Dissociative Fugue

What is Dissociative Fugue? “Fugue” means flight and that is the component that is added in this dissociative disorder. It is similar to dissociative amnesia in that there is inability to recall some or all of one’s past but with the addition of sudden, unexpected travel away from home or one’s customary place of work. The person experiencing dissociative fugue may adopt a new identity in addition to forgetting theirs.

As a stand-alone diagnosis, this is quite uncommon. The prevalence of dissociative fugue has been estimated at 0.2%, but it is much more common in connection with wars, accidents, and natural disasters. People with dissociative identity disorder frequently exhibit fugue behaviors. In fact, repeated fugues are indicative of the existence of dissociative identity disorder.

A fugue state may not be identified until after the fact.  As is the case with amnesia, dissociative fugues may spontaneously resolve. It is in the aftermath that the individual may experience the most distress, as they try to come to terms with what has transpired. Reactions after a fugue may include intense feelings related to whatever caused the individual to flee: depression, discomfort, grief, shame, intense conflict, or even suicidal or aggressive impulses may appear.

Trauma and extreme psychological stress  are the precursors to this dissociative disorder. As described regarding dissociation in general, fugue is a method of self-preservation. It may function to literally remove the individual from a environment or circumstance that feels unmanageable. The focus of therapy would be to help the individual identify the triggers to the fugue to allow for developing more adaptive coping skills.

Kathleen Young Psy.D.

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4 Responses to Dissociative Fugue

  1. Gwenny says:

    I remember a facilitator of a support group I was in saying “there is no such thing as a geographic cure”–meaning, you can’t run away from your problems. Yet twice I have made major traumatic moves and they have gone very well for me. Once it was fleeing an abusive husband, once it was trying to get where my youngest, kidnapped daughter was. Both times I used the “energy” of change to make positive personal changes.

    I don’t expect that would work for everyone, though.

    • Yep, the “geographic cure”, a favorite saying in the mental health field.🙂

      “Wherever you go, you take yourself with you” is another way of putting it. The hope that a new location alone will magically resolve your internal problems is very different from moving with a specific goal in mind.

      Certainly, leaving an abusive relationship is a very valid reason for moving and may in fact lead to positive changes (as well as lots of stress and even potentially increased danger, but that is the subject of another post).

      Sounds like you had specific reasons behind each move and that maybe they wound up feeling empowering; you had the ability to change your circumstances. Good for you!🙂

  2. Pingback: Understanding Dissociation « Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Chicago

  3. Tina says:

    My 21 yr old son has been diagnosed with dissociative amnesia. He has no memory of his life prior to 3 weeks ago. At this point he is being seen by a Psychiatrist to try and restore his memory. As parents we are unsure of how to handle. All he wants to do is play games and has to be prodded to make his bed, do chores, get exercise. We don’t want to push and make things worse, however we want to install some self pride and responsibility. Any suggestions? We also fear that when he does remember he will be quite disappointed with his actions of past 2 years and want to handle in a loving way that we just need to move forward. Any help?

  4. Pingback: Dissociative Disorders and DSM-5 | Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Tucson

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