Dissociative disorders

Explains what dissociative disorders are, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.

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How will I be diagnosed?

This page covers

Diagnosing dissociative disorders

If you think you have a dissociative disorder, ask your GP or psychiatrist to refer you for a full assessment. You may have a meeting with both a psychotherapist and a psychiatrist as part of your assessment.

The person assessing you should have specialist training and a good understanding of dissociative disorders. (PODS can put you in touch with people who have this training.)

They should check whether your experiences of dissociation might be explained by:

  • drugs and some medication, which can sometimes cause dissociation
  • a physical cause
  • any cultural or religious practices that may explain your experiences

If your dissociative symptoms are caused by drugs or medication then you won't be diagnosed with a dissociative disorder.

Your diagnosis will depend on:

  • the way you experience dissociation
  • whether you have other symptoms
  • whether your symptoms are having an impact on your life and causing you distress

Your mental health professionals might use questionnaires to help them make a diagnosis that fits best with your experience. If this seems to fit the description of another mental health problem better, then you may be given this diagnosis instead.

Not everyone finds it helpful to get a diagnosis. Even if you don't get a specific diagnosis you can still seek help for your symptoms.

What can I do if I disagree with my diagnosis?

If you are worried that your diagnosis doesn't fit the way you feel it's important to discuss it with a mental health professional so you can get the right treatment.

It may help to ask your doctor to refer you to a mental health professional who knows about dissociation for a full assessment. If not satisfied with the assessment and support you have received from local mental health services then The Clinic for Dissociative Studies may be able to help.

Our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem have information about how to make sure your voice is heard, and what you can do if you're not happy with your doctor.

Why is it hard to get diagnosed?

Dissociative disorders can be difficult to diagnose. There are different reasons why you might not get the right diagnosis straight away:

  • Mental health professionals don't usually get enough training on dissociative disorders. They might not even think about the possibility of a dissociative disorder, when assessing your mental health. This means that they might not ask you the right questions about your symptoms.
  • Understanding more about your life history can help mental health professionals make a diagnosis. But they don't always ask about childhood abuse or trauma at an assessment. Even if they do ask, you may not remember it (if you experience amnesia) - or you may find it too hard to talk about.
  • Some people coping with dissociative symptoms try to keep them hidden from others. It might feel difficult to talk openly about your experiences.
  • Some people still call DID 'multiple personality disorder', so some doctors might be looking for personality disorder symptoms instead of dissociative disorder symptoms.

Dissociative disorders and other mental health problems

You might experience a dissociative disorder on its own, or alongside another mental health problem. If you do experience another mental health problem, this can make it hard for mental health professionals to understand whether it’s appropriate to give you a diagnosis of a dissociative disorder.

Some problems include:

  • Borderline personality disorder can also be caused by long-term trauma, and dissociative experiences can be a symptom.
  • If you are experiencing dissociative symptoms as part of another mental health problem the person assessing you may not identify that you have a dissociative disorder as well.
  • You might have symptoms of other mental health problems that you experience as well as - or because of- your dissociative disorder. If your doctor is more familiar with these mental health problems they may only diagnose these problems without realising that you also have a dissociative disorder.

This information was published in July 2016. We will revise it in 2019.


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