Individuals that struggle with dissociative amnesia have significant memory loss that usually stems from psychological stress or trauma. Learn more about how to identify dissociative amnesia.

The most common dissociative disorder is known as dissociative amnesia. Individuals with this condition experience memory loss of certain people, places, events or large blocks of time. Memory gaps often involve extremely stressful or traumatic events. Such events can have a long-lasting impact on an individual’s future behavior. Dissociative amnesia facts and statistics suggest that this disorder is understudied and underdiagnosed in the general population.

How Common is Dissociative Amnesia?

Prevalence is a measure of how common a certain disease, disorder or condition is in a given population. Dissociative amnesia prevalence differs based on the length of time an individual is diagnosed with this condition:

  • Approximately 1.8% of people in the United States are diagnosed with dissociative amnesia over a 12-month period
  • Women are disproportionately affected over men
  • The lifetime prevalence of dissociative amnesia has been reported at 6–7% of Canadian and Turkish populations
  • For individuals under psychiatric care, the prevalence of this disorder is estimated at 7–11%

How Long Does Dissociative Amnesia Last?

The duration of dissociative amnesia episodes may last minutes, hours, days, months or in rare cases, years. These incidents may also occur repeatedly throughout an individual’s life. The intensity of dissociative amnesia differs depending on the individual, the trauma experienced and the type of dissociative amnesia.

Types of Dissociative Amnesia

There are several different types of amnesia that fall under the umbrella of dissociative amnesia. Individuals may experience more than one type simultaneously. Dissociative amnesia types include:

  • Generalized Amnesia: Generally present in individuals who experience combat, sexual assault or severe conflict, individuals with this condition lose all memories of self as well as their life history
  • Systematized Amnesia: Involves individuals that cannot recall specific information, such as their interactions with one particular family member
  • Continuous Amnesia: Occurs when an individual forgets events after they happen in real-time
  • Localized Amnesia: Presents when an individual cannot recall events that occurred in a specific block of time, often during a time frame when an individual experienced a traumatic event
  • Selective Amnesia: Involves individuals that forget particular events in relation to experienced traumas

An extreme but rare form of dissociative amnesia is known as dissociative fugue. This disorder encompasses all characteristics of dissociative amnesia with an added element of physical travel.

Diagnosing Dissociative Amnesia

To diagnose dissociative amnesia, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is used by medical professionals. The DSM-5 is a comprehensive tool developed by the American Psychiatric Association that assists in the diagnosis of all medically known psychiatric conditions.

The diagnostic criteria for dissociative amnesia is defined by:

  • One or more periods where an individual cannot recall memories or information about themselves. These periods are usually related to extreme stress or trauma, and cannot be explained by typical forgetfulness or memory loss
  • This condition does not occur as a symptom of other dissociative disorders
  • This disorder does not occur as a result of substance use, bodily injury or neurological conditions
  • Individuals can no longer function normally as a result of this condition

Dissociative Amnesia and Co-Occurring Conditions

Dissociative amnesia can be diagnosed as a singular condition. More commonly, it co-occurs with similar conditions involving response to trauma, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or substance use.

  • AnxietyAnxiety and dissociative amnesia often co-occur since anxiety can cause dissociative amnesia and vice versa.
  • Depression: Dissociative amnesia and depression often co-occur as traumatic experiences can cause both conditions. Individuals that have chronic dissociative amnesia frequently are diagnosed with major depressive disorders that start in childhood.
  • PTSDPTSD and acute stress disorder are conditions brought about by experiencing a traumatic event such as a mass shooting, the sudden death of a loved one or a car accident, for example. PTSD or acute stress disorder and dissociative amnesia often co-occur, as dissociative amnesia is often a symptom of these conditions.
  • Substance Use: The excessive use of alcohol and other drugs can co-occur with dissociative amnesia. In a study conducted in 2005, dissociative amnesia began before substance use disorders in the majority of study participants. Dissociative amnesia co-occurred with substance use in almost 20% of individuals seeking treatment at an inpatient facility. Additionally, alcohol and other substances can cause amnesia or temporary memory loss.

Dissociative Amnesia and Crime

Diagnosis of dissociative amnesia is particularly important in the criminal justice system. Attorneys for a defendant may claim the individual committed a crime while in an amnestic state. Dissociative amnesia and crime are often linked to excessive alcohol use, as offenders that use alcohol are more highly represented in these studies. There is also a positive correlation with the number of amnesia cases pleaded and the severity of crimes committed.

Statistics on Dissociative Amnesia Treatment & Prognosis

Prognosis is an educated guess at the outcome of a disease or disorder. The prognosis for dissociative amnesia is highly dependent on the individual. Life circumstances, recollection of memories, adjustment and relief from amnesia stressors all impact how an individual will fare after diagnosis and treatment. In most cases, individuals that recover their memories and remove initial stressors do quite well.

If diagnosed with dissociative amnesia, psychiatrists recommend various treatments for individuals. Dissociative amnesia treatments include:

  • Restoring lost memories
  • Hypnotism
  • Drug-facilitated interviews
  • Psychotherapy for traumatic memories that are recovered
  • Encouragement to make plans for the future

Are you or a loved one struggling with dissociative amnesia and addiction? The Recovery Village has a trained team of medical professionals and clinical counselors ready to help you or someone access the care you need. Call The Recovery Village today to learn more.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Bonnie Bullock, PHD
Bonnie is a medical communications specialist at Boston Strategic Partners, a global health industry consulting firm. Her recent work in mental health includes developing conference materials for clinical studies in mood disorders and copy-editing clinical manuscripts. Read more

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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.