Dissociative disorders are difficult to diagnose and can be very frightening to the person suffering from them. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) defines four major dissociative disorders.
- Dissociative amnesia
- Dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as Multiple Identity Personality Disorder)
- Dissociative fugue (uncommon)
- Depersonalisation disorder
However, there are common signs and symptoms to all types of dissociative disorders including:
- Amnesia with regard to certain time periods, events and people
- Multiple mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, self-harming, phobias and suicidal tendencies. Psychotic like symptoms such as hallucinations are also common
- De-personalisation – a sense of being detached from yourself
- De-realisation – with a perception of the people and things around you as distorted and unreal
- A blurred sense of identity
Dissociative identity disorder syndrome (DIDS) is generally an effect of severe trauma during early childhood, usually extreme, repetitive physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. It is a survival technique or coping mechanism developed by the traumatised child, which is often carried into adulthood, whereby they learn to dissociate themself from a situation or experience that’s too violent, traumatic, or painful to assimilate with their conscious self.
It is characterised by the presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states (alters) that control the person’s behaviour and may have their own separate sets of memories. The ‘alters’ also have their own age, sex, race and their own perceived body image and language abilities.
Dissociative Disorder not otherwise specified (DDNOS) may be diagnosed for a dissociation that matches the DSM-IV criteria for a dissociative disorder, but does not fit the full criteria for any of the above. It is the most common dissociative disorder being diagnosed in 40% of dissociative disorder cases and is co-morbid with multiple other mental health issues.
While there’s no cure for most dissociative identity disorders, long-term treatment is very successful, if the patient stays committed. Effective treatment includes psychotherapy, anti- depressant or anti-anxiety medications, hypnotherapy, and adjunctive therapies such as art or movement therapy. Generally, treatment is similar to anyone suffering from Complex-PTSD and the improved quality of life after therapy, can be quite substantial.