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What is a dissociative disorder?

Dissociative disorders involve problems with memory, identity, sense of self, perception, emotion, and behavior. Symptoms of a dissociative disorder include the experience of feeling detached from reality, feeling outside one’s body, and a loss of memory or amnesia. Dissociative disorders are frequently associated with previous experiences of trauma.

There are several different diagnostic categories of dissociative disorders. These include:

  • Depersonalization or Derealization
  • Dissociative Identity Disorder
  • Dissociative Amnesia
  • Other Specified Dissociative Disorder
  • Unspecified Dissociative Disorder

What is Depersonalization or Derealization Disorder?

A person with depersonalization disorder feels persistently or repeatedly detached or estranged from one’s themself. Patients with this condition may report feeling like they are on automatic pilot or as if they are watching themselves in a movie. Similar to this is derealization disorder when a person feels detached from their environment or detached from reality.  A person may feel a lack of connection and emotion with the outside world, as if they are dreaming or in a trance. 

Temporary experiences of depersonalization and derealization are extremely common in normal populations. In fact, they are the third most commonly reported psychiatric symptoms, after depression and anxiety.

What causes Depersonalization or Derealization Disorder?

Approximately one-third to one-half of patients with depersonalization disorder report histories of significant trauma. Among accident victims, as many as 60 percent with a life-threatening experience report at least transient depersonalization during the event or immediately after it. Military training studies find that symptoms of depersonalization and derealization are commonly caused by stress and fatigue.

Symptoms of depersonalization disorder are also common in:

  • Seizure patients and migraine sufferers
  • After mild to moderate head injury, when little or no loss of consciousness occurs, but are much less likely if unconsciousness lasts for more than 30 minutes. lasts for more than 30 minutes.
  • After life-threatening experiences, with or without serious bodily injury

They can also occur:

  • As a result of a medical condition or neurological condition
  • After intoxication or withdrawal from illicit drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, LSD, mescaline, and other psychostimulants.
  • As a side effect of medications, such as anticholinergic agents
  • As a symptom of panic attacks, PTSD, acute stress disorder, phobias, schizophrenia, or other dissociative disorder

Mental Health Library Sources:

Information included in all topics of the Mental Health Library comes from the Desk Reference to the Diagnostic Criteria From DSM-5 and Kaplan & Sadock’s Concise Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry. Complete diagnostic and treatment information may be found within these publications.


Information within the Mental Health Library is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis purposes. Rather, it is provided as a public educational service to make people aware of mental health conditions. Please consult a qualified mental health professional for a diagnosis of any suspected mental health illness.

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