Dissociation is an experience that many adults and adolescents experience. However, in children and teens dissociation tends to look a little different. This article will explore the differences in dissociation between childhood, adolescence, and adulthood as well as compare the types of dissociation from mild to severe.
Teen Dissociative Disorder
According to the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD), the intensity of a dissociative experience can range from normal to problematic to mild, moderate, and severe. There is a continuum of dissociation with no experiences to severe dissociation such as what psychologists see in patients with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder.
However, dissociation in children and teens is often less severe and therefore less obvious than in adults. The dissociative states that a child experiences will not be as well developed than adults. This is a benefit if a child were participating in therapy to treat the dissociation where a teen or young child would be more able to retrieve memories and his or her dissociative parts as compared to adults.
What Could Cause DID
Teen Dissociative Disorder is an experience that often happens as a result of trauma, such as witnessing a death, experiencing physical or sexual abuse, chronic neglect, chronic bullying, natural disaster, repeated abandonment, and witnessing violence. At times, the trauma won’t leave any lasting effect once the event has passed. However, depending on the severity of the event, the resiliency of the individual, their psychological makeup, conditioning, ethnicity, and other factors, the event can leave severe effects on the psyche, leading to mental illnesses, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.
Below are types of dissociation in individuals, regardless of age. Although it is less likely to see severe dissociation in children and teens, it is possible.
Normal Dissociation: According to the ISSTD, in most cases, dissociation in a child or teen will be is normal. As a part of responding to life in a non-problematic way. Examples of this might be becoming so absorbed in an art project, that a teen forgets about his or her environment. Other examples include reading a page or paragraph and not knowing what it was says. Or blocking out something unpleasant without interrupting normal functioning. Sometimes a child can get lost in a fantasy world, but he or she will be able to tell the difference between fantasy and reality.
Any of the other types of dissociation from mild to severe are problematic or pathological. In some way dissociation affects a teen’s ability to function. Although mild dissociation is an experience that can be easily tended to, it can interfere with learning.
This form of dissociation could be as simple as “staring out” into space or “spacing out”. However, if a child is exhibiting this often, it can interrupt listening during class, learning and succeeding in school.
There are two forms of dissociation that can also have various levels of intensity. Depersonalization is when a child cannot feel his or her body., Which is often the result of physical or sexual abuse. The body becomes numb and a teen or child is not able to feel it. At times, this might include blocking out certain senses as well such as seeing, hearing, or tasting. De-realization is the experience of feeling like the environment feels unreal in some way. Both of these forms of dissociation – depersonalization and de-realization – can happen during the trauma as well as at times when a child or teen is reminded of the traumatic event.
This form of dissociation can happen in children and teens. It is when the traumatic event was so terrifying that a child separates from himself. It feels as though that part of the self carries the unbearable feelings, thoughts, and memories of the trauma. If a child had to be aware of these terrifying feelings, it would be very difficult to function in school and home. This is a dissociation of identity and can also be accompanied by depersonalization and de-realization. A severe form of dissociation, can affect the way a child or teen behaves, feels, thinks, and remembers. An extreme form of identity dissociation is DID, mentioned above, in which a child or teen presents to others as if he were different people at different times.
Dissociation is a psychological response to a terrifying or painful situation that a child or teen cannot escape from. It is as though the mind has been severely affected where dissociation occurs. Because a pattern of responding to life even when it is not necessary. Of course, this can affect a child or teen’s ability to function at home or succeed in school.
It is essential that a child, teen, or adult be assessed for the severity of teen dissociative disorder as soon as possible. Along with assessing for any accompanying mental illnesses.
The Child and Adolescent Committee. “Child/Adolescent FAQ’s.” International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. Retrieved on March 14, 2014 from http://www.isst-d.org/default.asp?contentID=100