Dissociation is a common defense/reaction to stressful or traumatic situations. Severe isolated traumas or repeated traumas may result in a person developing a dissociative disorder. A dissociative disorder impairs the normal state of awareness and limits or alters one’s sense of identity, memory or consciousness. Once considered rare, recent research indicates that dissociative symptoms are as common as anxiety and depression, and that individuals with dissociative disorders (particularly Dissociative Identity Disorder and Depersonalization Disorder) are frequently misdiagnosed for many years, delaying effective treatment. In fact, persons suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder often seek treatment for a variety of other problems including depression, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, alcohol or drug abuse, temper outbursts, and even hearing voices, or psychotic symptoms. People with dissociation often also seek treatment for a variety of medical problems including headaches, unexplained pains, and memory problems. Many people have symptoms that have gone undetected or untreated simply because they were unable to identify their problem, or were not asked the right questions about their symptoms. Because dissociative symptoms are typically hidden, it is important to see a mental health professional who is familiar with recent advances in the ability to diagnose dissociative disorders through the use of scientifically tested diagnostic tests.
What kind of events or experiences are likely to cause symptoms of dissociation? There are various types of traumas. There are traumas within one’s home, either emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Other types of traumas include natural disasters, such as earthquakes, political traumas such as holocausts, hostage situations, wars, random acts of violence (such as the Oklahoma city bombing and the Columbine shootings), or the grief we feel after the death of a family member or loved one. Dissociation is a universal reaction to overwhelming trauma and recent research with indicates that the manifestations of dissociation are very similar world wide.