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Dissociative Amnesia

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

What is Dissociative Amnesia?

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • being unable to recall important information that would normally be easily recalled, which is called amnesia. This includes information like name, home address, where they work or go to school, etc. This is not just simple forgetfulness.
  • the condition can be where the person can't remember events from a particular period of time, or can where the person remembers some events from that time, but not all of them. Forgetting all of the life history is very rare.
  • the amnesia causes stress in the person's life or trouble at work, in relationships with others, or other daily activities.
  • the issues not caused by a medical or brain condition.
  • the issues are not caused by a substance (medication or drug of abuse).

This condition can happen with or without dissociative fugue, which means that someone with amnesia intentionally travels to a new area (thinking that it's where they should be/live) and may take on a new identity/life, or wanders away and doesn't remember any details of their day-to-day life.

How common is Dissociative Amnesia?

This is not a common condition with only 1 or 2% of people suffering from it. It has been seen in children, teens and adults. It is harder for a child to have the condition because their ability to remember information is not as good as in an adult, so figuring out if the condition is really the issue can be difficult.

What are the risk factors for Dissociative Amnesia?

Exposure to traumatic experiences, either a single time or ongoing. This can include witnessing violence, being in a terrible accident, physical or sexual abuse, or being the victim of violence.

What other disorders or conditions often occur with Dissociative Amnesia?

This can happen with other mental health conditions, including personality disorders. As amnesia symptoms are reduced, the person may also be diagnosed with depression or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They can also feel shame, grief, anger, or have suicidal thoughts as they deal with what may have occurred during the lost period in their life.

How is Dissociative Amnesia treated?

The main treatment for this condition is psychotherapy. The therapist will help the person come to terms with what happened and understand the causes of the condition. Stress management techniques will also be used to help the person handle the situation and to better cope with stressful situations that they face in the future. Once the person has learned coping skills, the therapist may then begin working with the person on the traumatic memories and experiences that came before the condition. Medication can be also used to treat symptoms such as anxiety, depression or trouble sleeping, but does not cure the overall condition.