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What is Dissociative Amnesia?

Dissociative amnesia is an inability to recall important biographical information, usually of a traumatic or stressful nature, that is inconsistent with ordinary forgetting. Dissociative amnesia is reported in approximately 2 to 6 percent of the general population. The forgetting may be limited to a specific event or events, or resemble more of general amnesia, as when someone forgets their identity and life history. A diagnosis of dissociative amnesia is given when the symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. The symptoms cannot be attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., alcohol, another drug of abuse, or medication) or a neurological or other medical condition. The amnesia also is not better explained by dissociative identity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorder, somatic symptom disorder, or other neurocognitive conditions.

What are the treatments for Dissociative Amnesia?

Treatments that may be helpful for amnesia include cognitive therapy, hypnosis, and group psychotherapy.

Can brainwashing, indoctrination, or acute stress cause a dissociative disorder?

Yes. Individuals who have been subjected to intense coercive persuasion may have prolonged changes in, or conscious questioning of, their identity. Examples of situations that can cause this include brainwashing, thought reform, indoctrination while captive, torture, long-term political imprisonment, and recruitment by sects/cults or terror organizations. Temporary periods of acute stress can also cause changes in consciousness, depersonalization, detachment from reality, perceptual disturbances, short-term amnesia, and/or changes in sensory-motor functioning (e.g., analgesia, paralysis). These types of conditions would be diagnosed as “other specific dissociative disorders.”

What is the diagnosis for Other Specified Dissociative Disorder?

A diagnosis of “other specified dissociative disorder” is given when an individual has symptoms characteristic of a dissociative disorder that cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning but do not meet the full criteria for any of specific dissociative disorder. Examples of situations where the “other” designation could be used include:

  • Chronic and recurrent mixed dissociative symptoms. This includes patients who may experience a less severe loss of sense of self or a changed identity with no dissociative amnesia.
  • Identity disturbance due to prolonged and intense coercive persuasion. This may apply to individuals who have been subjected to intense coercive persuasion, including brainwashing, thought reform, indoctrination while captive, torture, long-term political imprisonment, or recruitment by sects/cults or terror organizations.
  • Acute dissociative reactions to stressful events typically last less than 1 month, and sometimes only a few days or hours. These conditions are characterized by a change of consciousness, depersonalization, derealization, perceptual changes (e.g., time slowing, macropsia), micro-amnesias, transient stupor, and/or alterations in sensory-motor functioning (e.g., paralysis or inability to feel pain).
  • Dissociative trance is when an individual experiences a narrowing or complete loss of awareness of immediate surroundings.

What is the diagnosis for Unspecified Dissociative Disorder?

A diagnosis of “unspecified dissociative disorder” applies to symptoms characteristic of a dissociative disorder that cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning but do not meet the full criteria for any specific dissociative disorder. The unspecified dissociative disorder category is used in situations when there is not enough information to make a more specific diagnosis, such as in emergency room settings.

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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.

Disclaimer:

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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