Dissociative disorders are a family of relatively uncommon mental health issues, including dissociative identity disorder, dissociative fugue, depersonalization disorder and dissociative amnesia. Each of these disorders has its own criteria for diagnosis, but there are some common features of the symptoms of dissociative disorder conditions. Memory loss, detachment, identity issues, distortion of reality and often co-morbidity of other mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, are common symptoms of dissociative disorder conditions. Dissociative disorders are ruled out and treated by gathering data from the patient and close significant others, rather than a laboratory test.
Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is the diagnosis that was once called multiple personality disorder. Persons with DID are dominated by at least two distinct personalities that can take over their thoughts, speech and actions. A DID patient might believe that his or her personalities are demographically different from their true selves, presenting personalities with different ages, races, sexes and sometimes animal identities. The patient might change his or her voice and demeanor based on the active personality, and the identities might not be cognizant of each other. The patient might not be aware of something he or she recently said or did and might blame it on a different personality being in control at the time.
Some additional symptoms of dissociative disorder conditions are present in patients who have DID. The patient might present with trances or out-of-body experiences. This dissociative disorder is often co-morbid with sleep disorders, depression and suicidal idealization. The patient might have hallucinations characteristic of psychosis and might attempt to self-medicate his or her illness with alcohol or drugs. These symptoms of dissociative disorder conditions are common among the various disorders, but the key to a DID diagnosis is the chronic presence of multiple personalities.
Dissociative amnesia, another ailment in the dissociative disorder family, is characterized by the loss of significant memory with regard to personal identity or traumatic past experiences. The patient repeatedly fails to remember important basic information such as his or her name, birth date and address. This disorder is classified into several subtypes — selective amnesia, generalized amnesia, continuous amnesia and systematized amnesia — depending on the extent of the memory loss. Dissociative amnesia is not caused by brain injury, so someone who is presenting with physical symptoms is not a candidate for this diagnosis.
Dissociative fugue occurs in rare cases when a person creates a new identity in order to escape past stress or trauma. Dissociative amnesia is often symptomatic in this dissociative disorder. In many cases, those suffering from dissociative fugue have no apparent psychiatric symptoms except anxiety over not being able to remember important personal details. The predominant symptom of this disorder is simply travel far from the patient's home and the creation of a new identity.
The final type of dissociative disorder is depersonalization disorder when people lose touch with reality. Persons affected with this ailment often feel detached from their bodies and might report being in a dream state, as if they are passengers in their bodies rather than being able to act deliberately. This disorder is not as pervasive as other disorders and might present only temporarily. The out-of-control feelings are often associated with anxiety or depression. This is a separate diagnosis from other dissociative disorders and is not the result of hallucinatory feelings induced by alcohol, drugs or brain injury.