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Dissociative Amnesia: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Did you know that 1–3% of people will suffer from dissociative amnesia at some point in their lives? This shocking figure sheds light on an illness that is frequently misunderstood and veiled in mystery.

Dissociative amnesia is a complicated psychiatric condition where a person loses memories, usually of a stressful or traumatic incident. It goes beyond simple forgetfulness. This type of amnesia, in contrast to ordinary memory loss, can have a major negative influence on a person’s life by causing holes in their identity and past.

Dissociative amnesia has complex aetiology, frequently stemming from profound psychological stress or trauma. For individuals afflicted and their loved ones, it is essential to comprehend its symptoms and investigate the accessible therapies.

Even while this illness might be difficult, it is not unmanageable, and recognising its features can be the first step towards healing and comprehension.

What is dissociative amnesia?

A complicated psychological disorder called dissociative amnesia causes severe memory loss that is not consistent with everyday forgetfulness. This disorder, which is frequently misdiagnosed, is a real and serious mental health issue that goes beyond simple memory lapses.

The inability to recollect significant personal information, typically related to a traumatic or stressful event, is referred to as dissociative amnesia. It mostly affects autobiographical memory, which causes gaps in one’s own past, in contrast to other types of amnesia.

Numerous research investigations and clinical observations provide answers to the issue, “Is dissociative amnesia real?”.

Dissociative amnesia and excessive stress are related, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Excessive stress can arise from traumatic experiences like abuse, war, accidents, or disasters.

When under a lot of stress, the brain can block out specific memories as a coping mechanism. This illness emphasises the complex relationship between the mind and feelings, highlighting the significant influence psychological stress can have on memory processes.

What are the examples of dissociative amnesia?

A psychological disorder known as dissociative amnesia is characterised by a brief loss of memory brought on by a dissociative episode that is frequently brought on by stress or trauma.

Both the personal and professional realms of an individual’s life may be greatly disrupted by this illness. Dissociative amnesia can have many different forms, each with distinct traits and ramifications of its own.

Here are some examples of dissociative amnesia, incorporating the term “dissociative amnesia example”:

Localized amnesia: A person suffering from localised amnesia forgets everything that happened within a certain time frame. An example of typical dissociative amnesia would be someone who cannot remember anything about a severe vehicle accident they suffered.

Selective amnesia: A person suffering from selective amnesia will recall some but not all of the events that occurred within a given period of time. For instance, a soldier may recall some details but not all of a traumatic battle.

Generalized amnesia: The uncommon condition known as generalised amnesia causes a person to lose all recollections of their past, including who they are. A person may lose track of their friends and family as well as their own abilities and knowledge.

Systematised amnesia: This kind entails forgetting certain types of information, such all recollections of a certain individual or member of one’s family.

Dissociative fugue: Dissociative fugue is a variant of dissociative amnesia in which an individual abruptly leaves their familiar environment and may take on a new identity while losing all memories of their past existence.

What are the 9 symptoms of dissociative amnesia?

An inability to recall significant personal information—typically of a painful or stressful nature—that cannot be explained by normal forgetting is the hallmark of dissociative amnesia.

According to a study, dissociative amnesia is frequently associated with traumatic experiences and may be the brain’s way of shielding a person from emotionally taxing situations.

Dissociative amnesia can cause a wide range of symptoms, although the following are commonly observed:

1. Memory lapses

The main symptom of dissociative amnesia is marked impairments in autobiographical recollection. People may forget significant life events, pivotal moments, or crucial personal details.

These memory lapses cannot be explained by common memory problems and are more severe than ordinary forgetfulness.

For example, someone may not remember a catastrophic incident, such a serious accident, or they may even forget several years of their life. These gaps can create a feeling of incompleteness or frustration in comprehending one’s own life experience, and they frequently result in problems in interpersonal and professional interactions.

2. Emotional numbness

People who suffer from dissociative amnesia frequently feel emotionally detached or numb. This goes beyond merely being emotionally numb to the times that have passed; it can also involve a generalised dulling of emotions. It may be difficult for them to experience happiness, sorrow, or rage, which can complicate interpersonal interactions.

If traumatic memories were available, this numbness could serve as a coping technique, assisting in the management of the strong emotions that might result from them.

3. Confusion or disorientation

This symptom is characterised by a sensation of disorientation in space and time, as well as bewilderment about one’s identity. During or after an amnesic episode, a person could be unclear of who they are, feel alienated from their sense of self, or be uncertain of their life’s facts.

This can show up as temporarily losing track of one’s identity or name, as well as forgetting important life events or past experiences.

4. Trouble recognizing loved ones

Dissociative amnesia sufferers occasionally struggle to identify close friends or relatives. This isn’t because of a cognitive or visual deficiency; rather, it’s because memories and familiar faces aren’t being linked correctly.

Due to its impact on the most important relationships in their lives, this symptom can be especially upsetting for the affected person as well as their loved ones.

5. Spontaneous trance states

During these times, the person may seem to be “zoned out” or not fully present. They could appear to be immersed in their own world and not react to outside stimuli when in these trance states.

This may serve as a defence mechanism, enabling the mind to momentarily withdraw from tense or upsetting memories and thoughts.

6. Depersonalization

This entails a sense of disassociation from oneself. People may experience the sensation that their ideas and deeds are not their own, or that they are watching themselves from outside of their bodies.

This can be an unsettling experience because it calls into question the fundamental components of one’s identity and can cause a great deal of distress and confusion.

7. Derealization

This is a feeling of being cut off from the surroundings. The surroundings could appear hazy, dreamy, surreal, or visually warped. It’s possible for environment, people, and things to look fake or lifeless.

This symptom can be especially disconcerting since it distorts reality and makes a person feel alone and cut off from the outside world.

8. Stress and anxiety

A high degree of stress and worry is typical among those who have dissociative amnesia. It can be extremely upsetting to experience the uncertainty and confusion brought on by memory lapses as well as the anxiety of losing additional memories. Physical symptoms, avoidance behaviours, and increased stress in routine circumstances are all possible manifestations of anxiety.

9. Physical symptoms

Headaches, nausea, and other physical symptoms associated with stress can be among them. The body’s response to the psychological stress of dissociative amnesia might appear in many physical ways. These symptoms may intensify the person’s distress, resulting in a vicious cycle of emotional and physical discomfort.

What are the causes of dissociative amnesia?

Psychological trauma is often at the core of dissociative amnesia.This disorder usually manifests as a protective strategy, enabling a person’s mind to block out memories of experiences that are too distressing, traumatic, or agonising to face head-on.

Events that cause extreme stress or trauma, such war, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, kidnapping, abuse, or serious accidents, are the most frequent triggers. Dissociative amnesia can sometimes result from prolonged mental strain and repeated exposure to stressful environments as opposed to a single traumatic incident.

Memory gaps can result from the brain’s reaction to extreme stress, which can interfere with the regular encoding and recovery of memories. This is frequently understood to be the mind’s attempt to shield itself from the emotional damage caused by traumatic events.

Additionally, an individual’s propensity to develop dissociative disorders under stress may be influenced by certain biological factors, such as neurochemical imbalances or hereditary predispositions.

Not everyone who experiences trauma will go on to develop dissociative amnesia, which suggests that a variety of biological, psychological, and environmental factors play a complex role in the genesis of this condition.

How is dissociative amnesia treated: 7 effective options

A major loss of memory that cannot be attributed to normal forgetfulness is known as dissociative amnesia, and it frequently results from traumatic or stressful events.

The goals of dissociative amnesia treatment are to help the patient regain lost memories, deal with the trauma, and function better overall. It’s a comprehensive strategy that could include supportive care, medicine, and psychotherapy.

The following 7 methods for treating dissociation amnesia are effective:

Psychotherapy

The foundation of the treatment is this. Patients may learn to recognise and alter their thought patterns with the use of therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Psychodynamic therapy explores the psychological underpinnings of amnesia.

Reprocessing and desensitisation of eye movements (EMDR)

EMDR is very useful for disorders linked to trauma. In order to lessen the emotional impact of memories, the patient recalls upsetting events while getting bilateral sensory stimulation, such as side-to-side eye movements.

Family therapy

Including family members in therapy can be helpful because dissociative amnesia can have a substantial impact on family dynamics. It aids in comprehending the disease and provides a support system for the patient.

Medication

Dissociative amnesia itself does not have a specific treatment, however related symptoms such as sadness, anxiety, or sleeplessness can be managed with the right medications.

Creative therapies

Patients who find it difficult to verbalise their feelings may find that alternate means of expressing their experiences and emotions are offered via art, music, or movement therapy.

Clinical hypnosis

Hypnosis can be used, under medical supervision, to help someone unwind and focus on retrieving forgotten memories. Although contentious, this strategy might work in some circumstances.

Mindfulness and stress management

Methods such as yoga, mindfulness, and meditation can help lower anxiety, manage stress, and enhance mental health in general—all of which are important when treating dissociative amnesia.

FAQs

Significant memory loss is a hallmark of the complicated and sometimes misdiagnosed illness known as dissociative amnesia. Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about this condition that are offered in an understandable and straightforward way to help demystify it.

How does dissociative amnesia work?

Dissociative amnesia is a condition in which an individual fails to recall significant personal information because they are unable to associate particular information—typically connected to a stressful or traumatic event—with their memory.

It functions similarly to the brain’s circuit breaker trip amid an overload to safeguard the person. The mind uses this defence mechanism to protect itself from emotional distress or upheaval.

What can I expect if I have dissociative amnesia?

You may encounter abrupt memory loss related to private information, past experiences, or traumatic events if you have dissociative amnesia. These voids can be perplexing and disturbing. You can have trouble maintaining your sense of yourself and feel cut off from your past. Emotional challenges such as depression or anxiety are also prevalent.

How long does dissociative amnesia last?

Dissociative amnesia varies widely in length. While some people regain their memories in a matter of days, others may need months or even years.

Rarely, the amnesia may last a lifetime. The length of rehabilitation typically varies depending on the traumatic event’s nature, the person’s emotional state, and the kind of treatment they received.

What tests will be done to diagnose this condition?

Doctors usually begin with a thorough medical history and physical examination to rule out other physical reasons of memory loss before diagnosing dissociative amnesia. Psychological assessments, such as questionnaires and interviews, are essential. Brain imaging examinations, such as CT or MRI scans, are occasionally performed to rule out neurological disorders.

How common is dissociative amnesia?

In contrast, dissociative amnesia is not common. Its precise prevalence is difficult to ascertain because to misdiagnosis and underreporting. People who have experienced traumatic events—such as those who have survived natural catastrophes or military combat—are more likely to be diagnosed with it. There may be an increase in diagnosis as a result of growing knowledge and awareness of the illness.

Understanding your defenses

A coping mechanism for the mind, dissociative amnesia protects a person from the emotional effects of catastrophic events. The first step towards healing is realising and accepting the illness, even though it can be confusing and difficult.

With the correct assistance and treatment, individuals may navigate through this challenging disorder. Recall that recovery is feasible and that it is possible to regain the lost aspects of one’s identity and memories and enjoy a happy, fulfilled life with perseverance and expert assistance.