Dissociation is often explained as a as a psychological response involving a sudden, instinctive break from reality, often caused by severe trauma. Dissociative disorders, as defined by the National Alliance on Mental Illness are “involuntary escapes from reality characterized by a disconnection between thoughts, identity, consciousness and memory.” Dissociative disorders are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) and are split into three different diagnoses:
- Dissociative amnesia (DA): Characterized by “retrospectively reported memory gaps… [which] involve an inability to recall personal information, usually of a traumatic or stressful nature.”
- Dissociative identity disorder (DID): Psychology Today defines dissociative identity disorder as a “condition in which two or more distinct identities, or personality states, are present in—and alternately take control of—an individual.”
- Depersonalization/ derealization disorder (DPDR): Characterized by “depersonalization often co-occurring with derealization in the absence of significant psychosis, memory, or identity disturbance.”
Adolescence is a period in a person’s life that is full of physiological changes, heightened emotions, surging hormones, and a newfound need for autonomy. A young person’s underdeveloped psychological foundation paired with inevitable turmoil and overwhelming feelings associated with navigating adolescence can leave a teenager particularly vulnerable to dissociation in the wake of trauma.
Mental Health Risks
There is an undeniable connection between dissociative disorders and teenage mental health, as young people with dissociative disorders are at an increased risk of developing secondary mental health issues. If left untreated, a teen with a dissociative disorder may present with any combination of the following complications, as provided by National Alliance on Mental Illness:
- Depression and/ or anxiety disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance use disorder
- Eating disorders
- Sleep disorders (e.g., sleep walking, insomnia, nightmares, etc.)
- Non-epileptic seizures
- Personality disorders
- Self-harm or mutilation
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
The development of a dissociative disorder often stems from a young person’s attempt at coping with trauma. Recognizing the signs and symptoms, providing early intervention, and offering trauma-informed care are essential steps in helping teenagers manage dissociative symptoms and work towards improved mental health.
For Information and Support
Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times.
Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.
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