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Dissociative symptoms are emotional and physical experiences people have during dissociative episodes, where they feel disconnected from their personal identities and may split off parts of themselves. A number of mental health conditions are associated with such episodes, including Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and post traumatic stress disorder. People who experience dissociative symptoms have a number of treatment options available through a mental health professional.
The ability to disassociate is an adaptive trait in human beings. People can isolate parts of their identities to cope with traumatic and stressful experiences, as seen in extreme cases like torture, where people sometimes report that they feel like the torture was performed on someone else. The body and brain's ability to disassociate can protect people from events they are unable to cope with. This trait can become maladaptive in some cases, however, as people may disassociate to avoid confronting feelings.
Signs that someone may be experiencing dissociative symptoms include blackouts, confusion, forgetfulness, and depression. Blackouts can be experienced by some people who have DID, when various aspects of their personality move to the “front,” as some patients call it, taking over the handling of situations the patients find stressful or unpleasant. The suppressed aspects of the personality may not remember this period and can be confused about what happened during this time when they reemerge.
Low level forgetfulness is not a dissociative symptom, but if people routinely find themselves forgetting large gaps of time and being unable to understand why, they may be dissociating. Other dissociative symptoms can include a sense of floating above the body or viewing the body through a barrier; the patient can see what is happening, but does not feel connected to what the body is doing. The patient may feel like the body is on automatic pilot, performing functions without full cognitive awareness.
In some cases, dissociative symptoms can impair a patient's functioning. People can experience problems at work or in personal relationships because of dissociative episodes and may be at risk of injury or abuse if their personalities are not fully integrated. Other patients function at a very high level and for some people with DID, the condition is not regarded as an impairment or disability, but simply a normal facet of human diversity. These individuals consider their multiplicity, as it is sometimes called, to be a positive and beneficial character trait for them, and may refuse or resist treatments attempting to integrate their personalities.