Dissociative Amnesia

PsychologyAbnormal Psychology

Amnesia comes in a variety of forms with numerous underlying reasons. In some cases, it is for a short duration, but in some other cases, it may be for a long duration. However, when it starts occurring frequently, it takes the form of a disorder. One such disorder is dissociative amnesia.

What is Dissociative Amnesia?

The most prevalent dissociative illness is dissociative amnesia (DA), one of three dissociative disorders defined under DSM-V. Dissociative amnesia is caused by a psychological condition rather than a physical injury to the brain or head.

It can manifest as a symptom of various other mental health disorders, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, acute stress disorder, dissociative identity disorder, somatoform disorder, and anxiety disorders; therefore, in any of those circumstances, it would not be classified as a separate disorder.

The average duration of dissociative amnesia is less than a week, but it can continue anywhere from a few days to several years. The period individuals cannot recall can be between a few minutes and many years. Disassociation, which may remain for a short while or years, causes a brief loss of recall memory, which is what the condition entails. Autobiographical memory loss that occurs in episodes and is not consistent with normal forgetfulness is a symptom of DA. Episodic autobiographical details are linked to background information in episodic autobiographical accounts, such as what transpired in the moments before a traumatic occurrence. However, the person may recall semantic autobiographical details about the accident, such as the day, time, and weather.

DSM-5 Criteria for Dissociative Amnesia

The DSM-5, the manual for diagnosing mental disorders that were published in 2013, provides the following diagnostic criteria:

  • An inability to recall significant autobiographical details, typically of a painful or distressing character, is inconsistent with ordinary forgetting. Note: Dissociative amnesia frequently manifests as either generalized amnesia for identification and life history or localized or selective amnesia for one or more specific events.
  • The symptoms affect major areas of functioning such as social, occupational, or other critical areas of functioning and produce clinically substantial distress.
  • The disruption is not caused by a neurological or other medical illness, such as partial complex seizures, transitory global amnesia, the after effects of a closed head injury or traumatic brain injury, or another neurological disorder, such as alcohol or other drug addiction or prescription usage.
  • Dissociative identity disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and acute stress disorder are not better explanations for the disturbance.

Specifier of Dissociative Amnesia mentioned in DSM-5: With Dissociative Fugue

A commonly associated condition often comorbid with dissociative amnesia is a dissociative fugue. A person typically behaves in a purposeful and goal-oriented manner while experiencing dissociative amnesia with fugue; fugue states can endure for days, weeks, or longer. A fugue happens when a person leaves their home or place of employment abruptly and without warning, loses memory of their past, has identity uncertainty or assumes a new identity. The DSM 5 combines dissociative amnesia and dissociative fugue, also known as psychogenic fugue, which was previously a separate diagnosis.

Types of Dissociative Amnesia

Following three are the most typical types of dissociative amnesia.

  • Localized Amnesia- The failure to remember events that occurred during a certain period is known as localized amnesia.
  • Selective Amnesia- When only a portion of an experience may be remembered over time, this is called selective amnesia.
  • Generalized Amnesia- Generalized amnesia may result in the total loss of a person's identity and all of their memories. People with global amnesia, the most severe type, may also lose procedural knowledge, semantic information (prior understanding of the world), and other types of dissociative amnesia (forgetting well-learned skills).

Etiology of Dissociative Amnesia

Dissociative disorders like DA are strongly associated with a particular traumatic or stressful life event. Examples include:

  • Going through abuse or taking part in military combat.
  • Those with DA may not remember information about this traumatic time.
  • Being a victim of a crime or witnessing one being committed.
  • Going through a natural disaster like an earthquake or storm.
  • Experiencing extreme stress because of your relationships, finances, or employment.


Dissociative amnesia typically lasts for less than a week. A safe environment devoid of threatening stimuli is provided to treat severe cases (acute amnesia), which may be sufficient to trigger memory recovery. In interviews, medication may also be used. When memories come back, psychotherapy should be utilized to pinpoint the circumstances that set off the dissociative amnesia, discuss them, and look at viable coping strategies. Chronic amnesia is a more prolonged kind of forgetfulness; medicine to treat amnesia is not advised; instead, long-term psychotherapy is advised. Traumatic and dissociative information should be processed and integrated throughout psychotherapy. Working through trauma may be made easier by hypnosis.

Fugue-associated dissociative amnesia should be treated as soon as possible; psychotherapy is the suggested course of action. Identifying the triggers connected to the onset of the fugue and processing the traumatic content are among the treatment objectives. Hypnosis and medication administered during interviews could also be helpful. Recoveries are frequently quick. When memories come back, a person frequently feels grief, fury, shame, guilt, melancholy, and internal conflict. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that affects many people with dissociative amnesia.


As per the DSM-V, dissociative amnesia is one of the major mental disorders that is usually caused by psychological reasons. It could be temporary or for a short duration, or it could be very long, even for many years. It can be treated by medication as well as by therapy. However, in normal circumstances, medication is not suggested.


Updated on 13-Oct-2022 11:19:47