Dissociation disorders are a subset of conditions that cause physical and psychological problems. Some dissociative disorders are often short-lived and tend to follow a traumatic life event. These can often be resolved on their own over the course of weeks. However, others can last much longer depending on the severity of the trauma involved. Dissociative disorders most often involve problems relating to memory, identity, emotions, perception, behaviour and sense of self. The accompanying symptoms are such that they have the potential to disrupt significant areas of your cognitive functioning.
Depersonalisation-derealisation disorder occurs when you are persistently and repeatedly having the feeling that you’re observing yourself from outside of your body. Or, in some cases, that you have the sense that things around you aren’t real. Though, it’s possible for both to occur at the same time. The experience of this condition can be quite disturbing and make you feel as though you’re living in a dream world.
The feeling of depersonalisation and derealisation can be experienced by many people at various point in life. We’ve all had points at which we ‘zone out,’ where things become a bit of a blur and we’re on autopilot, so to speak. But when these feelings continue to occur – never fully abating – they interfere with your ability to function. This is when you would be considered to have depersonalisation-derealisation disorder.
When you’re in the midst of a persistent episode of depersonalisation and/or derealisation, it can cause significant distress and present issues functioning at work, school or in your social life. You are very aware of what’s going on during these episodes and consider that you might be losing your sanity.
Symptoms of depersonalisation include:
- Feeling as though you’re observing yourself from an outside perspective. You feel detached from your thoughts, feelings, and physical body. e.g. You may feel at points as though you’re floating above yourself.
- You feel almost mechanical in nature and that you’re not fully in control of your body.
- There’s a sense that your limbs are distorted, enlarged or shrunken and that your head is wrapped in cotton wool.
- You can feel dissociated from your memories and that there is no emotion attached to them.
Symptoms of derealisation include:
- You may feel alienated from your surroundings. Your life may appear to be ethereal, almost like you’re in a movie or a dream.
- You may feel emotionally disconnected from those who’re closest to you, such as your friend and family.
- Your surroundings may appear distorted blurry, colourless, two dimensional or artificial. Conversely, you may have a heightened sense of awareness about your surroundings.
- You may experience distortions in your perception of time, such as event recall. Recent events may also feel like distant memories.
- You may experience distortions in the distance between objects.
Dissociate amnesia (DA) is a specific form of amnesia that inhibits your ability to remember important information about your life, including things such as your name, your family and friends, as well as both your own and other people’s personal history. It occurs most often as a response to a traumatic event or excessive stress.
Types of Dissociative Amnesia
As with many other types of mental health conditions, there are subsets that exist within the overarching condition. There are three different types of DA:
- Localised: This type is where you cannot remember event relating to a specific time in your life.
- Generalised: This type entails a complete loss of memory the extends to things such as your identity and personal history.
- Fugue:When you experience dissociate fugue, you forget most or all of your personal information. This can cause you to travel to places quite randomly. In more serious cases, you may take on a whole new identity.
Symptoms of Dissociative
The symptoms of dissociative amnesia can include the following:
In terms of memory loss, it can be absolute/complete (generalised) or, it could relate to a specific period of time (localised). If you’re suffering from DA, you may forget important details about your life, but manage to retain more general information.
Association with Trauma
Dissociative disorders such as DA are often rooted in specific traumas or stressful life events. Such examples include experiencing physical, mental and or emotional abuse or being exposed to armed combat situations.
Dissociative Identity Disorder
Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is characterised by the presence of two or more distinct personalities within an individual. It used to go by the name of multiple personality disorder until it was changed very recently in the DSM-5. As with the other dissociative disorders discussed here, the main tenet is of dissociation from reality and an inability to regulate cognitive functions.
If you’re suffering from DID, you’ll experience the presence of two or more distinct personalities known as ‘alters.’ These personalities will take control of the main functioning of your actions by exerting their own sense of morality, emotional intelligence, attitude, likes and dislikes. Your behaviour will be completely under the control of a given alter during these episodes and as such, you’ll experience a loss of memory regarding the events surrounding your behaviour during this time. Each alter will have a specific set of traits, personal history and way of relating to the world.
Other symptoms may include:
- An inability to recall childhood memories and your personal history.
- Feelings of intense detachment or disconnection from the world.
- Flashbacks or the sudden return of memories that had been suppressed or forgotten.
- A distinct lack of awareness about recent events in your life.
- Experiencing the loss of time.
- Having recurrent thoughts of suicide or self-harm.