Dissociative amnesia (DA) is a type of amnesia where you can’t remember important information about your life including things like your name, family or friends, and personal history. It can happen due to intense trauma or stress. It involve experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity. People with dissociative disorders escape reality in ways that are involuntary and unhealthy and cause problems with functioning in everyday life.
Stints of amnesia usually come on suddenly, and they can last hours, days, or, in rare cases, weeks. Dissociative amnesia is rare; it affects about 1% of men and 2.6% of women in the general population. The environment also plays a role. Rates of dissociative amnesia tend to increase after natural disasters and during war.
Dissociative amnesia is not the same as simple amnesia, which involves a loss of information from memory, usually as the result of disease or injury to the brain. With dissociative amnesia, the memories still exist but are deeply buried within the person’s mind and cannot be recalled. However, the memories might resurface on their own or after being triggered by something in the person’s surroundings.
The primary symptom of dissociative amnesia is the sudden inability to remember past experiences or personal information. Some people with this disorder also might appear confused and suffer from depression and/or anxiety, or psychiatri disorders.
There are three types, or patterns, of dissociative amnesia:
• Localized: Memory loss affects specific areas of knowledge or parts of a person’s life, such as a certain period during childhood, or anything about a friend or coworker. Often the memory loss focuses on a specific trauma. For example, a crime victim may have no memory of being robbed at gunpoint, but can recall details from the rest of that day.
• Generalized: Memory loss affects major parts of a person’s life and/or identity, such as a being unable to recognize your name, job, family and friends.
• Fugue: With dissociative fugue, the person has generalized amnesia and adopts a new identity. For example, one middle manager was passed over for promotion. He did not come home from work and was reported as missing by his family. He was found a week later, 600 miles away, living under a different name, working as a short-order cook. When found by the police, he could not recognize any family member, friend or coworker, and he could not say who he was or explain his lack of identification.
Dissociative amnesia is different from amnesia caused by medical problems, such as illnesses, strokes or brain injuries. In medically caused amnesia, recovering memories are rare and generally a slow and gradual process.
Most cases of dissociative amnesia are relatively short. Often, memories return suddenly and completely. Memory recovery may be triggered by something in the person’s surroundings, or in therapy.
Also, people who suffer medical amnesia are upset by their memory loss, where most people with dissociative amnesia seem to have surprisingly little concern over their amnesia.
Dissociative amnesia is linked to traumatic or intensely stressful events.
Examples can include things like:
• being in combat during a war
• being the victim of a crime or seeing a crime being committed
• experiencing physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
• undergoing severe stress related to relationships, finances, or your job.
• going through a natural disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane
There are several thoughts regarding why these events can lead to DA. It’s likely that a complex combination of them play a role in the development of the condition:
• DA results from the brain’s attempts to cope with or protect you from painful memories by dissociating itself from a traumatic experience.
• The stress from traumatic events interferes with your brain’s ability to retrieve personal memories related to that time.
• Some studies have suggestedTrusted Source that genetics may play a role in the development of dissociative episodes.
Risk Factors –
Those who experienced physical or sexual abuse during childhood have an increased risk of dissociative amnesia. The most significant risk factor for dissociative amnesia is exposure to an overwhelming traumatic experience, either once or continually.
There are other conditions that can happen along with DA. These are called comorbid conditions and can include:
• post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
• personality disorders
• sleep disorders
• anxiety disorders
• alcohol or drug use disorders
Doctors diagnose dissociative amnesia based on whether or not an individual meets the criteria set out in the DSM-5. The criteria are:
• A person cannot recall important personal or family information.
• A person’s symptoms cause distress.
• A person’s symptoms prevent them from functioning normally in social settings.
A doctor will also perform a medical and physical examination to rule out other potential causes.
They can use MRI scans to check for structural causes, blood and urine tests to analyze toxic causes, and an electroencephalogram (EEG) to rule out a seizure disorder.
They will also ensure that a person’s symptoms are not due to a medication or psychiatric disorder.
The goals of treatment for dissociative amnesia are to relieve symptoms, make sure the patient and those around them are safe, and “reconnect” the person with their lost memories. Treatment also aims to help the person:
• Safely deal with and manage painful events.
• Develop new coping skills and life skills.
• Get back to functioning as well as possible.
• Improve relationships.
The best treatment approach depends on the person, the type of amnesia and how severe the symptoms are. Treatment most likely includes some combination of the following methods:
Psychotherapy, sometimes called “talk therapy,” is the main treatment for dissociative disorders. This is a broad term that includes several forms of therapy.
▪︎ Cognitive-behavioral therapy:
This form of psychotherapy focuses on changing harmful thinking patterns, feelings and behaviors.
▪︎ Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing:
This technique is designed to treat people who have continuing nightmares, flashbacks and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
▪︎ Dialectic-behavior therapy:
This form of psychotherapy is for people with severe personality disturbances (which can include dissociative symptoms), and often takes place after the person has suffered abuse or trauma.
▪︎ Family therapy:
This helps teach the family about the disorder and helps family members recognize if the patient’s symptoms come back.
▪︎ Creative therapies (for example, art therapy, music therapy):
These therapies allow patients to explore and express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a safe and creative environment.
▪︎ Meditation and relaxation techniques:
These help people better handle their dissociative symptoms and become more aware of their internal states.
▪︎ Clinical hypnosis: This is a treatment that uses intense relaxation, concentration, and focused attention to achieve a different state of consciousness, and allows people to explore thoughts, feelings and memories they may have hidden from their conscious minds.
There is no medication to treat dissociative disorders. However, people with dissociative disorders, especially those with depression and/or anxiety, may benefit from treatment with antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications.
People with dissociative amnesia usually respond well to treatment. But progress and success depend on many things, including the person’s life situation and if they have support from family and friends.
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