Dissociative Disorders: Amnesia, Dissociative Fugue & Split Personalities

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  • 0:04 Dissociative Disorders
  • 0:39 Dissociative Amnesia
  • 1:19 Retrograde Amnesia
  • 1:49 Anterograde Amnesia
  • 3:02 Multiple Personalities
  • 4:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Bautista
There are times when the human brain can actually separate its different parts, sometimes as a defense mechanism. These are known as dissociative disorders. This lesson takes a closer look at these kinds of disorders and how they impact the mind.


What does someone with multiple personalities have in common with someone with amnesia? The two conditions may seem very different; one has patients with distinct personalities living in the same brain, while the other causes patients to forget pieces of their lives. Yet both are categorized as dissociative disorders, which is a general term for disorders that cause disturbances in consciousness, memory, identity or perception. So what's the common denominator between multiple personalities and temporarily forgetting your name and birthday?


Essentially, dissociative disorders are caused by a given part of the mind 'dissociating' itself from another part. This means one part of the mind basically forgets or ignores another part. In dissociative amnesia - different than the kind of amnesia caused by injury or illness - the mind basically loses track of the part of itself that stores important personal information. You've probably had the experience - maybe on a history test - of being totally unable to remember something important. But patients with amnesia often don't even recognize that the lost information is missing - and they lose much more than simply what day the Civil War began or where their keys are.



There are two main types of dissociative amnesia. Retrograde amnesia is when a patient forgets their past, up to a certain point, but is able to form new memories. This kind of patient would basically be starting a new life as a new person, functioning in most ways except totally unable to remember the past. Retrograde amnesia, which literally means moving backward, plays an important role in the movie 'The Bourne Identity,' in which Matt Damon's character wakes up on a boat with no idea who he is and no memory of his military training. Anterograde amnesia is the opposite of retrograde, and literally means forward moving. Patients with anterograde amnesia can't form new memories, but do remember everything before the amnesia set in. This is true of Drew Barrymore's character in '50 First Dates,' who quite literally goes on 50 dates with Adam Sandler that seem to her as if they're the first because she cannot form new memories. Though she knows who she is and remembers her past and her childhood, she wakes up each morning thinking she and Adam Sandler haven't met.

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