Dissociative Disorders are characterized as mental disorders that involve experiencing a disconnection between reality and fantasy. Individuals that have this disorder often lack continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity. People with dissociative disorders escape reality in ways that are both involuntary and unhealthy. Typically, when the disorder begins it is a way to escape a distressing environment, abuse, or profound trauma. Often, dissociation is a common, naturally occurring defense against childhood trauma to emotionally escape from an abusive/toxic environment or situation. Dissociative disorders usually develop as a reaction to trauma, trauma the adult or child is unable to appropriately process or manage. Individuals that have endured trauma in their past may dissociate from full awareness of the traumatic event(s) leading to gaps in memory, difficulty remaining cognitively present, and departing from reality to a fantasy world.
Unfortunately, one of the primary reasons someone develops a dissociative disorder is due in large part to severe and prolonged trauma experienced during childhood that may include emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Research conducted on DID’s suggest the development of the disorder is likely a psychological response to interpersonal and environmental stressors, particularly during early childhood years when emotional health is negatively impacted, or trauma has interfered with or stunted personality development. The development of Personal identity is actively forming during and throughout childhood, which makes this time very important for healthy development and functioning.
Dissociative Disorder Types Include:
• Dissociative identity disorder – Formerly known as multiple personality disorder, this disorder is characterized by “switching” to alternate identities.
• Dissociative amnesia – Primary symptom includes memory loss that is more severe than normal forgetfulness and cannot be explained by a medical condition.
• Depersonalization/derealization disorder – A sense of being detached from one’s body and is often referred to as an “out-of-body” experience.
Formal diagnosis of dissociative disorder type depends on the symptoms experienced by the sufferer, ruling our organic issues, substance/alcohol abuse, symptoms that are not a part of broadly accepted cultural/religious practice, or medical condition. Understandably, treatment and resolution of negative symptoms is also dependent upon disorder type. Anxiety, significant life changes, loss, and intense stress can temporarily worsen symptoms, making them more obvious and less controllable.
Causes of DID May Include:
• Prolonged abuse (sexual, emotional, or physical) in childhood
• Trauma occurring in childhood that has interfered with or stunted personality development
• Poor coping skills in response to stress
• Absence of safe and nurturing resources to overwhelming abuse or trauma
• Threat or the perception of threat
• Significant loss/abandonment
Individuals that have experienced a traumatic event or endured abuse/trauma in childhood may initially “benefit” from traveling mentally from their current environment or situation as dissociation can help a person tolerate what might otherwise be too difficult to bear. In situations like these, a person may dissociate the memory of the place or event in an attempt to avoid negative feelings, such as, intense fear, anxiety, or pain.
You Received a Diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder, What’s Next?
Receiving a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder can be both confusing and difficult to accept. Once a diagnosis is made it is important to learn as much as you can about the disorder, e.g., reason for the diagnosis, potential causes of the disorder, recognizing symptoms, etc. Understanding the disorder allows individuals with the disorder to develop effective coping skills to manage symptoms and partner with their therapist to identify and determine best treatment options. Successful treatment also aims to help the person safely express and process painful memories, develop new coping skills and life skills, restore optimal functioning, and improve relationships. The best treatment approach depends on the individual, DID type, the nature of identifiable triggers, and the severity of the symptoms.
Sadly, for many people diagnosed with DID, trauma or abuse played a role in the development of the disorder. Therefore, revisiting the pain surrounding the abuse/trauma is necessary to process the memory of event so healing can occur.
Most likely treatment will include some combination of the following methods:
• Individual psychotherapy
• Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
• Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
• Dialectic-behavior therapy (DBT)
• Relaxation/Meditation Techniques
• Family Therapy
The road to recovery can be bumpy, but relief from symptoms is possible. The path to healthy functioning requires seeking treatment for negative symptoms, addressing maladaptive coping skills, and making a commitment to the therapeutic process.