Post-traumatic stress disorder is a complex condition that impacts a diversity of trauma survivors in a wide range of ways. Just as no two people’s experiences are the same, no two people will experience PTSD in the exact same way. As a result, clinicians recognize a number of PTSD “subtypes,” one of which is the dissociative subtype (PTSD+DS).
The dissociative subtype of PTSD is a lot more common than you may realize. About 15 million U.S. adults have PTSD, and among them, more than 14 percent have PTSD+DS.
This subtype shares many attributes with complex PTSD (C-PTSD). Studies show that people with PTSD+DS are more likely to have experienced childhood physical or sexual abuse, struggle in interpersonal relationships and experience emotion dysregulation.
When empathizing with someone who experiences PTSD+DS, or trying to make sense of your own diagnosis, it will help to understand which symptoms are most commonly associated with this condition.
Symptoms of PTSD+DS
PTSD+DS includes the core PTSD symptoms associated with any PTSD diagnosis: re-experiencing the traumatic event(s), avoiding reminders of the traumatic event(s), feeling negative emotions and struggling to feel calm or safe (hypervigilance).
However, for people with PTSD+DS, they experience notably higher levels of dissociation.
Dissociation refers to a range of symptoms that impact consciousness, including:
- Memory disturbance
- Time loss
- Gaps in awareness and memory
- Sensory misperception
- Reckless or self-destructive behavior
PTSD-DS is also associated with negative (but fortunately reversible with proper treatment) changes in the brain.
Changes in the frontal cortex are heavily associated with PTSD, and even more so with PTSD+DS. This region of the brain is responsible for functions such as inhibiting the “fight-or-flight” response, processing sensory experiences and managing one’s self-perception. As such, PTSD+DS often creates a sense of detachment, which is felt between a person and their emotions, their environment and even their sense of self.
Even among people who are diagnosed with PTSD-DS, their experiences will differ based on their personality, what type of trauma(s) they’ve experienced and other mental health problems they may have.
For example, people experiencing both PTSD-DS and substance use disorder endure more depressive symptoms (suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and drug overdoses) on average. For those who experienced childhood sexual abuse, PTSD-DS was linked to high hypervigilance, a sense of foreshortened future and sleep difficulties.
How to Help With PTSD+DS
When recovering from PTSD+DS, one should understand neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change and adapt based on our experiences, whether good or bad. Just as a traumatic event can alter the way our brain is wired, positive experiences (and a strong treatment plan) allow the brain to physically heal. As you improve your surroundings, you can strengthen your brain’s plasticity and thrive.
One treatment method of PTSD+DS is skills training followed by exposure-based therapy, such as cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure and more. Studies found that this combination leads to a reduction in dissociative symptoms throughout the trauma recovery process.
With a treatment plan that works for you, you can find recovery from PTSD+DS.
Are you struggling with PTSD? Let the Mira app help! With grounding exercises, trigger and symptom tracking tools, and more, relief from your trauma symptoms is possible. To learn more about trauma and PTSD, read our blog!