What Mental Illness Causes Dissociation?

Mental dissociation is when someone disconnects from reality, themselves and everyone around them. Someone who has become dissociated will seem hollow and somewhat robotic. They will disconnect from their thoughts, personal beliefs/opinions and memories. Often people get to this point after experiencing a traumatic event.

As a general rule, any mental illness where severe trauma is present will cause dissociation if the individual is prone to it. Mental illnesses where trauma is a common cause include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder and Depression.

Someone experiencing dissociation could have one of the several types of dissociation disorder. In this article we will discuss the different types, causes of mental dissociation, myths/facts, treatment options and more.

What are the Types of Dissociation?

There are four different types of dissociation disorders. While each serve a purpose of protection for the individual, it’s important to get appropriate treatment to resolve the cause of dissociation.

This is because the dissociative situation can harm the well-being of the individual over time. It can cause relationship issues, problems at work and can even change the direction of someone’s life if severe enough.

Let’s get into each of the four types and what to expect with each.

Anxiety attacks and dealing with anxiety in general are one of several difficulties that may come along with a variety of mental illnesses including dissociation.

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Dissociative Identity Disorder

Dissociative disorder is commonly known today as “switching”. Switching is when an individual experiences multiple personalities. This is also commonly known as multiple personality disorder.

When an individual is experiencing this, they will claim that there are multiple personalities in their head. They will switch between the identities of each but will feel detached from their own identity while doing it.

They feel as though there are multiple “people” in occupying their mind. Often, people with dissociative identity disorder will be able to describe the several different personalities.

Experiencing dissociative amnesia and dissociative fugue is common with those struggling with dissociative identity disorder as well.

This is one of the most extreme forms of dissociation and requires proper treatment in order to eliminate the cause behind dissociation.

Unfortunately, many people will be unwilling to receive treatment. This may be for a variety of personal reasons including pride, denial, embarrassment or even severe depression and lack of self-worth.

Dissociative Amnesia

Often dissociative amnesia occurs as an extreme form of blocking out trauma. Unlike the “typical” form of amnesia that is caused by medical conditions or injury, those experiencing dissociative amnesia usually don’t care that they’re experiencing a loss of memory.

They simply “go with the flow” of what they are experiencing and do not question their actions and will not be alarmed if someone mentions that they are being extremely forgetful.

This is because the dissociative amnesia is a form of protection and is serving a short-term purpose. Someone experiencing dissociative amnesia will eventually recover all of their memories. Usually this happens relatively quickly.

Depending on the individual’s situation, memories can come back all at once or trickle in. Either way, people with dissociative amnesia usually regain all of their memories in a short amount of time.

Speaking to a professional counselor can help speed up the recovery process. Therapy will also help the individual get to the bottom of their trauma and heal.

Dissociative Fugue

Dissociative fugue occurs when an individual suffering with trauma abruptly removes themselves from a certain situation.

They often take on a new identity (seemingly unknowingly) and may not be able to remember details of their personal lives.

They may not even remember their name, that they have a family or what they do for a living. This can be a short or long term instance.

For example, someone might be extremely stressed out at work and might leave work for the day, suddenly without notice. They typically will not make a scene but rather, will seem like they’re in a fog or “on auto-pilot”.


They might come out of this dissociative state a few hours later or the next day. Dissociative fugue is a form of amnesia in which the person experiencing it essentially blanks out for a while and removes themselves from whatever is causing their trauma.

A long term example of this is an adult who experienced a variety of trauma and/or abuse who eventually moves away from their hometown in order to block the trauma out.

They may also experience memory loss and will most likely “block things out” as a form of protection. In short, dissociative fugue is the body/mind’s way of removing yourself from a situation that is causing you ongoing harm.

While it might relieve immediate psychological or emotional pain, it’s important to seek help to eliminate dissociative episodes.

Depersonalization (derealization) Disorder

When someone is experiencing depersonalization/derealization they are aware that they are doing do. Usually, the individual will feel out of touch with their thoughts, feelings and/or the environment around them.

People describe the feelings of depersonalization/derealization as though they are in a dream. They’re aware of it when it’s happening but they can’t just “snap out of it”.

They will be able to control their awareness and they might even have a sense of knowing what they’re going to do before they do it. Usually, they will not be able to interrupt the course of action they take during this time.

Some have also said that it’s like watching themselves in a movie. They are aware of what is going on but feel detached and out of control of themselves.

Sometimes, due to medications or pre-existing mental conditions, people will experience depersonalization or derealization from time to time.

One may do this without being diagnosed with dissociation disorder as it is not unusual to experience it under those types of conditions.

To many people’s surprise, dissociation may acutely occur to the majority of us at one time or another.

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Practicing self-awareness is a great way to confront dissociation head on. Most people experiencing this high level of trauma still have the ability to confront their pain and discover a healthy solution.

It might seem easier to avoid it and dissociate in the moment, but being willing to “dig in” and confront the trauma to eliminate it will heal the pain that the individual is covering up.

Seeking treatment will also ensure that the individual avoids other mental illnesses from developing. Depression and anxiety disorders often develop later in the lives of trauma victims when treatment has not been pursued.

Causes of Mental Dissociation

Trauma is the cause of any type of dissociation. Whether it’s witnessed or experienced, trauma can have huge effects on someone’s mental and emotional health.

  • Witnessing a Traumatic Event. Contrary to what some may believe, witnessing a traumatic event is enough to induce severe PTSD. When someone witnesses something traumatic (for the first time especially) they might be in an unfathomable amount of shock. They may come to the realization of how fragile life is, the extreme amount of danger that is around or some other eye opening experience. Depending on how gruesome the traumatic event is, they might develop a mental illness such as dissociation due to the “second hand” trauma. Any experience of significant trauma can cause an individual to develop some type of dissociation. Depending on how empathetic the individual is, their mental capacities and other personalized situations, experiencing a traumatic event can effect someone as if they were the one experiencing their trauma first-hand.

Other examples of mental disorders that may develop as a result of trauma (particularly childhood trauma) may include anxiety, depression, personality disorders and eating disorders.

  • Experiencing a Traumatic Event. When a traumatic event presents itself, processing the event may vary. Everyone interprets stress and trauma differently. Experiencing any level of trauma may trigger dissociation depending on the individual. Examples of trauma that have been known to cause dissociation may include (but are not limited to) instances such as rape, a robbery, kidnapping, house fire or other near death experiences.

Childhood Abuse. Dissociation often occurs due to childhood abuse or severe neglect. This is because the mental capacity and extreme vulnerability of a child. Dissociation is a coping mechanism meant to protect the person from experiencing (or reliving) the initial event. Physical, mental, emotional or sexual abuse of a child may cause them to develop some form of dissociation over time. Many mental disorders that develop over time due to trauma are simply the mind’s way of coping in the moment.

  • Hereditary Traits. Just as with certain personality disorders, anxiety and depression tendencies, dissociation traits may be passed down from your parents. This is simply due to the genetic make up of you. Some people are naturally more anxious, fearful or depressed. Perhaps you inherited susceptibility to react with dissociation when experiencing trauma. Fortunately, like more hereditary disorders/mental illnesses, we have the ability to “turn the ship around” for future generations. Taking care of your mental and physical health and receiving appropriate treatment, can bring healing and mental wellness.

Myths and Facts about Mental Dissociation

  • Myth #1. People can control when they become dissociated.

It may seem obvious to some, but others may have a hard time accepting that those suffering with dissociation are not able to control it. When someone becomes dissociated during conversation, when at work or in various other situations, one may have a hard time not taking it personally.

  • Myth #2. People with dissociative disorder are aggressive and harm others.

This is false. Usually if an individual is experiencing dissociation and has harmful tendencies, they will inflict self-harm or attempt suicide.

  • Myth #3. Psychotic disorders and dissociation are the same.

While people with a dissociative disorder can also have a psychotic disorder, they are not the same thing. Those strictly with dissociative disorder do not experience delusions or hallucinations.

  • Fact #1. About half of adults will experience some form of dissociation in their life time. This will typically be a brief episode and is usually experienced as depersonalization or derealization.
  • Fact #2. More women are known to suffer from dissociation than men.

While statistically this is true, more men are seeking treatment and taking care of their mental and emotional health so it will be interesting to see if this shifts over time.

  • Fact #3. Nearly 75% of people that have experienced trauma will experience some form of dissociation.

Treatment Options for Mental Dissociation

Like many mental health illnesses, all types of dissociation disorder usually have two forms of treatment. Psychotherapy (talk therapy) and medication.

Psychotherapy is helpful as consulting with a professional will increase the individual’s awareness of their disorder.

Someone struggling with dissociation may not even be aware what trauma may have caused it. Speaking to a professional is a great way to be proactive about your mental health journey.

Medication is another great treatment option that will often be used as a supplement to therapy.

Medication will be prescribed by your doctor and is determined based on your specific medical needs. Some people will see success with certain kinds of medications (like antidepressants) where others may not.

It’s important to talk to your doctor to see what’s vest for you.

In conclusion, living with a mental illness that caused dissociation (or dissociation itself) is a difficult situation to be in.

Often, many are unware that the daily struggles they face can be resolved or avoided with proper treatment and care.

Anxiety and depression are two common mental illnesses that are often caused from other underlying mental illnesses.

Dealing with a mental illness, dissociation and something as difficult and anxiety and/or depression can feel debilitating. Recover may seem daunting, but with the right support and treatment, it is more than possible to eliminate mental illness and achieve newfound quality of life.

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Hi, I'm Marissa! I'm passionate about mental and emotional health and want to share what I've learned over the years with others! I've seen first hand how mental health struggles can cause serious issues within relationships, work life, daily productivity, self-worth and more! I truly believe that we owe it to ourselves to bring more awareness to these life changing topics. Start your mental/emotional health journey by learning more today!

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