What are Dissociative Disorders?
Dissociative disorders are a group of mental health conditions characterized by disruptions or disturbances in a person’s normal integration of thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or perceptions.
These disorders involve a detachment from one’s own experiences, thoughts, emotions, or even identity. Dissociation is a normal psychological defence mechanism that everyone experiences to some extent, such as daydreaming or spacing out, but in dissociative disorders, these experiences become more severe and pervasive, significantly affecting a person’s functioning and well-being.
What are the several types of dissociative disorders?
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID): Formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, DID involves the presence of two or more distinct identity states that control a person’s behaviour, consciousness, and memory. These identities, also referred to as “alters,” may have their own distinct characteristics, memories, and ways of relating to the world.
Dissociative Amnesia: This disorder involves the inability to remember important personal information, usually involving traumatic or stressful events. The memory loss is more extensive than normal forgetfulness and cannot be attributed to a neurological condition.
Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder: Depersonalization involves a persistent feeling of being detached from one’s body or thoughts as if observing oneself from outside. Derealization is the experience of the world around the person feeling unreal, dreamlike, or distorted.
Other Specified Dissociative Disorder and Unspecified Dissociative Disorder: These categories include symptoms that don’t fit the criteria for the specific disorders mentioned above but still involve significant dissociative experiences affecting a person’s daily life.
Dissociative disorders are often linked to traumatic experiences, such as childhood abuse, neglect, or other forms of trauma. The dissociation serves as a coping mechanism to help individuals manage overwhelming emotions and memories associated with these experiences.
Treatment for dissociative disorders typically involves psychotherapy, particularly approaches that focus on trauma processing and helping individuals integrate their dissociated experiences.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy, dialectical behaviour therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) are some of the therapeutic approaches that can be used. Medications may also be prescribed to address symptoms like depression, anxiety, or other co-occurring conditions.
It’s important to note that dissociative disorders are relatively rare and can be complex to diagnose and treat. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of a dissociative disorder, it’s advisable to seek professional help from mental health professionals experienced in dealing with these conditions.
What are the signs of dissociative disorder?
Here are some common signs and symptoms associated with dissociative disorders:
- Gaps in memory surrounding important personal events or periods of time.
- Inability to recall traumatic events or experiences.
- Finding personal belongings or notes that you don’t remember writing.
- Identity and Self-Perception:
- Feeling like you have different parts of yourself with distinct personalities or characteristics.
- Feeling disconnected from your own thoughts, emotions, or body.
- Feeling like you’re observing yourself from the outside.
- Feeling detached from your own body, as if you’re watching yourself from a distance.
- Feeling like your surroundings are unreal, dreamlike, or distorted.
- Alter-Personalities (Dissociative Identity Disorder):
- Experiencing distinct “alters” or identity states with their own names, memories, and characteristics.
- Gaps in memory when one alter takes over from another.
- Friends or family notice shifts in your behaviour, speech, or mannerisms that seem inconsistent with your usual self.
Emotional and Psychological Symptoms:
- Sudden mood swings or changes in emotions that feel out of your control.
- Feeling numb or disconnected from your emotions.
- Experiencing intense anxiety, depression, or panic attacks.
- Functional Impairment:
- Difficulty functioning in daily life, work, school, or relationships due to memory lapses or identity shifts.
- Struggling to maintain stable relationships due to unpredictable behaviour.
Trauma or Stress Triggers:
- Dissociative experiences become more pronounced during times of stress, when reminded of traumatic events, or when faced with triggers related to past trauma.
- Confusion About Time:
- Losing track of time or feeling like time has passed quickly without awareness.
- Self-Harm or Suicidal Thoughts:
- Engaging in self-harming behaviours as a way to cope with distressing emotions.
- Experiencing suicidal thoughts or impulses.
- Dissociative disorders often co-occur with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and borderline personality disorder.
It’s important to note that everyone’s experience with dissociative disorders can be unique, and not everyone will exhibit all of these symptoms.
What are the statistics of Dissociative Disorders UK?
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID): DID is considered one of the less common dissociative disorders. The prevalence of DID is estimated to be around 1% of the general population, but this can vary based on different studies and regions.
Dissociative Amnesia: Prevalence rates for dissociative amnesia are also challenging to pin down due to the nature of the disorder. It’s estimated to affect a smaller percentage of the population compared to other mental health disorders.
Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder: This disorder is relatively more common than other dissociative disorders. Studies suggest that it may affect around 1-2% of the population.
It’s important to note that there is limited comprehensive data available specifically for dissociative disorders in the UK.
Who to contact about Dissociative Disorders UK?
If you or someone you know in the UK is dealing with a dissociative disorder and you’re seeking information, support, or treatment, there are several resources you can reach out to:
General Practitioner (GP): Your first point of contact should be your GP. They can provide an initial assessment, make referrals to mental health specialists, and guide you through the process of seeking appropriate treatment.
NHS Mental Health Services: The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK offers mental health services. You can access mental health support through your local NHS Trust. Visit the NHS website or contact your local NHS services for information about mental health services in your area.
Local Mental Health Charities: Organizations like Mind and Rethink Mental Illness are dedicated to supporting individuals with mental health conditions, including dissociative disorders. They can provide information, resources, and guidance on accessing appropriate services.
Psychiatrists and Psychologists: Mental health professionals specializing in dissociative disorders can offer assessments, therapy, and treatment options. You might need a referral from your GP to see a specialist.
Trauma Centers and Clinics: Many dissociative disorders are linked to trauma. Trauma-focused therapy can be beneficial. Look for trauma treatment centres or clinics that specialize in trauma-related disorders.
Private Mental Health Clinics: If you prefer private treatment, you can seek out mental health clinics that offer specialized services for dissociative disorders. Keep in mind that private treatment may involve costs not covered by the NHS.
Online Resources: There are online forums, support groups, and websites where individuals with dissociative disorders share experiences and offer advice. However, be cautious and ensure you’re engaging with reputable sources.
Dissociative Disorders Support Groups: Look for local or online support groups specifically focused on dissociative disorders. These groups can provide a sense of community and understanding.
Crisis Lines: If you or someone you know is in immediate crisis, you can contact helplines like the Samaritans (116 123) or NHS 111 for urgent assistance.
Remember that seeking help is an important step in managing dissociative disorders. The specific resource you choose will depend on your preferences, location, and the severity of the condition. Always prioritize reaching out to qualified mental health professionals who are experienced in treating dissociative disorders for accurate diagnosis and appropriate trea