7 Symptoms You May Experience During a Dissociative Episode

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Dissociation refers to a disconnection between a person’s thoughts, identity, consciousness and memory. It’s a defense mechanism to help you cope with trauma or stress. Individuals experiencing dissociation may feel detached from themselves or their surroundings. It can feel like they are an outsider of their own experiences. 

Dissociation often occurs in those who’ve been diagnosed with the three general types of dissociative disorders: dissociative amnesia, depersonalization disorder and dissociative identity disorder. We’ll discuss these more later.

However, dissociation can occur as a symptom of several other mental health disorders. The subtypes of dissociative experiences are also common. Research suggests that nearly 75% of people will experience depersonalization or derealization at some point in their life.

Symptoms that may indicate that you’ve experienced a dissociative episode

The symptoms of a dissociative episode can depend on the type and extent of the dissociation. Some symptoms that someone may notice during a dissociative episode include:

  • Feeling disconnected from reality — One sign of a dissociative episode is derealization. This means feeling out of touch with the world around you. Many people who experience dissociative episodes feel as if their environment “isn’t real.” Some people say it’s as if they’re watching the world around them from someone else’s perspective.
  • Feeling disconnected from oneself — Another common sign of a dissociative episode is depersonalization. It means feeling detached from one’s own body, thoughts or emotions. Someone in a dissociative episode may find it difficult to see the world from their body. They may get the sense that they’re not really inhabiting their own body. 
  • Difficulty processing strong emotions — Someone experiencing this type of episode may have emotional numbness. They can have difficulty responding to or feeling emotions. They might have abnormal reactions to these strong emotions, like withdrawal or disconnection.
  • Sudden changes in mood — A dissociative episode can cause sudden mood changes. They may go from happy to withdrawn in a matter of moments. These changes are usually brought on by a trigger. They may last as long as the trigger remains present or for some time after.
  • Problems with memoryMemory problems are common during dissociative episodes. A person may experience difficulty remembering and identifying information about themselves. Many people have trouble remembering who they are. Some forget the trauma that occurred in their lives, and how those events made them feel. For most, these difficulties with memory don’t last forever but just for a short period of time.
  • Problems keeping focused — Dissociation can cause problems with focus or concentration. While in the middle of an episode, it can become challenging to remain focused on a task at hand. This can interfere with homework assignments or a job duty.
  • Recurring depression or anxiety — It’s common for people who experience periods of dissociative symptoms to also experience depression or anxiety. One study found that around 80% of people who’ve been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID) experience depressive episodes.

What are some of the disorders that dissociation can be a symptom of?

Dissociation plays a major role in all three of the dissociative disorders: It can also be a symptom of many other mental health conditions. Here are the basics of some mental health disorders that can lead to a dissociative episode:

  • Dissociative identity disorder (DID) — Formerly known as multiple personality disorder, DID involves at least two identity states or personality identities. Each has its own way of interacting with the world. These identity states may control the person’s behavior and consciousness. This can lead to memory gaps and inconsistencies in the individual’s sense of self.
  • Dissociative amnesia — This disorder is characterized by memory loss. It’s more extensive than normal forgetfulness and is often linked to traumatic events. Having dissociative amnesia can make it difficult to recall important personal information. It can be especially difficult if the memory is related to the traumatic experience. This memory loss is not due to a neurological or medical condition.
  • Depersonalization/derealization disorder — Individuals with this disorder experience persistent or recurrent episodes of depersonalization or derealization. Depersonalization means feeling detached from one’s own body or thoughts. Derealization means feeling like the external world is unreal or distorted. These episodes can significantly impact the person’s sense of self. It can also affect their perception of reality.
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD) — This is a Cluster B disorder. A Cluster B disorder is characterized by unpredictable behavior. People with BPD have a difficult time regulating their emotions. It leads to intense emotional thinking. It can also cause unhealthy relationships and a lack of sense of self. Dissociation is a common BPD symptom, especially during stressful times.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — When a person experiences, witnesses or learns about a shocking or scary event, it can stick with them. They may develop psychological and emotional distress. This can lead to PTSD. Symptoms that can stem from PTSD include heightened irritability, flashbacks and intrusive thoughts. There’s also a dissociative subtype of PTSD that causes derealization and depersonalization. 

Lightfully can provide treatment to clients experiencing dissociative episodes

Lightfully offers a soft landing and whole-person support for teens and adults struggling with mental health conditions. We have experience supporting people struggling with a variety of mental health conditions, including dissociative disorders. And we’re here to support you, too.

If you or a loved one are struggling with dissociated episodes and are considering treatment options, contact our caring Admissions Concierge Team today. We can answer questions about programs and help you navigate any other steps on the road to recovery.

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