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What Is Dissociative Amnesia? How Can It Be Treated?

Written and reviewed by
Dr.Indranil Saha 92% (226ratings)
MBBS, MD Psychiatry, DPM Psychological Medicine
Psychiatrist, Kolkata  •  24years experience
What Is Dissociative Amnesia? How Can It Be Treated?

While it is common nature to forget some things at some times, if there is a pattern to one’s forgetfulness, it is a cause for concern. Caused by trauma or stress, dissociative amnesia is a condition where the person cannot recall important personal information. In cases of abuse or war, the person dissociates himself/herself from that period in his life and therefore tends to forget information relating to that period of life. The memory, awareness, identity and perception of the person are affected. The work life, social life, and relationships could be affected adversely.

Causes: This is generally seen in people who have had bad experiences in terms of war, sexual abuse, accidents and natural disasters. The memories associated with these incidents get buried deeply and are not recalled by the person. This leads to memory loss and on further probing, it is usually noted that there is a genetic connection, with some other close relative also having this condition. It is also more common in women than in men.

Types: The person would have memory loss with forgetfulness. This memory loss can be localised, generalised, or selective.

  1. Localised amnesia: Very closely linked to trauma or stress, there is an inability to recall a specific event or happenings during a specific period of time. For example, forgetting the year or month of sexual abuse or time spent in war. The memory loss is detected long after the actual event and the period of memory loss could vary from days to months.
  2. Selective amnesia: People with selective amnesia forget only some portion of the event from a certain period in their lives.
  3. Generalised amnesia: These people forget their identity and complete life history – their identity, where they are, people they interact with, and also their conversations. The onset is usually sudden in these people. Systematised amnesia is when information in a specific category (about a particular person or place) is completely forgotten.


Psychotherapy and supportive treatment as a combination work effectively in managing dissociative amnesia. Supportive treatment usually is sufficient in cases of localised memory loss. Often, hypnosis and psychotherapy are also required. The patients also need to be talked into believing that they were not at fault (especially in sexual abuse cases) and that they should move on with life. These people may have problems arising out of that period, which also needs to be resolved. For instance, a person involved in serious combat may think how he has let down his family, a sexually abused person may feel ashamed of the event.
Talking to a psychotherapist about the episode is the only way to identify the exact cause and come to terms with the condition. In case you have a concern or query you can always consult an expert & get answers to your questions!

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