for better mental health

Dissociation and dissociative disorders

Explains what dissociation and 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.

This page is for friends and family who want to support someone with a dissociative disorder.

It can be really hard to see someone you care about experiencing the symptoms of a dissociative disorder. But family and friends can really help. This page has some suggestions for ways you can support the person you care about, while also looking after your own wellbeing.

"Having understanding family and friends helps me."

Try to be patient and understanding in daily life

  • If somebody you care about experiences dissociation, it may mean they do not always respond to you as you expect.
  • Ask them what would help but be aware that they may not always know or be able to tell you.
  • If they want to tell you about their experience try to listen with acceptance.
  • Touching and intimacy can be difficult for some people. It might help to ask them what is OK and talk about this together.

Think about how to deal with identity alteration

If they experience identity alteration you may find that you have to communicate with different parts of their identity at different times.

  • You may need to develop different ways of managing when different parts of their identity are in control. It may help to try and find some way of relating to each part of their identity.
  • Try to stay calm and be a safe and soothing presence even if they are upset, angry or scared.

Help them to find the right support

You can:

  • help them find an advocate and support them to meet with different therapists
  • offer extra support and understanding before and after therapy sessions
  • help them make a crisis plan if they think it would be helpful.

There may be times when you can't offer them the support they need. Think about who is the best person to contact at these times. Have a look at our information on supporting someone to seek help.

Think about how you could help keep them safe

  • Your loved one may have triggers that bring on dissociative symptoms and flashbacks. Understanding their triggers means you can help them avoid them, and feel more prepared for dissociative symptoms when they occur.
  • If someone you love is hurting themselves or struggling with suicidal thoughts, it can feel really scary. See our pages on supporting someone who is suicidal, and on supporting someone who is self-harming for more information.
  • If they experience amnesia, flashbacks or identity alteration they may need more help to stay safe during these times. Talk to them about what you can do to help.

Look after yourself

It's important to make sure you look after yourself too.

This information was published in March 2019. We will revise it in 2022.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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