What is Dissociation?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Dissociative identity disorder is also known as multiple personality disorder.
Dissociative identity disorder is also known as multiple personality disorder.

Dissociation is defined as mild to major disruptions in the way perceived environment, memory, sense of identity, or consciousness work together. It’s normal for most people to have experienced some degree of dissociation in the past. Extreme tiredness, for example, can make present experiences seem to occur in a dreamlike state, where the person feels removed from sense of self or surroundings. On the flipside, feeling any of these disruptions most of the time could suggest mental illness, experience of profound trauma, and/or specific dissociative disorders.

Dissociation can cause people to lose track of time.
Dissociation can cause people to lose track of time.

Two common types of dissociative expression are depersonalization and derealization. In depersonalization, the dreamlike state, as described above, prevails. People experiencing derealization doubt their surroundings and may have difficulty recognizing once familiar people and things. As stated, both of these conditions can occur transiently in healthy people, but become of greater concern if they worsen.

Someone who has experienced a traumatic event may develop dissociation.
Someone who has experienced a traumatic event may develop dissociation.

Difficulty seeing identity in a whole way can be dissociative. People may not know who they are, or they may establish new identities. In certain dissociative disorders, such as multiple personality disorder, shifts to several different identities can be exceptionally difficult. A core sense of consciousness doesn’t always exist about all identities present and this can lead to disorientation, losing time, or other features.

Dissociative disorders manifest differently from disorders that stem from anxiety or depression.
Dissociative disorders manifest differently from disorders that stem from anxiety or depression.

Another type of dissociation impacts ability to remember things. Amnesia may occur over short or long periods and is most often associated with occurrence of traumatic events. This is different from types of memory loss that are caused physically or organically. With dissociation, memories may still be accessible, especially through treatments like hypnosis.

Amnesia is a type of dissociation that negatively impacts a person's ability to remember things.
Amnesia is a type of dissociation that negatively impacts a person's ability to remember things.

There are several dissociative disorders and a number of other conditions in which dissociation may be noted. Dissociative identity disorder is also called multiple personality disorder. It usually features at least two wholly separate identities, which may or may not have consciousness of each other.

A couple of these disorders impact memory. Dissociative fugue occurs when a person forgets core identity and reestablishes himself somewhere else as a new personality. Dissociative amnesia is inability to recall many personal details about the self or history, and could include blocking out present memories so a continuous sense of time becomes disrupted.

An individual with multiple personality disorder may be able to successfully pass a lie detector test.
An individual with multiple personality disorder may be able to successfully pass a lie detector test.

People who feel as though they are living in a dream at all times may have a condition called depersonalization disorder. This is often characterized by other symptoms, like flat or minimal affect (emotion). Other mental health conditions have features of dissociation, too. Schizophrenics of certain types experience it, and it occurs in depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Psychotherapy is most likely the treatment to be used for dissociation.
Psychotherapy is most likely the treatment to be used for dissociation.

In most cases, dissociative conditions aren't treated with medications. Instead, psychotherapy is frequently of most use, but exactly how it is best conducted is variable. There are also some theories that only a set population is likely to experience dissociation because they are somehow weaker in their integrated perceptions and consciousness. This hasn’t been proven, and the fact that most humans are subject to momentary disruptions in integration makes these theories less likely.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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    • Dissociative identity disorder is also known as multiple personality disorder.
      Dissociative identity disorder is also known as multiple personality disorder.
    • Dissociation can cause people to lose track of time.
      Dissociation can cause people to lose track of time.
    • Someone who has experienced a traumatic event may develop dissociation.
      Someone who has experienced a traumatic event may develop dissociation.
    • Dissociative disorders manifest differently from disorders that stem from anxiety or depression.
      Dissociative disorders manifest differently from disorders that stem from anxiety or depression.
    • Amnesia is a type of dissociation that negatively impacts a person's ability to remember things.
      Amnesia is a type of dissociation that negatively impacts a person's ability to remember things.
    • An individual with multiple personality disorder may be able to successfully pass a lie detector test.
      An individual with multiple personality disorder may be able to successfully pass a lie detector test.
    • Psychotherapy is most likely the treatment to be used for dissociation.
      Psychotherapy is most likely the treatment to be used for dissociation.
    • Dissociation may occur with post-traumatic stress disorder.
      Dissociation may occur with post-traumatic stress disorder.