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Find out about the different types of dissociative disorders along with their signs and symptoms.Dissociative disorders run along a spectrum based on the severity of the symptoms. Find out about the different types of dissociative disorders along with their signs and symptoms.

What are the types of dissociative disorders?

There are four major dissociative disorders:

What are the signs and symptoms of dissociative disorders?

Symptoms that are common to all 4 types of dissociative disorders include:

  • Memory loss (amnesia) of certain time periods, events and people
  • Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety
  • A sense of being detached from yourself (depersonalization)
  • A perception of the people and things around you as distorted and unreal (derealization)
  • A blurred sense of identity

Each of the four major dissociative disorders is characterized by a distinct mode of dissociation. Dissociative disorder symptoms may include:

  • Dissociative amnesia. Memory loss that's more extensive than normal forgetfulness and can't be explained by a physical or neurological condition is the hallmark of this condition. Sudden-onset amnesia following a traumatic event, such as a car accident, happens infrequently. More commonly, conscious recall of traumatic periods, events or people in your life — especially from childhood — is simply absent from your memory.
  • Dissociative identity disorder. This condition, formerly known as multiple personality disorder, is characterized by "switching" to alternate identities when you're under stress. In dissociative identity disorder, you may feel the presence of one or more other people talking or living inside your head. Each of these identities may have their own name, personal history and characteristics, including marked differences in manner, voice, gender and even such physical qualities as the need for corrective eyewear. There often is considerable variation in each alternate personality's familiarity with the others. People with dissociative identity disorder typically also have dissociative amnesia.
  • Dissociative fugue. People with this condition dissociate by putting real distance between themselves and their identity. For example, you may abruptly leave home or work and travel away, forgetting who you are and possibly adopting a new identity in a new location. People experiencing dissociative fugue typically retain all their faculties and may be very capable of blending in wherever they end up. A fugue episode may last only a few hours or, rarely, as long as many months. Dissociative fugue typically ends as abruptly as it begins. When it lifts, you may feel intensely disoriented, depressed and angry, with no recollection of what happened during the fugue or how you arrived in such unfamiliar circumstances.

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  • Depersonalization disorder. This disorder is characterized by a sudden sense of being outside yourself, observing your actions from a distance as though watching a movie. It may be accompanied by a perceived distortion of the size and shape of your body or of other people and objects around you. Time may seem to slow down, and the world may seem unreal. Symptoms may last only a few moments or may wax and wane over many years.

Dissociative disorders survivors often spend years living with misdiagnoses, consequently floundering within the mental health system. They change from therapist to therapist and from medication to medication, getting treatment for symptoms but making little or no actual progress.

Research has documented that, on average, people with dissociative disorders have spent seven years in the mental health system prior to accurate diagnosis. This is common, because the list of symptoms that cause a person with a dissociative disorder to seek treatment is very similar to those of many other psychiatric diagnoses. In fact, many people who are diagnosed with dissociative disorders also have secondary diagnoses of depression, anxiety, or panic disorders.

Sources:
Merck Manual
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV)
Sidran Foundation

next: Treatment of Dissociative Disorders