What Is a Disorganized Thought Process?


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When navigating overwhelming or stressful situations, it’s not uncommon for the mind to feel cluttered or foggy. But in some instances, persistently disorganized thoughts may indicate the presence of an underlying mental health condition.

A disorganized thought process is a specific type of formal thought disorder. A thought disorder is a disturbance in cognition that affects language, thought and communication. A formal thought disorder refers to a difference in the production and communication of thoughts. 

Disorganized thought process specifically refers to difficulties in organizing thoughts coherently and expressing them logically. It is one of the primary symptoms associated with formal thought disorders. Since symptoms such as disorganized thought processes interfere with daily life and usually indicate an underlying mental health issue, it’s important to seek professional support.

We’ll talk about what a disorganized thought process is, signs to look out for and how it may stem from disorders that require treatment

Definition and signs of a disorganized thought process

A disorganized thought process is characterized by a lack of coherence, clarity and logical progression in one’s thinking. It causes cognitive interruptions that interfere with effectively conveying information. It can also impact engagement in meaningful conversations. It’s not a DSM-5 diagnosis. It’s a symptom of some common mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or certain types of psychotic disorders.

People experiencing a disorganized thought process may face challenges in seeking help. They may also have reduced self-awareness regarding their condition. The signs of a disorganized thought process include:

  • Neologism — You create new words or use words in ways that may not make sense to others.
  • Thought blocking — You have abrupt, involuntary interruptions in your flow of thought that result in interruptions in your flow of speech. It can become difficult to continue the point you were trying to make or think of the right word.
  • Derailment — You’re jumping between ideas or topics that aren’t related or connected as you speak. This can cause you to lose sight of your original thought.
  • Tangentiality — You gradually drift away from the central idea of a conversation. You can end up on a tangent as your train of thought deviates from the topic but without an abrupt shift.

Mental health disorders related to a disorganized thought process

Struggling with disorganized thoughts or communication issues isn’t always a sign of a mental health condition. However, there are several disorders that are commonly linked to a disorganized thought process. Disorganized speech often comes along with it.

It’s important to note that current research hasn’t found a definitive cause of disorganized thoughts. It usually refers to changes in the central nervous system. The changes are particularly seen in the areas of the brain that control speech, memory and language.

Having disorganized thoughts is a characteristic of some mental health disorders, including:

  • Schizophrenia — A disorganized thought process is most commonly found in people who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. The disorder causes a distorted sense of reality that can affect a person’s thoughts, behaviors and emotions. Disorganized thoughts and speech are two of the most prevalent symptoms of schizophrenia.
  • Bipolar disorder — During a bipolar episode, particularly in a manic phase, individuals may encounter disorganized thinking. It’s characterized by challenges in maintaining concentration on a singular idea. The heightened emotional states and increased energy levels can contribute to a rapid and erratic flow of thoughts. This can cause the mind to swiftly transition from one topic to another.
  • Schizoaffective disorder — Also known as schizo bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder combines symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Since both have disorganized thought processes as a possible symptom, it makes sense for it to appear as a symptom of this disorder as well.

Lightfully Behavioral Health can help you address your disorganized thought process

Effective communication with others can be difficult when you can’t logically string together ideas or you lose your point as you get distracted by other topics. Disorganized thoughts may be an indicator of a mental health disorder that requires proper treatment, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. 

At Lightfully, we use process-based therapy to treat you as a whole person beyond your disorder. The framework of our clinic consists of evidence-based, clearly defined, data-driven and whole-person-centered care. We can help you alleviate your current symptoms, such as disorganized thoughts, while giving you the tools you need to manage them in the future.

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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