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Dissociative Disorders

Dissociation is a mental process of disconnecting from one’s thoughts, feelings, memories, or sense of identity. Dissociative disorders are a range of conditions that can cause physical and psychological problems. Some dissociative disorders are very short-lived. Perhaps following a traumatic life event and resolving on their own within a few weeks. Nevertheless, others last much longer. The dissociative disorders that need professional treatment include dissociative amnesia, dissociative fugue, depersonalization disorder, and dissociative identity disorder. The underlying cause of dissociative disorders is chronic trauma in childhood. For example, repeated sexual or physical abuse, emotional abuse, or neglect. Frightening or unpredictable families may also cause the child to disconnect from real life during stressful occasions. The severity of the dissociative disorder is directly related to how intense the childhood trauma was. Traumatic events during adulthood may also cause dissociative disorders. A few examples are torture, war or going through a natural catastrophe or a pandemic, an invasive medical operation, or kidnapping. People diagnosed with this disorder also feel uncertain about who they are. Some may even have different identities. They may dissociate and avoid dealing with it as a coping mechanism. Switching from reality is a normal defense reaction that helps patients cope during a traumatic time. But it becomes dysfunctional when the environment is no longer traumatic, but the person still acts and lives as if it is. This happens when they haven’t dealt with the traumatic situation. Psychogenic fugue is another way of describing dissociative fugue.

Suddenly, the patient can’t remember who they are and loses memory of their past. They may even make up a new identity. Sometimes, the person travels from home in a fugue, which may last between days and weeks. When the person comes out of their dissociative fugue, they show confusion with no recollection of the ‘new life’ they created for themselves. Hypnosis, talk therapy counseling, stress management techniques, and supervised psychiatric drugs are the most common treatments. Someone with a dissociative disorder may have depression or anxiety too. Treatment may include antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications to improve the symptoms of dissociative disorder. Clinicians at La Jolla Recovery will try to get the person to feel safe and relaxed enough to trigger memory recall in some patients.

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