therapist can monitor the person's progress and condition. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.


Tierney, Lawrence, editor, "Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, 39th edition", 2000

The Merck Manual of Medical Information, 1997

Professional Guide to Diseases: 6th edition, 1998

Hales, Robert, Textbook of Psychiatry, 2nd edition 1994

Stuart and Sundeen, Principles and Practice of Psychiatric Nursing: 4th edition, 1991

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, 1994

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