Trance and Possession Disorder

Trance and possession trance disorder causes a temporary loss of identity and surroundings. There is an assumption in the general society that it is believed to be something mystical. However, the trance phenomenon is regarded as a psychological alteration in medicine, particularly in psychiatric medicine.

What is Trance Disorder?

A dissociative trance is characterized by single or recurring disruptions of consciousness, identity, or memory native to certain places and cultures. It is also known as a reduction of awareness of one's immediate surroundings or stereotyped actions or motions that one perceives as uncontrollable. These dissociative experiences are widespread in many cultures and may be a component of traditional religious rituals; they should not be classified as problematic unless they are deemed deviant in the context of that particular culture or religious group. It is uncommon to have dissociative trance disorder, especially in the eastern portion of the planet.

What is Possession Trance Disorder?

Possession trance−possibly the most prevalent dissociative disorder in Asia−involves replacing the usual sense of personal identity with a new identity, which is attributed to the influence of a spirit, power, deity, or other person and is associated with stereotyped, involuntary movements or amnesia. The patients feel the possessing agent is in control of their actions.

What is the Meaning of Possession?

Possession is a broad folk category that can be used to explain a wide range of symptoms or difficulties. It is usually connected to possession-form manifestations, characterized by "night dances," talking in a foreign voice, feeling paralyzed, shivering, glossolalia, or making animal noises. Different religious communities also offer their explanations for possession, including illogical physical symptoms, challenges with spiritual practice, or even interpersonal conflicts. In addition, numerous groups view exposure to offensive media, drug use, masturbation, homosexuality, and extramarital sex as spiritual dangers or signs of possession. Although those classified as "possessed" are a diverse group in their clinical manifestations, many anthropologists see possession as a sign of anguish and a mechanism for marginalized or inferior people to express themselves.

Causes of Dissociative Trance and Possession Trance Disorder

Overall, if we closely examine the entire phenomenon, there is not just one reason that leads to the development of dissociative trance disorder or possession trance disorder; at the very least, there are multiple ones −

  • Psychosocial stressors, such as the death of a family member, pathological mourning, conflicts over religious or cultural issues, the tension resulting from economic or social hardships, altered group dynamics, an upcoming engagement or marriage, sexuality or other societal taboos, guilt feelings, hard-sell tactics, coercive persuasion, or any unspecified inner conflict.

  • The traumatic theory includes childhood sexual abuse, violence, war, or unexpected relative suicide.

  • An underlying mental illness, such as a neurosis, a psychotic disorder, a personality disorder (other than one characterized by hysterics or histrionic behavior), or any unique psychopathology.

  • Cultural elements, where the disorder is thought to be founded on a stereotype or acquired behavior that is culturally attributable.

  • Communication theory, according to which trance and possession are the manifestations of demands that have gone unmet and are the expression of general issues experienced by oppressed individuals.

  • Gain seeking, in which trance is seen to result in an economic, social, or psychological gain; mediumistic powers or extrasensory competencies; and when the disorder is displayed for a regenerative aim in addition to profiting from positive labeling.

  • Dissociation theory, which regards dissociation as the core phenomenon, is based on evidence that some people are predisposed to dissociate.

  • Hysteria theory, with the potential for mass hysteria, sees a disorder as a symptom of histrionic personality with an unresolved oedipal conflict.

Diagnosis of Possession Trance Disorder

It includes −

  • If the diagnosis is based on a single episode, the episode must have persisted for at least a few days or be recurrent to support the diagnosis.

  • The possession trance state is unwanted, undesirable, and not acknowledged as a component of a shared cultural or religious practice.

  • A different mental, behavioral, or neurodevelopmental disorder cannot adequately explain the symptoms, nor do they only manifest during another dissociative disorder. The symptoms are not better explained by another mental, behavioral, or neurodevelopmental disorder.

  • The symptoms are neither brought on by an illness of the neural system or a sleep-wake problem, nor are they brought on by the direct effects of a substance or medication on the central nervous system, such as withdrawal symptoms, tiredness, or hypnagogic or hypnopompic states.

  • Considerable distress or significant impairment in crucial areas of functioning such as personal, familial, social, educational, occupational, or others are brought on by the symptoms.

Diagnosis of Dissociative Trance Disorder

Only if the patient meets the criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) may the condition be diagnosed as dissociative trance disorder −

  • Identity disruption and altered awareness of the environment could be interpreted as a sense of being under the sway of a supernatural force from without.

  • It is important to rule out any organic causes, such as traumatic brain damage, epilepsy, and the effects of any psychoactive substances, since trance disorder only affects people who encounter an unusually uncontrollable event that is neither a regular activity nor a component of a widely practiced religion.


There are many factors, such as inherited genetic risk factors, sociocultural risk factors, economic risk factors, and many others, that can predispose someone to develop a dissociative trance disorder or possession trance disorder; however, the body of literature-based evidence indicates that a history of trauma, particularly during childhood, is strongly correlated with the prevalence of dissociative trance disorder. Psychotherapy is the primary form of treatment for this disease, while in certain cases, medical treatments may also be used.

Updated on: 07-Nov-2022

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