A person with dissociative amnesia may forget personal information or details about events, and many people misunderstand certain aspects about the condition.

Dissociative amnesia involves a person forgetting critical life details. According to The Cleveland Clinic, this condition is uncommon and affects just 1% of men and 2.6% of women. Since dissociative amnesia is rare and can easily be misunderstood, there are numerous myths surrounding it.

Dissociative amnesia myths can be dispelled to promote a better understanding of this condition. Here are five myths and facts about dissociative amnesia.

Myth 1: Dissociative amnesia is obvious to the sufferer.

Fact: A person with dissociative amnesia may not always realize he or she is experiencing memory loss.

The American Psychiatric Association reports that people experiencing dissociative amnesia tend to be unaware or only partially understand that they are suffering from amnesia. They may be uncomfortable talking about their memory loss and may downplay its significance.

Some people may believe that individuals with dissociative amnesia are aware of their memory loss and can control it, but this is not the case. Someone who is experiencing dissociative amnesia is likely undergoing significant distress and is repressing memories in an attempt to cope.

Myth 2: Dissociative amnesia is caused by physical trauma.

Fact: It is possible that dissociative amnesia may follow physical trauma, but this is not the only cause of this condition.

According to experts, dissociative amnesia tends to occur after some sort of trauma, such as being in an accident, witnessing a disaster or being a victim of abuse. Someone who has been a victim of physical abuse may develop dissociative amnesia to cope with the trauma.

Dissociative amnesia after trauma can also occur with sexual abuse or with distressing events, such as witnessing the death of a loved one or experiencing the effects of war. Trauma does not have to be physical to produce symptoms of dissociative amnesia.

Myth 3: Symptoms of dissociative amnesia are typically long-lasting.

Fact: Dissociative amnesia symptoms are often short-lived and will resolve.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that episodes of dissociative amnesia can pass after just a few minutes, or they can last for hours or days. In rare cases, dissociative amnesia may persist for months or years, but it typically is not long-lasting.

One study found that individuals experiencing fugue, a form of dissociative amnesia, saw their symptoms improve within three to six months. Dissociative amnesia can be expected to resolve, and long-lasting cases seem to be less common. Researchers from Washington State University have explained that dissociative amnesia is not permanent since the information that one forgets is still a stored memory.

Myth 4: There is only one type of dissociative amnesia.

Fact: There are multiple types of dissociative amnesia.

Dissociative amnesia can describe one of several forms of temporary memory loss. All of the following are types of dissociative amnesia:

  • Localized amnesia: The most typical form of dissociative amnesia, this condition involves being unable to remember information from a distinct time period. For instance, a person may develop localized amnesia for a time during which he or she was being sexually abused.
  • Selective amnesia: With this form of dissociative amnesia, a person forgets some details from a certain time period but is able to remember some positive aspects of that time.
  • Generalized amnesia: This is a rare form of amnesia that causes people to forget their life stories and their own identities. They also forget basic information, such as numbers, and are unable to complete everyday tasks, like getting dressed.
  • Dissociative fugue: In this severe type of dissociative amnesia, people are unable to remember their personal identities and create new ones. This can involve changing careers or relationships or moving to an entirely different location and starting a different life. Once the fugue passes, the person is able to remember their previous life.

Myth 5: Dissociative amnesia only affects adults.

Fact: Dissociative amnesia can occur in children and adults.

Children and adults can both experience dissociative amnesia, and NAMI reports that the condition can affect any age group. One study found that the typical age of a person with a dissociative disorder is 21.

Dissociative amnesia can occur following a trauma such as physical or sexual abuse, which children and adolescents may experience. It is possible for children and teens to develop dissociative amnesia as a way to cope with abuse or trauma in their lives. Adults may also develop amnesia in response to abuse or trauma experienced during childhood.

If you or a loved one is experiencing dissociative amnesia and a co-occurring substance use disorder, The Recovery Village has locations around the country that can provide comprehensive services to meet your needs. Contact us and speak with an admissions representative today to discuss treatment options.

Jonathan Strum
Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
Jenni Jacobsen
Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has seven years of experience working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more
Sources

The Cleveland Clinic. “Dissociative amnesia.” May 20, 2016. Accessed May 20, 2019.

The American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5).” 2019. Accessed May 21, 2019.

National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Dissociative Disorders.” 2019. Accessed May 21, 2019.

Harrison, Neil, et al. “Psychogenic amnesia: syndromes, outcome, and patterns of retrograde amnesia.” Brain, September 2017. Accessed May 22, 2019.

Washington State University. “Module 6: Dissociative disorders.”  (n.d.). Accessed May 22, 2019.

Thapa, Ranjan, and Shyangwa, Pramod. “Dissociative disorders: A study of clinico –demographic profile and associated stressors.”  Delhi Psychiatry Journal, April 2010. Accessed May 22, 2019.

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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.