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With mental illness being as prevalent as it is, it helps to understand the different categories of mental illness that are listed in the DSM-5. The DSM-5 is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, used for the assessment and diagnosis of mental conditions. Oftentimes, receiving an accurate diagnosis of a condition is the first step in being able to treat and recover from a mental illness. Among the categories of conditions listed in the DSM-5 are dissociative disorders. Here we will explain, identify, and offer treatment suggestions for the conditions that fall under the heading of dissociative disorders.

What are Dissociative Disorders?

Dissociation is an experience of disconnection between a person’s thoughts, memories, and sense of self. Everyone experiences dissociation from time to time. Common experiences of dissociation can surface from traumatic experiences, accidents, and loss. Dissociation occurs as it helps a person to tolerate difficult realities that may otherwise be too difficult to cope with or understand. Mild experiences of dissociation might include daydreaming or feeling intensely connected to a film or book.

Dissociative disorders are conditions that involve disruption with the normal integration of consciousness including problems with identity and behavior, and cognitive dysfunction with memory, perception, and emotion. Dissociative symptoms disrupt nearly every area of mental functioning. Different from the typical dissociation mentioned above, dissociative disorders entail crippling symptoms that negatively impact daily functioning when not treated.

The Types of Dissociative Disorders

The DSM-5 labels three types of dissociative disorders:

  • Dissociative identity disorder
  • Dissociative amnesia
  • Depersonalization/derealization disorder

Dissociative Identity Disorder

Previously termed multiple personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder develops from overwhelming or other traumatic events that happened during childhood or adolescent years. A person with this condition experiences sudden shifts in personal preferences and attitudes, such as preferred clothing to wear or foods to eat. These identity shifts occur involuntarily, which causes significant emotional distress. This disorder may cause a person to become the observer of their own verbiage and behavior, feeling as if they are not in control.

Symptoms associated with dissociative identity disorder include:

  • the presence of two or more distinct identities (or personalities) accompanied by significant and distinct alterations in behavior, memory, and thought patterns
  • continuous gaps in memory about daily events, personal information, or past trauma
  • symptoms cause significant emotional distress or issues with cognitive, occupational, mental, or other areas of functioning

Dissociative Amnesia

This condition involves limitations in one’s ability to recall personal information and other memories. Different from just forgetting, this amnesia condition is typically related to a stressful or traumatic event. The amnesia may be:

  • localized, meaning that a person is unable to remember a period of time or event
  • selective, meaning that a person is unable to remember a specific aspect of an event within a certain period of time
  • generalized, meaning that a person has a complete loss of personal identity and life history

This condition is related to various experiences of childhood trauma, particularly with experiences of emotional abuse or neglect. People that have this disorder may not be aware of their memory loss, numbing their ability to experience the present moment.

Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder

This condition involves significant recurrent experiences in with either:

  • depersonalization, including experiences of detachment from one’s mind, self, or body
  • derealization, including experiences of detachment from one’s surroundings, causing a person to question their own reality.

Although these experiences cause distress, the person experiencing this condition is unaware that their experiences are unusual or not normal. A person may appear to lack emotion, although they are internally experiencing distress.

Treatment for Dissociative Disorders

Treatment for any dissociative disorder will typically involve a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and trauma processing. The main goal of treatment for dissociative disorders should include helping the struggling client integrate their different identities while helping them gain control over dissociative symptoms. A client must be educated on their subjective experience of dissociation so that they are better able to cope and respond to it. Therapy is likely to be intensive and challenging, especially when it comes to remembering and persevering beyond past trauma.

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps a person to understand their own conscious intellectual and mental activity. CBT is effective for the treatment of dissociative disorders. Another important therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) focuses on identifying and altering disturbing memories and past trauma. By uncovering and facing trauma, dissociative disorders can be treated at their root cause. When it comes to treating mental illness, it is crucial that treatment is individualized and meets client treatment goals. The same is said specifically for dissociative disorders.

Dissociative disorders are a category of mental illness that involve disruptions in memory, emotion, identity, and perception. Dissociative disorders tend to develop from traumatic or overwhelming experiences in childhood or adolescent years. There are three types of dissociative disorders, including dissociative identity disorder, dissociative amnesia, and depersonalization/derealization disorder. Every disorder has unique characteristics that cause shifts in memory recall and personal identity. Treatment for dissociative disorder must include the goal of helping struggling clients integrate their different identities and gain control over their dissociative symptoms. CBT and EMDR both help with treating these conditions, surfacing and identifying disturbances in mood and memory. At West Coast Recovery Centers, we help identify and treat symptoms associated with addiction and other severe mental health conditions. We individualize your treatment to ensure that your recovery will be long-lasting and successful. For information about the treatments and resources we offer, call us today at (760) 492-6509

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