We have seen how the cumulative effect of repetitive and chronic, traumatic stress during childhood is associated with the later development of complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD) and that many of those afflicted by complex PTSD experience symptoms of dissociation (e,g. Freyd, 1996; Peclovitz et al., 1997). [Click here to read my previously published post: SYMPTOMS OF DISSOCIATION: MILD AND SEVERE.]
We have also seen how dissociative symptoms may manifest themselves in different ways and that one such way is DISSOCIATIVE AMNESIA.
In this article, I intend to briefly recap on what is meant by the term DISSOCIATIVE AMNESIA, including a short outline of the DIFFERENT TYPES OF DISSOCIATIVE AMNESIA.
WHAT IS DISSOCIATIVE AMNESIA? :
If an individual is suffering from dissociative amnesia, it means that they are unable, for a period of time (usually relatively short periods of time such as minutes, hours, or days, but, in much less frequent cases, months or even years), to remember information about themselves / events in their past (sometimes referred to as autobiographical memory). And, perhaps more surprisingly, they may have periods of time during which they fail to remember a skill or talent that they have learned (sometimes referred to as semantic memory).
For such memory loss to be diagnosed as dissociative amnesia the memory loss must be far more severe than in ‘normal forgetting’ and not accounted for by another medical condition.
THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF DISSOCIATIVE AMNESIA :
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), dissociative amnesia can be subdivided into the following types :
Let’s look at each of these in turn::
1. LOCALIZED :
This involves not being able to remember a specific period of time. Often, this period of time will be the first few hours after the traumatic event has occurred (including the traumatic event itself) and can occur as the result of an isolated traumatic episode.
2. SELECTIVE :
This involves not being able to remember some (but NOT all) of the events that occurred during a specific (traumatizing) period of time (often, this may be the most traumatic aspects of the events which occurred during this time period),
3. GENERALIZED :
This particularly alarming and devastating form of dissociative amnesia occurs when the individual afflicted by it is unable to remember their ENTIRE LIFE including, remarkably, who they are and where they are from. Fortunately, this extreme form of dissociative amnesia is very rare.
4. SYSTEMATIZED :
This type of dissociative amnesia involves being unable to recall information associated with a particular category such as being unable to recall any memories associated with one’s abusive parent or associated with a particular location where one was traumatized. For example, I have virtually no memory of living in my first or second house which incorporated the years between my birth and my being about eight years old when my parents divorced.
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