Tools to Better Understand Teen Dissociative Disorder

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness experienced by someone who has experienced a traumatic event, and who is experiencing symptoms of anxiety as a result. Typical symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, bad dreams, and frightening thoughts. An individual might also exhibit symptoms of avoidance, such as staying away from certain places to avoid reliving the traumatic experience or forgetting the experience entirely, as in amnesia. Symptoms of PTSD usually continue until a safe, therapeutic investigation of the traumatic event takes place and the individual is able to process and integrate the intense feelings associated with the trauma.

However, the diagnosis of PTSD and methods of treating it are still undergoing research. There continues to be a lot to learn about how trauma affects the mind and the body. For instance, clinicians can easily wrongly diagnose children and teens. A child who exhibits periods of inattention or “spacing out”, which the trained mental health professional will see as dissociation, while another clinician might see as ADHD. According to the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation, seeing a part of a teen’s psychological landscape can lead to making the wrong assessment. For instance, teen dissociative disorder might be diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder or Conduct Disorder. Read more about the symptoms to look for here.

For this reason, as an advocate for your child, there are tools that you should know about that can facilitate the diagnostic accuracy and therefore the most appropriate mental health treatment for your adolescent. If you feel, for instance, that the clinical diagnosis isn’t quite right and that the treatment isn’t working, there are assessments available for clinicians to use to determine the level of dissociation your teen has and whether he or she has PTSD versus another mental illness. These assessments are:

  • Children’s Dissociative Experiences Scale and Posttraumatic Symptom Inventory [CDES/PTSI],
  • Adolescent Dissociative Experiences Scale, version 2 [A-DES, II]
  • Adolescent Multi-Dimensional Inventory of Dissociation [A-MID]
  • Child Dissociative Checklist[CDC-III]

If you feel that your child is not receiving the most appropriate treatment, as a parent, you can always ask for a second opinion on a diagnosis, ask the professional you are working with to consider other options, seek professionals whose clinical orientation is centered on trauma and dissociation, and begin to take note of your teen’s symptoms you feel may not be getting addressed in treatment.

Ideally, a mental health professional should be able to assist you with understanding what dissociation is, develop a greater sense of safety at home, identify triggers that might cause flashbacks and anxiety in your child, and establish a word or gesture that you can use with your teen to reorient him or her back to the present moment.

Of course, continuing to be a loving support for your child as he or she grows through adolescence into adulthood will be one of the most important ways to facilitate their well being.


The Child and Adolescent Committee. “Child/Adolescent FAQ’s.” International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. Retrieved on March 14, 2014 from