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Many people lump all dissociative disorders into one: dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly called multiple personality disorder. This is because DID has long been mischaracterized in books, television, and film as some type of extraordinary or salacious type of disorder. People with DID have been portrayed as unhinged, or even intentionally deceptive at times. This is simply not true, and these inaccurate portrayals have done a lot to set back the understanding of what dissociative disorders are, as well as addressing the fact that there are three major types of dissociative disorders.

What Is a Dissociative Disorder?

In his book, First Person Plural: My Life as a Multiple, Dr. Cameron West describes what it was like struggling with dissociative identity disorder, while also studying to be a psychologist. He writes, “I could write an 86-page essay comparing the features of Borderline Personality Disorder with those of Dissociative Identity Disorder, but I barely knew what day it was, or even what month, never knew where the car was parked when Dusty would come out of the grocery store, couldn’t look in the mirror for fear of what – or whom – I’d see.” This just goes to show that dissociative disorders have nothing to do with personal choice or “deception” (as previously mentioned). Rather, dissociative disorders are mental illnesses wholly out of one’s control. 

As the American Psychiatric Association (APA) explains, “Dissociative disorders involve problems with memory, identity, emotion, perception, behavior and sense of self… Examples of dissociative symptoms include the experience of detachment or feeling as if one is outside one’s body and loss of memory or amnesia. Dissociative disorders are frequently associated with previous experience of trauma.”

Further, there are three major types of dissociative disorders: dissociative amnesia, depersonalization/derealization disorder, and the aforementioned DID. Now, while these three types do share some of the same symptoms and characteristics, they are all very distinct dissociative disorders.

Understanding Dissociative Amnesia

Dissociative amnesia is a disorder that causes individuals not to remember certain aspects of their lives. This is different than simply being forgetful, it involves forgetting very personal information or more commonly forgetting very traumatic events.

Three types of amnesia fall under the category of dissociative amnesia. These include:

  • Selective amnesia: Not being able to remember a specific part of an event or series of events
  • Localized amnesia: Not being able to remember a specific event entirely
  • Generalized amnesia: Involves losing one’s memory of their personal history

As with the other two major types of dissociative disorders, dissociative amnesia is born out of trauma.

Understanding Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder

The next type of dissociative disorder is depersonalization/derealization disorder. This disorder involves feelings of detachment from one’s body or one’s “self.” These symptoms are tied to depersonalization. Derealization involves a feeling of being detached from the world around oneself.

One misconception is that people with depersonalization disorder are unaware of what is going on. However, generally, they are fully aware that they are having a disordered experience, which can be very stressful. Still, from the outside, they may look as though they have very little awareness of the situation.

Understanding Dissociative Identity Disorder

According to the clinical write-up Dissociative Identity Disorder by Doctors Mitra and Jain, “Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a rare disorder associated with severe behavioral health symptoms. DID was previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder until 1994. Approximately 1.5% of the population internationally has been diagnosed with a dissociative identity disorder.” This is the disorder that is most commonly thought of when thinking of dissociation.

There are certain characteristics (or criteria) that define DID. One is having two or more distinctive identities, which include changes in behaviors and cognition. Another is forgetting certain chunks of time, especially as an individual shifts from one ”personality state” to the next. 

It is also not uncommon for people struggling with DID to experience other types of symptoms that are more “universal” to mental illness. These include anxiety, depression, substance misuse and abuse, destructive behavior, difficulty sleeping, self-harm, and having suicidal ideations. Also, as with the other two types of dissociative disorders, DID can be very distressing to the individual and can wholly impede day-to-day life without some type of professional intervention.

Treating All Types of Dissociative Disorders at The Phoenix Recovery Center

In his book, Dr. West discovers how to find peace and gratitude while still struggling with DID. He writes, “Love yourself and others, appreciate beauty, art, and music, laugh as often as possible, empathize with others’ pain so that it may be diminished even if only for a moment, appreciate the flavors and textures of a finely cooked meal, let a cool breeze caress your skin on a warm summer night and drift off to a peaceful sleep. Thank.” Dr. West overcame the stigmas of dissociative disorder and became a champion for others who still struggle with the disorder. 

Here at The Phoenix Recovery Center, we understand how complex and stressful struggling with mental illness can be. This can be especially true with more severe types of mental illness, like the three major types of dissociative disorders. That is why, like Dr. West, we are here to show love and empathy to those struggling with dissociative disorders. We are also here to offer guidance and healing to anyone who wants it.

If you feel like you or someone you love may be struggling with a dissociative disorder or any other form of mental illness or addiction, we can help get you onto the road to recovery. For more information on the three major types of dissociative disorders and how they can best be treated, please reach out to The Phoenix Recovery Center today at (801) 438-3185. We look forward to hearing from you.

The Phoenix Recovery Center
489 W. South Jordan Pkwy
Suite 400
South Jordan, UT