Dissociative leakage: symptoms, types, causes and treatment

We wake up in an unfamiliar place. We walk the streets, but we are not at home, not even in our city. Where am I and what should I do here? We ask a villager, who seems to recognize us and calls us by another name than ours. Looks like we’ve been in town for a month. How is it possible?

One possible answer to this question is that we have experimented a disorder called dissociative theft.

    Dissociative leakage: definition and characteristic symptoms

    Dissociative theft is defined as an associative disorder characterized by the achievement of unexpected trips away from the subject’s usual environment in which the individual is unable to remember his past. This journey takes place with apparent normality, without drawing attention to the subject’s behavior and without the appearance of symptoms of mental disorder or cognitive impairment. It is also common, although this does not happen, for the individual to have doubts about their own identity, either by losing it or by assuming a new one.

    In the vast majority of cases, the person he eventually regains his old identity and his memory. However, there are times when parts of the past are not remembered – and sometimes the patient even does not remember their past before the leak. In most cases, during identity recovery, amnesia can occur after the episode in which what happened during it is forgotten.

    After recovering the memory, the individual usually feels discomfort, Derived from both the confusion of what happened and the deterioration of different vital areas such as work or partner. You may experience guilt, depression, anxiety, irritability, impulsiveness, and even suicide attempts.

    At present, dissociative leakage is no longer considered a disorder in itself, be a specifier of dissociative or psychogenic amnesia because except for the presence of the leak in question, it shares most of its characteristics.

      Escape subtype

      even if most symptoms of dissociative theft are similarThis disorder can manifest in different ways and have different repercussions. Specifically, they can consider three major subtypes of dissociative escape.

      classic escape

      In this subtype of dissociative theft, there is a journey or flight to an unknown location, exhibiting autobiographical amnesia and partial or total loss of identity and the hypothesis of a new one. The subject can reach settle in the new place with a new identity, Without knowing its previous history until memory recovery.

      Personal identity amnesia

      This type of escape assumes that the individual has one. loss of autobiographical memory with one’s identity, Although in this case there is no change. The individual does not believe in another person, but knows that he does not know who he is.

      Return to an earlier period in his life

      This type of dissociative escape refers to returning to the psychic level to an earlier period of one’s life, exhibiting amnesia in relation to the period of time that has elapsed since the period in question and the present. However, the personal identity remains intact.

      the causes

      The causes of dissociative theft are associated with experiencing very stressful and traumatic events. For example, it is not uncommon for subjects to have experienced sexual abuse or misfortunes such as wars or natural disasters during childhood or throughout life, so that their psyches divide to avoid pain. generated by the event in question.

      He also seems to predispose to his suffering from intoxication or drug addiction, cranioencephalic trauma and certain disorders such as epilepsy.

      At the biological level, they are considered to have an influence noradrenergic and serotonergic systems, As well as opioids. On the cerebral level, the presence of changes in the limbic system and its connection to the neocortex seems to be observed.


      Dissociative theft is a disorder whose treatment focuses primarily on symptom recovery and control. It should be noted that although usually only one episode occurs, new leaks can occur, so prevention is another aspect to consider.

      It is necessary to work with the patient on the causes of this amnesia, the situation that caused the leak and what this situation means for the subject. Cognitive restructuring or work on emotional expression and stress management can be of great help for these patients. Hypnosis and suggestion have also been used to attempt to unblock blocked content from the subject’s mind, as well as to conduct interviews facilitated by hypnotic substances.

      It is essential to work not only with the subject but also with the family and the environment. Giving them information about the disorder and what happened is reassuring and can help them take into account and control the factors that may have triggered the episode. Likewise, couple or family therapy to help manage conflicts that may have been triggered or caused by the escape is also recommended.

        Bibliographical references:

        • American Psychiatric Association (2002). DSM-IV-TR. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Spanish edition. Barcelona: Masson. (Original in English from 2000).
        • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.
        • De Rezende, L .; Ramos, A. and González, JC (2011). Dissociative theft. About a case and a brief bibliographic review. Journal of the Spanish Association of Neuropsychiatry. 31 (112), 725-731.
        • Caballero, L. (2010). Dissociative and conversion disorders. In: Vallejo, J. and Leal, C. (eds.) Treatise on Psychiatry. Barcelona: Ars Medica. p. 1311-1335

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