Dissociative disorders

Dissociation is an involuntary disconnection with reality, and is one way that the mind copes with high stress, such as in traumatic experiences.

It’s helpful to think of dissociation as occurring along a continuum. Most of us are familiar with mild every-day forms of dissociating or losing touch with the present, such as having a daydream. This is quite normal, and nothing to be concerned about.

More serious dissociation occurs at the other end of the continuum and is often associated with trauma experiences, particularly during childhood. Here, the disconnection from reality develops as a defense mechanism or coping strategy - to help protect us from painful current experiences.

However, if it continues beyond the traumatic event, dissociation has serious consequences for everyday functioning. In such cases, dissociation may be a diagnosed mental health condition. Below are the different types and symptoms of dissociative disorders, and how to access treatment.

What are dissociative disorders?

Dissociative disorders are a group of trauma-related conditions, where people experience a disconnection, or problems with:

Types of dissociative disorders

There are three main types of dissociative disorders in the DSM 5, the manual therapists use to diagnose mental health conditions:

Prevalence of dissociative disorders

Many people have the experience of dissociation at some point in their lives. Research suggests that around 26-74% of people may experience a passing symptom of depersonalization or derealization at some point, making it a relatively common experience (1). It’s important to note that these kind of more common experiences are not necessarily indicative of an underlying mental health condition.

In terms of the prevalence of diagnosable conditions, a 12-month U.S. study found that (2):

Symptoms of dissociative disorders

Symptoms differ according to the specific disorder, but common examples include:

In some cases, symptoms are short-lived, following a traumatic event. In other cases, symptoms persist and have a serious impact on day-to-day functioning. It’s important to seek treatment if dissociation is impacting your daily life; options for this are discussed below.

Treatment options for dissociative disorders

If you’re experiencing dissociative symptoms, see a mental health professional about one or more of the following options:

Therapy for dissociative disorders

Psychological therapy is an important part of treatment for dissociative disorders. Common evidence-based therapeutic approaches include:

It’s important to consider different therapy types and how they resonate with you before choosing. If you’re unsure, your prospective therapist is a great person to seek advice from.

What to look for in a therapist for dissociative disorders

There are several factors to keep in mind when selecting a mental health professional, including:

Find therapists specializing in dissociative disorders

Find therapists who specialize in dissociative disorders and trauma on Zencare. Search by insurance, fees, and location; watch therapist introductory videos; and book free initial calls to find the right therapist for you!

Sources and references