Teen dissociative disorder is a personality disorder in which the brain shuts down in certain ways, to distance itself from a severe traumatic event or experience. These coping mechanisms help the brain to separate from the event enough to function in everyday life and responsibilities. This is distinct from PTSD, which is similarly caused by trauma. Instead of enduring a persistent emotional pain because of trauma, teens with dissociative symptoms undergo at times drastic personality changes to reflect a separation between their old and current self.
Teen Dissociative Disorder looks different from case-to-case. Despite unique symptoms, the overarching theme of the condition is:
Dissociative Amnesia Disorder – This subtype is characterized by teens having difficulty remembering events or experiences related to a past traumatic experience. Teens will often still have memories that aren’t connected to the traumatic event but occurred at a similar time.
Dissociative Fugue Disorder – This subtype is characterized by teens feeling extremely disconnected from their normal surroundings, such as where they are and why they’re there. These periods of confused disconnect can last from hours to years, and in some cases, may result in the teens coming up with different personalities as a result.
Dissociative Identity Disorder – This subtype is characterized by teens having two or more personality states present at once. It was previously known as multiple personality disorder. The personalities are called “alters” and may exhibit extreme differences, including gender, age, and background. A teen with DID exhibits distinct personality states, with separate memories, independent initiative, and a sense of individuality for each personality.
Depersonalization Disorder – This subtype is characterized by teens experiencing a sense of detachment from their own lives, as if they’re living in a dream-like state. Teens may also experience depression and anxiety.
Dissociative disorders are triggered by very traumatic experiences. These are typically severe enough to cause a person to disconnect from who they used to be, in some form. Some experiences that may serve as initial triggering events for dissociative disorder include, but are not limited to:
Childhood abuse – One of the more common causes of a dissociative disorder is emotional and/or physical abuse in early childhood. Children are particularly vulnerable to trauma, as their minds are still developing.
Witnessing or suffering violence – Any form of violence – from domestic violence to witnessing/surviving assault – can cause a teen to regress or seek shelter from emotional pain through dissociative symptoms.
Painful medical/therapeutic procedures – Extreme pain can cause dissociative symptoms, and certain symptoms may be therapy-induced, specifically during memory recovery and hypnosis, wherein symptoms may develop subconsciously in response to a recovered memory.
of the U.S. population suffers from dissociative discord
of sufferers also have substance abuse issues
of sufferers developed the disorder because of a traumatic event
Learn more about the disorder – Dissociative disorders come in many different forms. Learning more about the disorder your teen is struggling with can be a tremendous help to them. If possible, speak to their therapist to learn more about how your teen is coping, and what you can do to help.
Speak with your teen – Listen to what your teen has to say and ask them non-judgmental questions. Finding out what your teen is thinking goes a long way in gauging how dangerous their condition might be. Dissociative disorders range from personality quirks to suicidal tendencies and recognizing suicidal thoughts before the transform into actions is important.
Suggest professional help – If your teen isn’t getting professional help now, take the time to bring it up to them. Have a talk about how their symptoms might be a sign of something bigger, and how a diagnosis could help them lead better lives. Once the right diagnosis has been met, it’s much easier to anticipate challenges as they come.
Teen dissociative disorder treatment involves several different approaches within the scope of psychotherapy. Depending on the severity of certain symptoms – such as suicidal thoughts, panic attacks, and psychotic breaks – certain medication will be prescribed to help a patient through therapy.
Because dissociative disorder stems from a traumatic event that the brain is trying to avoid, therapists work with teens to carefully begin addressing both the event, and its effects, in an environment that feels safe, and in a manner, which feels manageable. Therapists gradually work with teens to help them to be able to function again in their daily lives by re-engaging with others and tackling responsibilities. Therapists also teach teens healthy coping mechanisms, and relaxation techniques. They may also work towards helping teens develop an overall healthier attitude and sense of self.
Medication is prescribed if a teen is experiencing particularly severe symptoms of anxiety, depression, or psychosis because of their diagnosis. At times, disorders like major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder may develop because of a dissociative disorder. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, and anti-psychotics can relieve these symptoms and help therapists create a more effective treatment plan, according to a teen’s needs.
Paradigm Malibu specializes in providing an environment that is conducive to finding and applying the right treatment. Every person has individual needs, and this is reflected in proper mental healthcare – we at Paradigm Malibu devise treatment plans that best fit our patients and we appreciate that everyone struggles with unique circumstances and challenges.
A Place of Treatment
It’s difficult to seek treatment from home, where many factors continuously remind a teen of the time they spent struggling with their disorder. Being in a new environment designed to heal and help can be much more effective. Once treatment has concluded, teens often transition back into their homes feeling empowered and confident in their ability to deal with their condition.
Learning to Be with Others
As a place for residential treatment, teens here are encouraged not only to get better and explore their options, but to engage with others socially, through group therapy or otherwise. Paradigm doesn’t work with big crowds, but does treat small groups, so teens who struggle to form relationships and friendships can learn to do so step-by-step.
This was a wonderful experience for me as a teen that was struggling with so much and not knowing what to do. I'm so great full for the staff, therapists, and directors of this program for helping me realize my capabilities to handle what life throws my way
– Ayesha K.
Is it necessary for a teenager to dig up painful memories, to recover?
When diagnosed with a dissociative disorder, a teen is already suffering from painful memories despite their mental detachment from them. Treatment doesn’t ask a teen to address something that they’ve already put past them, but rather, address something that they’re currently struggling with, though the symptoms present are indirect.
How do split personalities work?
Rather than understanding a dissociative identity disorder as having more than one personality, imagine it as having several fractions of a single personality. After trauma, the mind tries to cope in several different ways – one way is to dissociate from the person you once were, instead adopting different personas in response to the pain. Helping a person find their way back to their one personality is difficult, but possible.
How can friends or family notice a dissociative disorder?
Sudden changes in behavior and mood are the quickest way to tell something may be wrong. However, it is neither possible nor safe to accurately diagnose a dissociative disorder without professional help. These diagnoses are not met lightly, and symptoms can be difficult to identify. If your teen is exhibiting rapid and sudden shifts in mood, behavior, and personality, that may be one clue.
Is dissociative amnesia reversible?
Yes, it is. However, there is no clear way to know how much time it may take for the amnesia to be reversed. Some individuals respond better to certain therapy types than others, so a therapist may try different methods until a specific one shows promise. The memories usually come back one by one, and it takes time to work through them.