Trance Disorder and Possession: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Dissociative disorders involve a breakdown in the processes of memory, identity, perception and / or consciousness. In them we find the disorder of trance and possession, Caused by a shocking experience which caused a lot of suffering in the person.

In this article, we will learn about the symptoms of this disorder, how it relates to cultural and religious practices, and the differences between a state of transit and a state of possession. Additionally, we will explain which cases are excluded to diagnose a disorder like this.

    Trance and possession disorder: what is it?

    Trance and possession disorder is a type of mental disorder classified as a subtype of dissociative disorder (Conversion) with the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10). In the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders), trance and possession disorder are referred to as “dissociative tract disorder”.

    Dissociative disorders involve a break or disconnection in the processes of memory, consciousness, identity and / or perception. In other words, there is a lack of continuity (or disconnection) between thoughts, actions, identity and memories.

    Trance and possession disorder includes only those trance states that are unwanted or unwanted, and which also occur outside of religious or culturally accepted situations. This disorder occurs more commonly in some cultures than in others (for example in Latin American cultures).

    Which is not?

    Trance and possession disorder excludes all conditions related to: schizophrenia, psychoactive substance intoxication, postconcussive syndrome, organic personality disorder, and acute and transient psychotic disorders. In other words, that is to say if there is any of these psychopathological conditions, you will not be able to diagnose a trance and possession disorder.

      the causes

      The causes that provoke the disorder of trance and possession these are usually traumatic experiences that have resulted in great psychological sufferingWhether acute or prolonged, the person suffering from the disorder.

      It mainly occurs in adolescent girls with psychological conflicts, family dysfunctions, difficulties in interpersonal relationships and a history of abuse, abuse or significant emotional deficiencies.

      To be able to diagnose trance and possession disorder, it is important to rule out other possible non-psychiatric causes, such as neurological disorders (Brain tumors, epilepsy, …) and the consumption of psychoactive substances.

      On the other hand, a trance and possession disorder goes undiagnosed when its symptoms are “normal” in the cultural and religious context of the person exhibiting it (that is, when the symptoms “may to be ”understood) in this context, religion or cultural practice).


      In trance and possession disorder, a number of characteristic symptoms occur. On the one hand, there is a temporary loss of sense of identity and awareness of the environment. On the other hand, attention and awareness of the environment may be limited to one or two immediate and concrete aspects.

      The person who also suffers exhibits strange, illogical, or inconsistent language and acts as if possessed by another person, By a spirit or by a “supernatural” force. It also manifests a set of particular and very expressive movements, postures and gestures.

      In addition, the person with the disorder experiences significant psychological distress or an overall deterioration in their functioning.

      Traffic status and possession status

      In the disorder of trance and possession, it is necessary to differentiate two types of states that can arise: trance and possession. Thus, while during the transit state the usual “loss” of identity that occurs is not associated with the emergence of alternative identities, in possession one or more different and alternative identities appear. These identities also exhibit characteristic movements, memories and attitudes.

      Another difference between the two is that in a state of trance the activity of the individual is not complex (for example, he runs, falls, has convulsive movements, etc.), and rather in a state of possession. activities if they are complex (now the person maintains coherent conversations, shows characteristic gestures, facial expressions according to the cultural canons of the place, etc.).

      Circulation states in crops

      It is important to note (and as we have already mentioned), that the disorder of trance and possession it is not produced voluntarily or framed in the cultural and religious context of the person.

      These voluntary (and non-pathological, which also don’t cause discomfort) states explain most of the trance and possession states that can be found in different cultures. However, we insist, the trance and possession disorder is unintentional and causes significant discomfort.

      This is not to say that the non-pathological conditions mentioned can sometimes not involve symptoms typical of this disorder, and even be configured in its entirety as a disorder (but this is not so common).


      The disorder of trance and possession it can show a lot of variability in different cultures, In particular with regard to the nature of the behavior expressed during the transit state, the presence (or absence) of dissociative sensory alterations (e.g. deafness or blindness), the identity assumed during the state and the presence or absence (or degree) of amnesia following the episode.

      In other words, the same disorder can vary not only from person to person, but also from culture to culture, especially in how its symptoms manifest; this happens even if the symptoms are “the same” (since a number of diagnostic criteria must be met to diagnose a trance and possession disorder).


      Treatment of trance and possession disorders is typical of dissociative disorders, combining psychotherapeutic and psychiatric methods (the latter to alleviate symptoms).

      Bibliographical references:

      • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Review (DSM-IV-TR) (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2000).
      • WHO (2000). CIE-10. International Classification of Diseases, tenth edition. Madrid. Panamericana.
      • Orengo, F. (1995). Dissociation, trance, possession. Lecture given within the framework of the Third Congress of the Institute of Spanish-speaking Psychiatrists on Magic, Myth and Psychiatry.

      Leave a Comment