Trauma and Dissociative Disorders

dissociative disorder

When an individual undergoes a severe isolated trauma, or repeated traumatic experiences, he or she is at risk of developing a dissociative disorder. Dissociation is a very common response to traumatic or extremely stressful situation, in fact, recent research suggests that dissociative symptoms are just as wide-spread and common as symptoms of anxiety and depression. A dissociative disorder works to impair the normal and functional state of awareness, while altering or harshly limiting one’s sense of personal identity, memory, or overall consciousness. There are several types of dissociative disorder (Depersonalization Disorder and Dissociative Identity Disorder amongst the most common), and most types are frequently misdiagnosed for years at a time, exacerbating symptoms and delaying adequate treatment.

In fact, individuals who suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) will commonly seek treatment for a host of other disorders, ranging from depression and mood swings to alcoholism and drug addiction, never recognizing that unresolved trauma lies at the root of all of their issues. If an individual does turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medication, symptoms will be even more difficult to recognize and diagnose. For this reason, it is crucial that an individual who has undergone significant trauma seek the help of a mental health professional – one who is familiar with recent advances in the realm of dissociative disorder diagnosis and treatment. It is also extremely beneficial for individuals with potentially co-occurring disorders to seek treatment in intensive inpatient programs, where they will be removed from chemical substance for a long enough period of time to be diagnosed properly.

Symptoms of Dissociative Disorders

You may better know Dissociative Identity Disorder as ‘Multiple Personality Disorder’ – a psychological disorder characterized by at least two distinct and recurring personalities or identities, often coupled by a memory impairment that concerns important information, and is not readily explained by standard forgetfulness. When it comes to treatment for DID, there is much controversy throughout the medical community. This is partially due to the difficulty with which DID is successfully diagnosed. Most individuals who suffer from dissociative disorders will also suffer from a co-occurring mental disorder, and no empirically supported definition for the term ‘dissociation’ even exists. The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation states that the prevalence of dissociation is somewhere between 1 and 3 percent of the total population, and between 1 and 5 percent in inpatient treatment groups throughout North America and Europe. DID is far more common in North America than it is in the rest of the world, and it is more commonly diagnosed amongst females than males – between three and nine times more often, in fact. This specific classification of disorder is often attributed to disruptions in memory caused by severe trauma. However, scientific studies have been wholly inconclusive, and further research on cause is necessary.

Substance Abuse and Unresolved Trauma

Because trauma is such a wide-ranging term, it can be difficult to determine just what caused a dissociative disorder to initially develop. Trauma can result from physical, sexual, or emotional abuse throughout childhood. Trauma may be the lingering psychological effect of a natural disaster, or a severe car accident. One may experience the trauma of losing a loved one to chronic disease, or being abandoned by a parent or primary caregiver at an early age. Dissociation is essentially the universal reaction to a trauma that is too emotionally or psychologically overwhelming to accept or acknowledge, and recent research does indicate that the manifestations and symptoms of dissociation are similar on a worldwide spectrum. The most common misdiagnosis that those suffering from DID will receive is depression, and many DID sufferers are treated with antidepressants as a result. Unfortunately, many individuals suffering from undiagnosed dissociative symptoms are also frequently misdiagnosed with psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and are treated with antipsychotic medications which have been known to result in damaging, long-term side effects.

Diagnosing Dissociative Disorders

If an individual seems to be experiencing a wide range of symptoms which consistently come and go, or if an individual has been receiving pharmaceutical treatment for a number of years with no clear signs of improvement, he or she may be suffering from a dissociative disorder. If this is the case, thorough psychiatric evaluation is necessary – though evaluation is likely to be inconclusive unless sobriety is maintained for a prolonged period of time. Again, this is why inpatient treatment is the best option for those showing signs of DID or any other form of dissociative disorder. We at Next Chapter have extensive experience working with psychiatric and mental disorders of all varieties, and under the importance of treating all co-occurring disorders simultaneously. We know that early childhood trauma can lead to lasting psychological symptoms, and that trauma of any kind has been known to instigate the development of dissociative disorders – both severe and otherwise. For more information on our program of mental health, trauma, and addiction recovery, please feel free to contact us today.