Dissociative disorder is a serious psychiatric issue in which a person displays multiple identities or personalities. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, these personalities are also known as alters or alter egos. It is important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of this disorder so that the patient can be diagnosed and seek professional treatment. Oftentimes, it is not the patient who notices the symptoms. It is typically a friend or family member. Since the disorder stems from a trauma that was experienced during childhood, people who have suffered severe abuse as a child may exhibit the symptoms.
- Women are more prone to develop the disorder.
- The disorder is usually developed before the age of 35, often one’s 20s.
- Elderly patients seldom suffer from the disorder. The symptoms can be similar to those of other medical or mental health conditions
Types of Symptoms of Dissociative Disorder
Individuals that are diagnosed with the disorder will display a variety of symptoms. Fewer than 10 percent of people with the disorder will have the same symptoms. This is because the disorder stems from different types of childhood trauma. This can include physical, emotional or sexual abuse in severe forms. The patients can suffer from symptoms on different levels, from mild to severe. The symptoms can sometimes be difficult to detect because people with the disorder usually do not maintain close personal relationships. The symptoms can include:
- Multiple mannerisms and beliefs that are not similar or related to each other.
- Loss of subjective time or distortion of time.
- Headaches that are not explainable and other pains in parts of the body, especially joint pain.
- Mild to clinical depression.
- Flashbacks where the patient relives the trauma from their childhood.
- Severe memory loss.
- Phobias that suddenly develop and are unexplainable.
- Hearing voices.
- Sudden angry outbursts.
Symptoms of Dissociative Disorder Can Mimic Symptoms of Other Disorders
It is common for patients to experience a broad range of symptoms. They are often inconsistent and can resemble symptoms of other conditions. Some of the common medical and mental health conditions that have similar symptoms include:
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Personality disorders
- Eating disorders
- Anxiety disorders
Since it is difficult to determine if the patient actually has dissociative disorder simply from the symptoms that are displayed, further testing will be necessary before making a diagnosis. If an individual displays memory loss or has a dramatic change in their behavior, he or she should see a doctor. There is effective treatment available for patients who are diagnosed with the disorder.
Four Common Symptoms of Diagnose Dissociative Disorder
There are four different symptoms that can indicate an individual has dissociative disorder. The first is dissociative amnesia. This is when the person has memory loss that exceeds normal forgetfulness and cannot be explained by a neurological or physical condition. These people will often have little recollection of time during their childhood. Dissociative identity disorder is also referred to as multiple personality disorder and occurs when the patient switches to a different identity. While this can also be a symptom of schizophrenia, it does indicate the possibility of dissociative disorder. The third symptom is dissociative fugue. This is when people place distance between themselves and their true identity. People will often forget who they are. Fugue episodes can last for different amounts of time, ranging from a few hours to a few months. The final symptom is called depersonalization disorder. This is characterized by the feeling of being outside oneself as if the patient is watching their actions from a distance.
When to Seek Help
If any of the mentioned signs or symptoms is present or observed in a loved one, professional help is needed. It will be important to determine if the individual actually has the disorder. This is done through testing. Doctors will first review the individual’s symptoms and personal history. It is important for the doctor to rule out any other condition that has similar symptoms. Medications and hypnosis are helpful tools when diagnosing dissociative disorders. They can help to identify the presence of other personalities. Certain criteria must be met for a diagnosis to be made. For amnesia, the following criteria are necessary.
- Having one or more episodes where things cannot be remembered. This is usually associated with a stressful or traumatic event.
- Episodes of memory loss do not occur during the course of a different disorder. Symptoms are not explained by the effects of a substance or a medical condition.
- Symptoms cause severe stress and problems in everyday life, including relationships, work, school or any other important area.
For identity disorder, the following criteria must be met:
- Displaying the presence of two or more identities or personalities.
- At least two of the identities will take control of the patient’s behaviours.
- Symptoms are not a result of medical conditions or substance abuse.
- Personal information cannot be recalled.
Criteria used to diagnose dissociative fugue include:
- Sudden and unexpected travel from home or work and no memory of the past.
- During episodes, the patient is confused about personal identity.
- Episodes do not occur during other disorder episodes and symptoms cannot be explained medically or from the use of a substance.
- Symptoms cause stress and problems in life.
Depersonalisation disorder must meet the following criteria:
- Persistent feelings of being detached from yourself.
- During an episode, the patient is aware that they feel they are outside themselves and know this is not reality.
- Symptoms do not occur during another episode of a different disorder.
- Symptoms cannot be medically explained and are not caused by substances.