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What is Dissociative Amnesia?

By Nat Robinson
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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When a person has amnesia, he or she has a loss of memory. The person may be unable to remember recent or past people, things, places and events. This may be a chronic or sudden disturbance of memory. There are different types of amnesia. Dissociative amnesia is a type of memory loss which typically follows a traumatic experience.

Unlike most types of amnesia, dissociative amnesia is not usually induced by an illness or injury to the head. Instead, it is generally some type of agonizing experience which triggers the condition. Dissociative amnesia is different from ordinary forgetfulness. A particular characteristic an individual with this condition may exhibit is the inability to remember very personal pieces of information. Generally, the information is linked to one particular event, which may be buried so far into the subconscious, a person is unable to remember the details of it.

There are a number of events which may lead a person to dissociative amnesia. For instance, a traumatic sexual experience such as rape may cause this to happen. Being viciously attacked, robbed, surviving a serious injury or illness are additional reasons that can cause this severe memory suppression. In some cases, a person with this type of amnesia may have been indirectly impacted by a disturbing situation. An example of this may be bearing witness to the illness or death of a loved one, witnessing a horrible car accident or seeing someones else being brutally assaulted.

A person with dissociative amnesia may become depressed by his or her inability to remember. He or she may become withdrawn from members of the family and friends. This may be due to embarrassment or anger for not being able to remember what happened. Confusion may be experienced by a person with amnesia as well. As the individual struggles with his or her memory loss, there may be some behavioral and temperament changes and the person may be more aggressive or reserved than usual.

To diagnose dissociative amnesia, a doctor will generally examine the patient at great lengths. The doctor will typically be careful to ensure that there are no visual injuries to the head. In some cases, diagnostic imaging tests may be ordered to rule out any internal head injuries. After the physical examination, the doctor may attempt to perform an interview to gather as much information as possible from the patient. If there is no indication or report of a physical injury, the person may be referred to a psychiatrist for further evaluation.

In most cases, treatment for dissociative amnesia will involve some type of therapy. With therapy, various psychological techniques may be used to unravel the event which lead to the onset of amnesia. Family therapy may also be used to teach the entire family how to cope with a family member with this condition. If the amnesia has led the person into depression, anti-depressants may be prescribed under some incidences as well. Generally, with therapy and time, the hidden memories in a person with this type of amnesia may spontaneously return, although there are incidences where the memories remain suppressed.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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