A dissociative disorder is a mental health condition that alters a person’s sense of reality.
Someone with a dissociative disorder may have memory loss or may feel:
- that their body or the world around them is unreal
- uncertain about who they are
- that they have many different identities
Most people affected by this disorder will have experienced a traumatic event during childhood. Often, this traumatic event will have been physical, sexual or emotional abuse suffered during childhood, although some people ‘dissociate’ after experiencing war, kidnapping or even an invasive medical procedure.
Switching off from reality is a normal defence mechanism that helps the person to cope during a traumatic time – it’s a form of denial, as if “this isn’t happening to me”.
It becomes dysfunctional when the environment is no longer traumatic but the person still acts and lives as if it is, and hasn’t dealt with or processed the event.
This feeling of being disconnected from yourself or from the world can be extremely distressing, significantly affecting work and personal life.
It can affect people at any age and is nothing to do with a head injury or underlying health condition – it’s the result of the brain adapting to a difficult early life.
There are three main types of dissociative disorder:
- Dissociative amnesia
- Depersonalisation-derealisation disorder
- Dissociative identity disorder