What is dissociative amnesia?

Dissociative amnesia is a memory disorder. You can't remember information about your life. This may happen after you live through trauma or a stressful situation. A person with this condition has large gaps in their memory. But, they can still function without trouble identifying themselves. This condition is more than simple forgetfulness, though. Dissociative amnesia causes you to separate yourself from the story of your life. Unlike amnesia, the memories still exist. They're just deeply buried within your mind. 

Causes of dissociative amnesia

Doctors aren't exactly sure why some people develop the condition. But, getting it is linked to experiencing some sort of overwhelming stress. This stressful situation may include war, serious accidents, natural disasters or physical or sexual abuse. It can be your body's way of coping with a situation by forgetting it. Later on, something in your environment might trigger that memory to come back.

Risk factors for dissociative amnesia

If you have close relatives who have had dissociative amnesia, you're also more likely to develop it. More women than men get dissociative amnesia, too.

Symptoms of dissociative amnesia

People with dissociative amnesia can't remember certain experiences from their past. They might also forget important information about themselves. You might not remember your friends and family members. The gaps in your memory can last for a few minutes. Or, you may not remember anything about yourself. Often, the lapse in memory doesn't last.

Other symptoms include:

  • Higher-than-average risk of suicide
  • State of confusion
  • Depression

Diagnosis of dissociative amnesia

There are no proven tests that can help a doctor diagnose dissociative amnesia. If you have symptoms of this condition, your doctor might start by giving you a physical exam. Then, your doctor may ask about your complete medical history. They'll also likely want to know about your life and lifestyle. The doctor might ask if anything traumatic has happened to you recently. They also may order imaging tests or blood tests. These help them make sure other serious medical conditions aren't causing the amnesia.

Some brain diseases, an extended lack of sleep and other psychological disorders may seem like dissociative amnesia. You may then need to meet with a trained psychologist or psychiatrist. These are professionals who understand mental health issues. They have special assessment tools they can use to get you a full diagnosis.

Treatments for dissociative amnesia

People with dissociative amnesia often need help expressing and managing the difficult memories they forget. Your therapist can work with you to teach you new skills. This can help you cope with hard situations. These skills can give you better ways to cope with something stressful. They can also help improve the relationships that often suffer when someone has this condition.

Talk therapy can help you work through mental and emotional issues that show up with this condition. This may include therapy sessions with other family members. You might make art or music. The type of therapy you do depends on your unique situation and what your symptoms are.

Medication can help with the depression and anxiety that often go along with this condition.

Sometimes, hypnosis can help. It might encourage deep relaxation and concentration. This type of therapy may let people remember the feelings and memories they've repressed.

Getting treatment before or as soon as you show symptoms can make treatment work better. See if your loved ones can be patient and understanding while you work through treatment.

Recovery from dissociative amnesia

Most of the time, a person with dissociative amnesia eventually remembers the parts of their lives that they forgot. Still, some people may never remember certain moments of their lives again. It depends on your life situation, treatment and response to the treatment. It's important that you continue to work with a trained therapist even after your memories return. This may help you avoid more stress in the future.