Is PTSD A Dissociative Disorder?

man disassociating after war trauma ptsd

Is PTSD A Dissociative Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition caused by traumatic events or experiences. Its symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, and even dissociation. But does this make PTSD a dissociative disorder? Read on to learn more!

What is Dissociation?

Dissociation is a psychological exercise in which you mentally detach yourself from yourself or the world. The best imagery for dissociation is to describe it as watching yourself as an impartial observer, as though through a pane of glass. As weird as that sounds, dissociation isn’t madness; it is just the way your brain reacts when you experience psychological trauma.

Many experience this condition in traumatic situations like a car accident or assault, where they have to deal with troubling memories. It’s speculated that dissociation is the brain’s way of protecting your mental health from trauma. But in some cases, dissociation only happens for a short while and ends after the traumatic situation ends. But in other cases, dissociation returns without any trigger; when this happens, it’s called a dissociative disorder.

Dissociative disorders often happen in people after a traumatic experience — just like PTSD occurs in people. 

Some symptoms of dissociative disorders may include amnesia, loss of identity, and forgetfulness. So, PTSD is a different mental health condition, but it follows almost the same pattern in its effect on people in the same way dissociative disorder affects people.

Which Comes First: PTSD or Dissociation?

Expert practitioners in PTSD think that dissociation is a common characteristic of post-traumatic stress disorder. The same traumatic event that caused PTSD could be the same reason that a person experiences a degree of dissociation from reality and environment. This means that dissociative behavior and PTSD are closely intricately interwoven. 

However, there are times when the dissociation isn’t caused by the initial trauma but builds up over time as an escape from severe anxiety attacks. It becomes easier to mentally watch themselves from outside of their body rather than deal with mental pain and torture.

Dissociation can also be where PTSD and depression meet, and the force of their meeting is enough to provoke the dissociation reaction.

Symptoms and Signs of Disassociation

Dissociation occurs differently in different people, although it follows the same pattern, which involves people distancing themselves from the memories of a traumatic experience or event. It can happen as a one-time thing, or it could stretch for months or years.

Symptoms include:

  • Identity confusion
  • Alternating identities
  • Depersonalization
  • A poor grasp of reality.

Sometimes the symptoms could be when a person feels lost in himself and entertains self-denial, and even forgets information about themselves. They also display strange behaviors, talk in a different voice and identify themselves with another name. 

A person experiencing dissociative disorder may feel emotionally numb or cut off from reality. When an individual reaches this state, it’s like they’re in a dream where everything looks like a puzzle and lacks shape, size, or color. People with dissociative disorders sometimes feel like their life is a show where they watch everything they do without contributing to the show.

These signs and symptoms show that the individual is dissociated from themselves, having no control over their memory, consciousness, or identity.

Types of Disassociation

Different people experience their form of this mental condition; there’s just a pattern but not a general way that this condition affects each person. 

There are three significant types of dissociation:

Depersonalization-Derealisation Disorder

This is when the person becomes detached from their emotional and physical functions. They can see themselves outside their body, watching every move they make, but they can’t do anything to control, interrupt or change it. 

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)

Formerly, this was referred to as multiple personality disorder. This is when a person displays the character of more than one person. And interestingly, they don’t know that they switch between two characters or personae.

Dissociative Amnesia

This kind of dissociation involves when a person forgets memories from general history as well as their personal identity.

There’s another type of dissociative disorder called dissociative fugue. This uncommon condition occurs when someone moves to a new environment or creates a new identity without realizing that they’ve changed from a previous life.

If you’ve experienced dissociation disorders, it’s best to seek professional assistance. Most people are unaware that they’re displaying some symptoms of this condition. If left unattended, the situation may deteriorate into depression or anxiety.

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