Dissociative Amnesia: Definitions, Symptoms, Types, and More

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Dissociative Amnesia- Definitions, Symptoms, Types, and MoreUnderstand the symptoms, causes, statistics, and more on what it means to have Dissociative Amnesia. How do you define dissociative in this disorder? What age is DA most common in? What does a case example look like? Learn the answers about this memory loss disorder and how you or someone you know can get help.

Dissociative Amnesia Definition

Woman with dissociative amnesia scratching head looking up at many question marks

Dissociative amnesia is memory loss that is not connected to a medical diagnosis and is typically connected to extreme stress, trauma, or abuse. The person usually is not able to recall important personal information and has gaps in their memory. The memory loss causes fear and confusion and may lead to angry aggressive behaviors. This is a relatively rare disorder and is more likely to be seen following a natural disaster or war.

What are the Causes?

Dissociative amnesia is typically caused by traumatic events such as war, natural disasters, or extreme abuse. Extreme stress in one’s life can cause a dissociative amnesia episode.

Define Dissociate

Quite literally, Dissociate means to disconnect or separate. With dissociative amnesia the person disconnects from oneself, forgetting personal information and certain time-frames of memory.

Define Amnesia: What is Amnesia?

Amnesia is defined as a partial or total loss of memory. Amnesia is typically associated with a medical diagnosis, unlike dissociative amnesia which is connected to a traumatic or stressful event. Both types of amnesia show memory loss.

Dissociative Amnesia Stats: How Many Suffer from this Disorder?

Dissociative amnesia is a rare disorder which affects less than 3% of the population. One would expect to see an increase in cases of following a traumatic or stressful event such as war.

Demographics: More Common in Adults or Children?

This diagnosis is difficult to diagnose in children as the symptoms can be similar to other mental health disorders seen in children. Dissociative Amnesia is more common among young adults than in older adults but can occur at any age.

Dissociative Amnesia Type: What Disorders Fall Under this Category?

  • Dissociative amnesia- an inability to remember personal information and is not in response to a medical diagnosis such as head trauma
  • Dissociative fugue- memory loss triggered by trauma where the person travels far from home and creates a new identity
  • Dissociative identity disorder- when one or more identities are present in one person

3 Facts You Didn’t Know About Dissociative Amnesia

  1. This is a rare disorder only affecting about 1% of men and 2.6% of women in the general population
  2. Of the different types of dissociative amnesia diagnoses, dissociative fugue is the rarest
  3. Dissociative Amnesia was formerly known as Psychogenic Amnesia

Dissociative Amnesia Symptoms

Common symptoms associated with dissociative amnesia include memory loss and a feeling that things around you are not real.  Confusion as to who you are and your identity is also common with this disorder. Other symptoms such as depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation can be seen with a diagnosis of dissociative amnesia.

Sad woman having dissociative amnesia symptoms looking the rain falling through a window

What are the Common Behaviors/Characteristics?

Dissociative amnesia is not caused by a medical condition which is what differentiates this diagnosis from the more common diagnosis of medical amnesia. When someone is diagnosed with medical amnesia the memories are usually not easily recovered. With dissociative amnesia, the memory loss is typically short and it is expected that memory will return to normal quickly.

Dissociative Amnesia Test: How is it Diagnosed?

Dissociative amnesia is often connected to a stressful event where a person has memory loss about certain personal information and certain periods of time. Other medical causes for the memory loss will be ruled out before the diagnosis of Dissociative amnesia would be given.

Diagnose Criteria

According to the DSM-5: Dissociative Amnesia is based on the following criteria:

1. An inability to remember who you are, usually in response to a trauma or stressful event

2. The symptoms cause significant impairment to the person’s everyday life and overall functioning.

3. The symptoms are not caused by a substance or other medical condition

4. The disturbance cannot be explained by another psychological disorder such as PTSD.

Dissociative Amnesia VS Psychogenic Amnesia: Types of Amnesia

Dissociative Amnesia was previously known as Psychogenic Amnesia. The disorder is characterized as a memory loss triggered by a trauma or stressful event. Medical Amnesia is associated with memory loss caused by a medical diagnosis such as head trauma.

Related Conditions:

Dissociative fugue, formerly known as psychogenic fugue, is a sub-type of dissociative amnesia and it is the rarest form of dissociative amnesia. What makes the diagnosis become a dissociative fugue is when the person flees from their home or workplace to another destination and creates a completely different identity.

Case Example for Dissociative Amnesia

A woman who was working 70+ hours a week, traveling frequently, all while trying to care for her husband, children and home life experienced a case of dissociative amnesia. She had gone missing from her family. Her memory loss caused her to become so fearful, she had no choice but to ask a stranger for help, which led to her being brought to the hospital.

While hospitalized a full medical workup revealed no head injuries or medical causes for the memory loss.

Once all medical causes were ruled out, she was diagnosed with dissociative amnesia. Once they were able to locate her husband, he came to the hospital to see his wife. The woman was unable to recognize her husband and had no memory of their life together.

She was discharged to her husband’s care and returned home. The woman describes that time as very frightening as she was sent home with a man she thought of as a complete stranger but says he is your husband. Through hypnosis and meditation, she was able to regain her long-term memory.

The dissociative amnesia episode was likely connected to the extreme stress she endured due to her rigorous work schedule and demanding family life. She also learned to better self-care for herself and resigned from her highly demanding job.

Dissociative Amnesia Leave Policies and Insurance Coverage

Dissociate Amnesia is a mental health condition listed in the DSM-V. Being diagnosed with dissociative amnesia would qualify someone for medical leave. A representative through Human Resources should be contacted to guide the person through their employers’ policies, including medical leave and disability if indicated.

Health insurance form, paperwork and questionnaire for dissociative amnesia

Seeking treatment coverage for dissociative amnesia through health insurance should be explored. Psychotherapy, family therapy, and group therapy is considered outpatient mental health treatment and is covered by the majority of health plans. Contacting the person’s health plan directly is the best way to find out what specific coverage a person has.

Coping With Dissociative Amnesia: Look out for These Complications/Risk Factors

Risk factors associated with Dissociative Amnesia are extreme stress or trauma to oneself leading to memory loss and confusion. When the person is experiencing amnesia they are likely to become fearful as they cannot recall important pieces of memory. Treatment is integral in coping with dissociative amnesia. Hospitalization, psychotherapy and hypnosis are common treatments to help those cope with dissociative amnesia.

Dissociative Amnesia Treatment

Depending on the severity, inpatient hospitalization may be indicated to first stabilize the patient. Once stabilized psychotherapy would be recommended which may include individual, family and group therapy. Medication may also be used in conjunction with therapy. Additionally, hypnosis and meditation have shown to be effective forms of treatment for dissociative amnesia.

Possible Medications for Dissociative Amnesia

There is no specific medication given to prevent dissociative amnesia. It is common to use medications to treat the symptoms the patient is presenting with. Depression is common with dissociative amnesia, therefore, antidepressants may be prescribed. Insomnia is also common so a sleep aid may be used. Medications coupled with psychotherapy is the best course of treatment.

Home Remedies to help Dissociative Amnesia

The best home remedy for dissociative amnesia is self-care. Making sure you receive proper amounts of sleep and avoiding events that are extremely stressful or add unneeded pressure to one’s life is important. Take time to care for oneself and one’s family to create a proper work-life balance.

Living with Dissociative Amnesia

Living with dissociative amnesia is connected to self-care. Once you have previously been diagnosed with the disorder it is important to be self-aware to prevent another episode. Following the treating therapist and doctor’s recommendations are extremely important as well.

How to Find a Therapist

Therapist listening to her patient with dissociative amnesia and writing down notes

To find a therapist it is helpful to discuss with your current providers what the recommended care is and if your providers can refer you to a reputable therapist. Additionally contacting your health insurance plan to ask for in-network therapists is beneficial.

What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?

It is important to find an LMHP you feel comfortable sharing with. When looking for an LMHP when diagnosed with Dissociative Amnesia, one should look for a therapist who specializes in trauma and/or abuse. Typically the first step is to schedule an intake with the LMHP so that they can obtain background history and better understand the presenting problem. Once the intake is completed if both you and your therapist feel comfortable with beginning treatment, then a follow up 1:1 session can be scheduled.

Questions to ask for Potential Therapist

Do you have experience working with dissociative amnesia?

Do you have experience working with trauma or abuse?

Do you have experience working with dissociative identity disorder?

Dissociative Amnesia Support Helpline

If you have experienced dissociative amnesia and are seeking help, you may contact the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) helpline

1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or [email protected]

The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET.

If you are in immediate danger or in a psychiatric crisis please call 911

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