The human brain has a unique way of shutting itself down in order to create distance between itself and experiences or events that involve trauma. Called dissociation, this phenomenon can be as normal as losing track of time while driving down the highway or as complex as full-blown Dissociative Disorders that cause debilitating symptoms for teens.

Teen Dissociative Disorder is not the same as PTSD, a condition also influenced or caused by significant experiences of trauma. Instead, people struggling with a Dissociative Disorder often seem to either have memory loss or may even struggle with alternative identities – personalities that fracture off into distinct persons within the mind to protect them from trauma.

What Does Teen Dissociative Disorder Look Like?

Every case of Teen Dissociative Disorder (DD) is unique. However, there are common themes associated with DD:

  • A strong desire to cope with or escape pain
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Avoiding socialization
  • Pushing people away
  • Frequent mood changes
  • Difficulties with memories (“losing time”)

Signs of Teen Dissociative Disorder

Frequent Mood Swings

Frequent Traumatic Flashbacks

Panic or Anxiety Attacks

Insomnia or Hypersomnia

Different Types of Teen Dissociative Disorder

Dissociative Amnesia Disorder - Teens with this particular type of Teen Dissociative Disorder often have memory problems and struggle to relay the details of their traumatic experiences. While the brain defends itself by blocking out the memories of the event, many teens can still recall non-related events from a similar time period.

Dissociative Fugue Disorder - Teens that seem to disconnect from their surroundings seem to not understand where they are or why they are in certain situations. They seem confused and this sense of confusion can last anywhere from a few hours to several years. They may also compensate for their confusion by creating alternate personalities.

Dissociative Identity Disorder - Teens with DID present with at least two, sometimes more, personalities at the same time. Their “alters” manifest as distinct personalities often described as having completely different histories, gender identities, and ages. Teens struggling with this particular presentation will present different personalities, motives, and even memory sets depending on the “alter” that is present at any given moment.

Depersonalization Disorder - Teens who struggle with depersonalization disorder often describe feeling as though they are on the outside looking in – as if they are in a dream or are watching their lives happen from a very detached point of view. This disorder is very often accompanied by anxiety and different forms of depression.

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What Are the Causes of Teen Dissociative Disorder?

The main causes of teen Dissociative Disorders are exceedingly traumatic events and experiences. These events are excessive enough in nature to force a disconnection from one’s previous personality, the brain’s most extreme method for protecting itself from intractable emotional pain and loss of control. While there are a number of events capable of triggering Dissociative Disorders, they may include:

Early childhood abuse - Emotional and physical abuse during a teen’s childhood is a very common cause of Dissociative Disorder. The developing mind is especially vulnerable as they cannot properly process traumatic events.

Violence - Teens who have been victim to or have witnessed extreme violence are susceptible. This includes domestic violence and sexual assault. The emotional pain they feel at the memories causes them to regress in order to cope and shield themselves.

Traumatic medical procedures - Some medical treatments and therapies cause extreme pain. This is true whether treatments are physical medical tests, procedures, or therapy-based treatments like memory recovery. In the latter case, recovering a memory may trigger a subconscious need for the brain to protect a teen from a memory that had been previously blocked.


of individuals in the United States have some form of Dissociative Disorder


of dissociation sufferers also develop substance abuse disorders


of people with Dissociative Disorder have experienced a traumatic event

How Can I Help My Teen with Dissociative Disorder?

Educate yourself - The best way to help your teen is to truly understand what they are going through. Learn about the different forms of Dissociative Disorder and talk to your teen’s therapist about how you can help your teen better cope.

Open the lines of communication - Talk to your teen regularly. Have an open mind when your teen is sharing and do your best to avoid judgment. Knowing how your teen feels is critical to your ability to judge whether or not they are in any danger. It’s also important to recognize teen personality quirks so that you can also understand if they have suicidal thoughts or tendencies.

Look for professional assistance - Discuss your concerns with your teen. Clearly outline your concerns that their symptoms may be a sign of a larger issue. Let them know that getting a proper diagnosis will help them to get the right treatment so that they will feel better about life in general.

What Types of Teen Dissociative Disorder Treatment Are Available?

There are several different therapeutic approaches used to treat teens with Dissociative Disorder. The medical professional you work with will determine the severity of your teen’s DD to determine whether the best approach is talk therapy, medication, or a combination of both.

Talk Therapy

Therapists work slowly and carefully to help your teen address the traumatic event that caused the onset of the Dissociative Disorder through conversation. A safe, manageable environment will allow your teen to explore not only the event, but also the long-lasting effects they experience as a result of it. Therapists help teens learn to take on more responsibility in their daily lives, prompt them to re-engage with friends and family. They also provide guidance on relaxation methods while teaching teens how to create healthier attitudes, improved outlooks, and a better sense of self.


Medication becomes a critical component of the treatment plan when a teen has severe symptoms, such as Depression, Anxiety, or Psychosis, or suicidal thoughts. Anxiety and depressive disorders are common in teens who have developed Dissociative Disorders. Doctors may prescribe antipsychotics, antidepressants, or anti-anxiety medications, either alone or in combination, to reduce your teen’s symptoms so that they can focus more on the overall therapy plan instead of their intense emotions.

Teen Dissociative Disorder Treatment at Paradigm San Francisco

At Paradigm San Francisco, we work hard to create a supportive environment conducive to guiding each of our patients towards an individualized treatment plan. No two people are alike, and that means mental health care plans should be customized. Everyone at Paradigm San Francisco recognizes and respects the unique needs of each teen, all while striving to best understand their individual challenges in incredibly different circumstances.

A Safe Place for Treatment

It is often easier for teens with Dissociative Disorder to seek treatment in an in-patient environment than at home. Teens that are constantly sent home between therapy sessions are regularly reminded of their disorder triggers or of the negative experiences they have had when trying to cope. Being in a healing environment can go a long way in helping a teen regain a sense of empowerment so that they can return home (when ready) feeling confident and secure.

Rebuilding Relationships

Teens with Dissociative Disorders have spent a lot of time socially withdrawn. The group therapy and socialization options at Paradigm San Francisco give them the opportunity to slowly but surely reintegrate with small groups of people; this is much less overwhelming than just going back to school or re-entering social groups. They’ll have the chance to engage with others and take a step-by-step approach to forming new friendships and stronger relationships.

This was a wonderful experience for me as a teen that was struggling with so much and not knowing what to do. I'm so great full for the staff, therapists, and directors of this program for helping me realize my capabilities to handle what life throws my way

- Ayesha K.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Dissociative Disorder

Why does my teen need t relive painful memories?

Even though your teen seems to be detached from whatever triggered the Dissociative Disorder, they are technically suffering from the memories. Our treatment methods don’t ask teens to address things they’ve already grown past; rather they are helping them to acknowledge and address a current struggle by taking a closer look at the symptoms and how they are impacting their lives. This future-forward approach meets teens where they are.

Why does my child seem to have a split personality?

Try not to view it as a split personality, as you might with other mental health conditions, like schizophrenia. Truthfully, neither Schizophrenia nor Dissociation are “split personalities.” It is helpful to view the “alters” as fractions stemming from your teen’s core personality, rather than wholly separate, even if they aren’t aware of each other.

Your teen’s personalities are created by his or her brain. Remember: the dissociation is not a bad behavior, it is a crisis coping mechanism. While it is a difficult process, it is possible to help your teen rediscover and re-identify with their true core personality.

What are the signs friends or family members should watch out for?

Never try to diagnose Dissociative Disorder without professional assistance. That said, symptoms to watch out for include mood swing and behavioral changes, especially if they happen suddenly and rapidly. This type of diagnosis is serious and should not be taken lightly; if you suspect your teen may be affected, reach out to us.

Can dissociative amnesia be reversed?

Yes, it can. However, there is no way for us to determine how much time that reversal will take, nor can we tell you how much of your teen’s memory will return. Your teen’s therapist may need to experiment with different types of therapy to see which strategies show the best result; this may change over time. Memories tend to come back in pieces, and each will need to be addressed and worked through on an individual basis.

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