How to help someone with a dissociative disorder: The do’s and don’ts


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Dissociative disorder is a type of mental disorder. It is characterized by frequent periods of disengagement between a person’s environment or reality and their emotional processing. This type of disorder can affect a person’s response to their environment by affecting their memories, thoughts and identity. 

Dissociative disorders most often develop as trauma responses. They’re designed to protect someone from traumatic events or memories. The symptoms that someone may experience depend on the type of dissociative disorder they have. The different types of dissociative orders include dissociative identity disorder, depersonalization disorder and dissociative amnesia.

Although going through a dissociative episode is common, experiencing a chronic dissociative disorder is not as common. It’s estimated that about 74% of people experience dissociation at some point during their lives, but only 2% of people will chronically experience a dissociative disorder. It’s also more likely to affect women than men.

How can you help someone who is dissociating?

  • Offer a listening ear to them — Sometimes lending a listening ear can mean a lot to a person who is struggling. If you know someone who may need help with their dissociative disorder, offering to actively listen (if they want to talk) can sometimes be massively helpful to them. 
  • Ask if there is anything you can do to support them — Another way you can help someone who is dissociating is by asking if you can do anything to support them. Sometimes the easiest way to find out what you can do is by asking the person directly. They might be able to let you know quickly if you can do anything for them or not. 
  • Advocate for them or help find someone who can — You may be able to help someone who is struggling with dissociation by being an advocate for their mental health or by finding someone who can advocate for that person. It can be hard to get help on your own, so sometimes someone who can stand up for your best interest can really help. 
  • Support or encourage them through therapy sessions — It can help to have support before, during and after therapy sessions. This could look like encouraging them to continue their treatment or simply driving them to and from sessions.

What should you not do to someone who has a dissociative disorder?

  • React with anger and impatience — When interacting with someone who has a dissociative disorder, showing potentially dangerous or negative emotions can trigger them to go into a dissociative state. This is not helpful and should be avoided if possible. You should instead practice responding to this person with patience and care and speak to them with compassion. 
  • Try to “fix” their disorder — Unless you’re a licensed mental health professional, you shouldn’t try to treat anyone’s dissociative disorder. It’s also worth noting that dissociative disorders are chronic, meaning they’ll affect a person throughout their lifetime and cannot be “fixed.” The purpose of treatment is to help a person manage their dissociating symptoms and improve their quality of life.

What are some helpful treatment options for someone who is dissociating?

  • Therapy — Talk therapy is an effective treatment option for a lot of people. If you or someone you know has a dissociative disorder, regular talk therapy sessions can help clients focus on managing their dissociating symptoms and building sustainable, long-term goals for the future. 
  • Medication — Medication may be a helpful option for some people who have dissociative disorders, but it isn’t for everyone. The best way to decide if medication will help when they’re dissociating is during an open and honest discussion between that person and their doctor.

Lightfully wants to help your loved one manage their dissociative disorder

Our Lightfully team mission is to work with individuals to change their life compassionately. We strive to provide high-quality mental health care to various types of clients through a focused approach to process-based therapy. The framework of our clinic consists of evidence-based, clearly defined, data-driven and whole-person-centered care. Lightfully offers various layers of service to both adults and teens through our residential, virtual, partial hospitalization (also called our Day Treatment programs), and intensive outpatient programs. We regularly see clients who actively manage mood disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders and trauma disorders. If you know someone struggling with a dissociative disorder, we think we can help.

Our licensed, clinical experts see each client as a complex and layered human – not just a diagnosis. We value our clients as they are and hope to enrich their lives through treatment. Our vision for the future is an authentic and loving community where everyone can be seen, heard, and valued as they are. We believe in the light within each individual, and when that light is properly nurtured it can allow a person to shine brighter than ever before.

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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