Why It Matters: Dissociative and Somatic Symptom Disorders

Why learn about dissociative and somatic symptom disorders?

A woman is sitting on a dock with her head tilted back and her eyes closed. Orange leaves are falling around her.

Figure 1. Not all people who daydream suffer from dissociative disorder.

Think about the last time you were daydreaming. Perhaps it was while you were driving or attending class. Some portion of your attention was on the activity at hand, but most of your conscious mind was wrapped up in fantasy. Now imagine that you could not control your daydreams. What if they intruded your waking consciousness unannounced, causing you to lose track of reality or experience the loss of time. Imagine how difficult it would be for you. Imagining is similar to what people who suffer from dissociative disorders may experience. Of the many disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), dissociative disorders rank as among the most puzzling and controversial. Dissociative disorders encompass an array of symptoms ranging from memory loss (amnesia) for autobiographical events to changes in identity and the experience of everyday reality (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

In psychopathology, dissociation happens when thoughts, feelings, and experiences of our consciousness and memory do not align well with each other. This module provides an overview of dissociative disorders, including the definitions of dissociation, its origins and competing theories, and their relation to traumatic experiences and sleep problems. We will also discuss somatic symptom disorders, which are disorders related to bodily illnesses and injuries that cannot be explained by medical conditions.