Dissociative fugue, formerly called psychogenic fugue, is one of a group of conditions labeled under dissociative disorders. An individual that struggles with dissociative fugue experience “mind journeys” or flights, hence the word fugue, a Latin term for flight. A person with this disorder often leaves their body mentally under extreme stress. The separation of mind and body allows the individual to distance himself/herself from the emotional pain they are experiencing.
When someone is in a dissociative fugue state he or she may physically wander from the sight of distress, creating a loss of time and blanks in memory. Unfortunately, when someone is in a dissociative fugue state the individual will temporarily lose their sense of identity and may even create new identities to share the pain. New identifies are created as a way to offset the pain experienced by the primary personality. Distributing the pain among the other identities allows for the pain to be shared, broken down into tolerable “pieces”. Outwardly, people with this disorder show no signs of illness, such as a strange appearance or odd behavior. Typically, the person performs normally, however, when stress intensifies and becomes unmanageable, mind journeys will occur. If the person has created alternate identifies than another personality type will emerge.
Dissociative disorders are characterized as mental illnesses that involve disruptions or breakdowns of memory, conscious awareness, identity, and perception. When there is interference or disruption in one of the functions such as memory, identity, etc., symptoms can and often will emerge. Dissociative fugue is caused by a situation that gives the person extreme emotional stress, stresses the individual alone is unable to cope with or tolerate.
Dissociative fugue has been linked to severe stress, stress that is often the result of past trauma such as incest/rape, physical violence, war, human disasters, etc. Extreme stress does not have to be personally experienced; it can be witnessed by the individual. How we process stress is subjective to the individual that experienced or witnessed the event. The use or abuse of alcohol and certain drugs also can cause fugue-like states, such as alcohol-induced “blackouts.”
Many times, an individual with dissociative fugue will abruptly walk away from their current life in response to profound stress and start a new one. The new life created is usually significantly different from the life they previously left. The new life is usually much calmer, e.g., if you lived in a high paced city you may move to a county or suburb. If you had a high paced, high demand job with lots of responsibility you may take a job that you associate with calm and peace, such as gardener, dog walker, writer, etc.
Symptoms Associated with Dissociative Fugue Include:
• Inability to recall past events, usually significant moments that will typically be remembered
• Loss of memory, blanks, or gaps in memory
• Intense stress and impairments in daily functioning
• Detachment from personal emotions
• Confused identity
• Sudden or unintended trips from home or work
• Trouble or inability to recognize friends or loved ones
• Depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, and other mental health issues
• Wandering or going places they normally wouldn’t go
The length of dissociative fugue states can last between a few hours, weeks, months, or even longer. Sometimes, when a person is in a fugue state for a brief period of time the behavior may go unnoticed by onlookers and friends. A fugue in progress often is difficult for others to recognize because the person’s outward behavior doesn’t usually change, if there are behavioral changes, they are usually small.
Diagnosing dissociative fugue can be challenging as all possible medically related concerns must be ruled out to make a proper diagnosis. Dissociative fugue can result in medically from alcohol and substance abuse, medicinal side effects, epilepsy, sleep deprivation, etc. A doctor will also conduct a brain scan or blood testing to further isolate possible medically related contributors. After ruling out all possible medical contributors the individual will then be referred for psychological testing.
Possible Treatment for Dissociative Fugue Include:
• Individual psychotherapy
• Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
• Art or music therapy
• Family therapy
• Creating a safe environment
• Assistance with recovering a lost memory
• Developing effective coping skills to manage stress and anxiety
• Dialectical behavior therapy
The primary goal of treating dissociative fugue is to help the individual develop the skills he or she needs to manage stress or trauma. Treatment also aims to develop new coping methods to prevent further dissociative fugue episodes. The best treatment approach depends on the individual and the severity of symptoms, however, the best treatment approach that renders the best results are a combination of the treatment approaches listed above. Although, there is no specific medication to treat dissociative fugue, treatment for depression or anxiety can minimize, and or eliminate symptoms.