Dissociative amnesia is a type of mental disorder that involves a disconnection or disruption of memory, awareness, actions, and identity. People with this type of dissociative disorder may be unable to remember important information about their life. In some cases, the person may forget only specific areas of their life, while in other cases, the person may forget much of their life history or identity.
What causes dissociative amnesia?
Dissociative amnesia usually develops as a coping mechanism when the person is subjected to intense stress such as:
- Being in combat in a war
- Witnessing or suffering a crime or traumatic event
- Experiencing abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual)
Their brain copes by forgetting the painful part of their life. Studies have also revealed that genetics may play a role in causing dissociative amnesia.
What are the types of dissociative amnesia?
There are three types of dissociative amnesia:
- Localized: Only a very small part of the memory is lost, such as forgetting a particular incident or a particular person, but the person’s overall identity and memory is retained. For example, a soldier injured in a war may forget about the incident that caused their injury, but remembers who they are and other details from that day.
- Generalized: There is significant loss of the person’s memory involving complete loss of identity or recognition of friends and family. For example, a young woman may forget her name and be unable to recognize her husband and children.
- Fugue: This is a complicated form of generalized amnesia where the person not only forgets who they are but also adopts a new identity and starts to live a parallel life as someone else. For example, a teacher may forget to come to their school and after several months is found to be running a bakery shop somewhere else under a different identity.
How is dissociative amnesia diagnosed?
If a person has symptoms of dissociative amnesia, a psychologist or psychiatrist will take a thorough history to assess their mental condition.
Although there are no specific diagnostic tests to diagnose this type of disorder, doctors may also use various imaging or blood tests to rule out other illnesses, as well as side effects from medications or drug and alcohol abuse.
How is dissociative amnesia treated?
Treatment options for dissociative amnesia include:
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