Trauma can trigger the development of a dissociative disorder as the mind attempts to cope with an event or circumstance that it finds overwhelming.
What Is Dissociation?
The term dissociation describes a psychological condition in which a person experiences a break with or detachment from reality. Dissociation occurs on a continuum. The detachment from reality can be as mild as daydreaming, or it can be much more severe; however, dissociation does not involve a complete loss of reality as in psychosis.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders identifies five types of dissociative disorders, which include the following:
- Dissociative amnesia: inability to remember information about one’s self. The lost information is frequently related to a traumatic event.
- Dissociative fugue: confusion regarding one’s identity. A person in a dissociative fugue state will often assume new characteristics, sometimes going so far as to assume a completely new identity, travel far from home and begin a new life.
- Dissociative identity disorder: formerly known as multiple personality disorder. A person with dissociative identity disorder has two or more separate and distinct identities, each with its own characteristics, viewpoints, and ways of relating to the world.
- Depersonalization disorder: Feelings of detachment from physical or psychological self. Sufferers describe viewing themselves from outside, as through a window or floating above themselves and others.
- Dissociative disorder not otherwise specified (NOS): A dissociative reaction that does not meet the criteria for any of the others.
Dissociation as a Coping Mechanism
Psychologists and psychiatrists have long recognized the connection between dissociative disorders and a history of abuse or trauma. A high percentage of those suffering from a dissociative disorder have experienced one or more forms of abuse during childhood or suffer from a trauma related condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It is thought that a dissociative disorder is often a coping mechanism or adaptive response that results from the mind attempting to escape from a reality that it finds too difficult to cope with.
Although a dissociative disorder is often an adaptive response to stress or trauma, it is maladaptive because it generally results in a serious disruption of the person’s life and ability to function in a healthy and productive way.
Treatment is available for those who suffer from dissociative disorders, whether or not they are related to trauma. Treatment is also available for those suffering from trauma related conditions that do not result in a dissociative disorder. Psychological conditions such as dissociative disorders and PTSD can be very destructive, do not go away by themselves, and require professional treatment.