A rare form of amnesia, dissociative fugue is a condition involving periods of significant memory loss and physical wandering. Statistics reveal the prevalence of dissociative fugue, along with groups that have a higher risk of developing the condition.
Dissociative fugue is a rare subtype of dissociative amnesia and is not currently recognized as its own medical condition. The term “fugue” originates from the Latin word for flight. Like dissociative amnesia, dissociative fugue involves memory loss of certain people, places, events or significant periods. Memory lapses frequently include traumatic or highly stressful events.
Dissociative fugue is distinguished from dissociative amnesia by purposeful travel away from home while in an amnestic state. Dissociative fugue facts and statistics suggest that it is an extremely rare condition that is challenging to understand from a physiological perspective. Dissociative fugue may last from minutes to hours and — in rare cases — from months to years.
Prevalence of Dissociative Fugue
Dissociative fugue prevalence is estimated at 0.2% of the general population. However, there are specific populations disproportionately affected by this disorder, including war veterans and survivors of natural disasters. Adults are affected more often than children. People with dissociative fugue often have no recollection of their previous lives, adopt new identities and carry on as if nothing ever happened for the entirety of the fugue period. Dissociative fugue after trauma is particularly common in returning war veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from experiencing active combat.
Dissociative Fugue and Co-Occurring Disorders
A co-occurring disorder is any disorder that occurs simultaneously with another condition. Several disorders co-occur with dissociative fugue, most commonly, disorders caused by trauma. Some of these include:
- PTSD: PTSD is a long-term condition that develops after an individual experiences a traumatic event. PTSD can co-occur with dissociative fugue since both disorders result from trauma. Dissociative fugue is often a symptom of PTSD or its related condition, acute stress disorder.
- Anxiety and Depression: Anxiety and depression are both conditions that involve troubling thought patterns that can impact an individual’s everyday life. During fugue periods an individual may appear normal, but when the fugue ends, they may experience periods of anxiety or depression.
As stated, dissociative fugue is a subtype of dissociative amnesia that distinguishes itself from other forms of dissociative amnesia by the added dimension of physical travel. However, dissociative fugue is closely related to other dissociative disorders, such as dissociative identity disorder and depersonalization-derealization disorder. In some cases, dissociative fugue may co-occur with these conditions.
Dissociative fugue is commonly diagnosed in individuals who already have a dissociative identity disorder. A dissociative identity disorder involves individuals that adopt two or more alternating personality states. Individuals with this disorder may present with fugue states while one personality is dominant.
Dissociative Fugue and Substance Use
Additionally, dissociative fugue can co-occur with substance use. In general, memory loss or amnesia is a symptom of consuming excessive alcohol or substances. In a study conducted in 2012, women were scored based on a dissociative experiences scale. Though this study did not specifically address fugue states, there was a positive correlation with dissociation and substance use.
Regarding dissociative fugue and alcohol use, a study conducted in 2005 found that close to 20% of participants receiving treatment for substance use exhibited signs of a dissociative disorder. More research is needed to determine cause versus effect: if dependents use substances to dissociate, or if dissociative disorders are risk factors for substance dependence.
Dissociative Fugue Treatment and Prognosis
The prognosis for dissociative fugue is dependent on the individual. As with dissociative amnesia, the recollection of memories while in a fugue state and relief from amnesia stressors can allow an individual with dissociative fugue to rehabilitate successfully. Some treatments for dissociative fugue include:
- Restoring lost memories
- Drug treatment with sedatives
- Psychotherapy for traumatic memories that may be recovered
- Encouragement to make plans for the future
Are you or a loved one struggling with dissociative fugue and addiction? The Recovery Village has a trained team of medical professionals and clinical counselors ready to help you or someone you know get help. Call The Recovery Village today.
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