Dissociative amnesia disorder
Table of Contents
Dissociative amnesia belongs to a particular group of disorders termed as dissociative disorders (Libal, 2014). These disorders are a form of mental illnesses that affect one’s memory, identity, and perception. The disruption of these functions results in symptoms which negatively affect how an individual operates and how they conduct their activities and relationships with people. There are situations where someone blocks out specific information that is normally connected to a traumatic incident. In the process, the person fails to remember vital information about themselves (Klein & Doane, 2013). This is dissociative amnesia. Someone suffering from dissociative amnesia can have memory loss or gaps for a longer duration than what happens with ordinary forgetfulness (Libal, 2014). This paper attempts to discuss the research-based interventions used to treat the Dissociative Amnesia disorder.
The DSM-5 Criteria Used To Diagnose Dissociative Amnesia Disorder
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-5) came up with criteria to help clinicians identify and diagnose dissociative amnesia.
If someone has experienced one or more episodes whereby they are not able to remember crucial personal information, then they might be battling dissociative amnesia (Klein & Doane, 2013). Most of the time, these episodes are linked to stressful or traumatic events, so one is unable to remember them. Someone can even fail to recognize their identity or their life history.
If the extensive memory loss that one suffers do not come from another mental disorder like dissociative identity disorder then it may be a sign of dissociative amnesia (Libal, 2014). The symptoms the person is experiencing should not be a result of alcohol or various drugs or medical conditions. For example, one can get amnesia as a result of head trauma. When all these causes have been ruled out, and someone is still experiencing the extensive forgetfulness, they may be having dissociative amnesia.
An individual may have dissociative fugue. This is a situation whereby someone wonders around confused or travels on purpose but fails to remember their identity and other crucial personal information (Klein & Doane, 2013). Such a person might even forget their entire identity.
If the symptoms mentioned are severe to the extent that they are causing someone stress or interfering with his everyday life, work and relationships then he or she may have dissociative amnesia (Libal, 2014). If the symptoms are minimal, then it may be due to low levels of stress associated with everyday life. However, when they are intense, then a clinician may diagnose the person with dissociative amnesia.
Similarities and differences between Dissociative Amnesia Disorder and Dissociative Identity Disorder
For a long time, dissociative identity disorder was referred to as multiple personality disorder. This is because an individual with this disorder may have alternate or different identities (Libal, 2014). One may feel as if someone else or more than one person is living inside them. The people inside the individual’s head may have different identities. For example, they may have names, personal history, personality, voice and behavior that is different from the host person (Libal, 2014). Dissociative amnesia, on the other hand, is mostly characterized by intense memory loss to the extent that one forgets their personal information and the forgetfulness is not as a result of a medical condition (Klein & Doane, 2013). A person suffering from dissociative amnesia may forget specific events or his entire identity.
Individuals suffering from dissociative identity disorder often have dissociative amnesia too and even dissociative fugue in other cases (Klein & Doane, 2013). Dissociative fugue s when someone forgets their identity or remarkable facts about themselves and go about wandering. However, someone with dissociative amnesia may not have dissociative identity disorder (Klein & Doane, 2013). They may have dissociative fugue where they forget their lives and go straying away from it.
Peer-Reviewed Research Studies on Dissociative Amnesia
Pyszora NM and J Am Acad carried out a case study to find out the causes of amnesia and whether or not the memory could be recovered. They conducted this study on criminal offenders some violent and others not. They carried out a second study where they involved 31 of the initial violent offenders where they took psychological and neuropsychological strategies to find out the future of the forensic psychiatric sector (Granacher Jr & R. P, 2014). They recorded the memory functioning of the participants using two memory tests: no normative standardization and Camden Memory Tests. The researchers were unable to assess the prisoners regarding whether or not they had dissociative amnesia. They attributed this to the lack of psychometric tests available in the medical field to accurately measure dissociative memory disorders such as dissociative amnesia (Granacher Jr & R. P, 2014). They concluded that forensic psychiatrists could not carry out a scientific assessment of dissociative amnesia because of lack of resources (Granacher Jr & R. P, 2014).
A case study was conducted to examine assess whether it is possible to transfer autobiographical information between individuals with dissociative amnesia and those with other forms of dissociative disorders. This study was important because dissociative amnesia has been discovered to be a major symptom associated with dissociative identity disorder (DID) (Huntjens, Verschuere & McNally, 2012). There were 61 participants with DID (DID=11, normal controls = 27 and simulating controls = 23) (Huntjens, Verschuere & McNally, 2012). The findings showed that patients experienced amnesia regarding the autobiographical details of the activities. However, information was transferred between the different identities.
A big psychiatric hospital in Istanbul, Turkey, conducted a study on its patients to find out whether there is a unique population that is more susceptible to dissociative disorders compared to others. The hospital focused on patients who had a dependency problem. They discovered that 17.2% of those patients had experienced dissociative disorders at one point in their lives (Sar, 2011). 9.0% of those with alcohol dependency had experienced it, and the figures were 26.0% for the ones battling chemical addiction (Sar, 2011). This study showed that people with chemical dependency are at a higher risk of having dissociative disorders compared to those with alcohol dependency (Sar, 2011).
Most Effective Treatments or Interventions for Dissociative Amnesia Disorder
Psychotherapy is the most recommended form of treatment for people battling dissociative disorders (Libal, 2014). It is also referred to as talk therapy because it involves talking to a therapist concerning the disorder one is facing. There are various forms of therapy that a mental health professional can use to treat someone with dissociative amnesia. Cognitive therapy falls under Psychotherapy, and here a therapist tries to change the dysfunctional way that an individual thinks and the negative feelings and behaviors associated with the disorder (Libal, 2014). The family of a person diagnosed with dissociative amnesia can accompany him or her to the therapist and have a ‘family therapy.’ This therapy is vital in teaching family members more about the disorder and how to help their loved ones to cope with it (Libal, 2014).
People with dissociative amnesia are not given medication. However, if the person also experiences depression or anxiety, then a mental health professional can prescribe antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs to help them relax (Klein & Doane, 2013).
There is a wide range of dissociative disorders, and dissociative amnesia is one of them. Although these disorders are forms of mental illness, they are different. Dissociative amnesia affects one’s memory, and its effects are more severe than the usual forgetfulness a person can have. It is essential to watch out for the characteristics of this disorder to identify it in time and get the necessary treatment.
- Granacher Jr, R. P. (2014). Commentary: dissociative amnesia and the future of forensic psychiatric assessment. The journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 42(2), 214-218.
- Huntjens, R. J., Verschuere, B., & McNally, R. J. (2012). Inter-identity autobiographical amnesia in patients with dissociative identity disorder. PLoS One, 7(7), e40580.
- Klein, R. M., & Doane, B. K. (2013). Psychological Concepts and Dissociative Disorders. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.
- Libal, A. (2014). Dissociative disorders.
- Sar, V. (2011). Epidemiology of dissociative disorders: An overview. Epidemiology Research International, 2011.