Dissociative Amnesia

Based on an article titled “Believing in dissociative amnesia relates to claiming it: a survey of people’s experiences and beliefs about dissociative amnesia”

Originally written by: Manguilli et al., 2021

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09658211.2021. Is 1987475 

By: Murielle Nsiela 

Amnesia is the loss of memories such as facts, experiences, and specific information. Individuals with amnesia generally know who they are, however, they can have trouble forming new memories or learning new information. It is usually caused by damage to the area in the brain whereby important memory is processed. Amnesia can be a permanent condition, unlike temporary memory loss. There is no specific treatment for amnesia, however, some methods are used to help patients cope with the condition.1 

Dissociative amnesia is different from simple amnesia. As described above, amnesia is usually caused by medical issues where memory recovery is rare, slow and gradual.  However, dissociative amnesia happens when certain events primarily associated with stress and trauma are blocked from memory, making the person unable to remember essential personal information.2 Data on the prevalence of dissociative amnesia is limited, however, Spiegel et al. (2011) estimated that the condition varies between 1.8-7.3% in the general population.3 Furthermore, Ross et al. (2002) estimated that dissociative amnesia occurs in 7.3-13.4% of psychiatric patients, and it is said to impact 30% of trauma survivors.4,5 

The Types of Dissociative Amnesia

Dissociative amnesia occurs in three forms listed below:6 

  • Localised amnesia refers to the memory loss for a certain lifetime period – an example of this includes a memory of abuse that occurred during childhood. 
  • Selective amnesia refers to the loss of memory of some details for a given event. 
  • Generalised amnesia refers to total memory loss that is usually temporary.

Recovery from Dissociative Amnesia

The duration and recovery rate from dissociative amnesia remains unclear, however, some have suggested that it can last from minutes to decades. In addition, it has been said that the recovery from dissociative amnesia can be sudden, yet some individuals retrieve their memories over years.6 Although pharmacological treatments have been used in the past, some authors have suggested that psychotherapeutic interventions may assist in recovery from dissociative amnesia.7

The Study 

The paper by Manguilli et al. explored the various claims of different types of memory loss amongst the general population (i.e organic, dissociative and feigned). Causes of amnesia in participants were categorised based on survey responses. Amnesia brought about by physical causes was labelled as “organic”. Amnesia caused by traumatic events, stress or emotional shock was labelled “dissociative.” There was another category known as “feigned” memory loss, whereby individuals pretended to have memory loss. Furthermore, when individuals responded to their amnesia being from both organic causes and dissociative causes, this was categorised as “combination of both.”

The Results 

The age range of participants in this study was from 20 to 72, with most of the participants being men. In the study, 40.8% of participants reported having at least one episode of amnesia in their lives. Furthermore, about 64.6% of individuals, who reported having amnesia, selected physical harm as the leading cause. 24.6% of individuals said that the cause of their amnesia was due to psychological reasons. The percentage of individuals who said the cause of amnesia was due to a combination of organic and dissociative causes was 10.8%. In addition, 88.2% of individuals claimed that their memory was partially lost, and 11.8% claimed that their memory was lost entirely. 

For most participants, their memory loss lasted from 2-6 days, including individuals with dissociative amnesia. In addition, only a few participants reported having memory loss for more than one week. For individuals who admitted to falsely having amnesia (feigned amnesia), the majority reported that they experienced genuine forgetting.6 Furthermore, most individuals recovered their memories by talking to family or friends. Others regained memory during psychotherapy (cognitive behavioural therapy) and visual and verbal cues, while others had recovered their memories spontaneously.6 


In conclusion, most participants believed in dissociative amnesia. They believed that being exposed to traumatic events in childhood will likely lead to complete memory loss of those events. It is agreed that the human mind can unconsciously block traumatic memories for many years before recovering them.


  1. Amnesia - Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2022 [cited 8 May 2022]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/amnesia/symptoms-causes/syc-20353360
  2. What Causes Dissociative Amnesia? [Internet]. Verywell Health. 2022 [cited 8 May 2022]. Available from: https://www.verywellhealth.com/dissociative-amnesia-symptoms-causes-treatment-5210967
  3. Spiegel D, Loewenstein R, Lewis-Fernández R, Sar V, Simeon D, Vermetten E et al. Dissociative disorders in DSM-5. Depression and Anxiety. 2011;28(9):824-852. 
  4. Ross C, Duffy C, Ellason J. Prevalence, Reliability and Validity of Dissociative Disorders in an Inpatient Setting. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation. 2002;3(1):7-17. 
  5. Brown D, Scheflin A, Whitfield C. Recovered Memories: The Current Weight of the Evidence in Science and in the Courts. The Journal of Psychiatry & Law. 1999;27(1):5-156.
  6. Mangiulli I, Jelicic M, Patihis L, Otgaar H. Believing in dissociative amnesia relates to claiming it: a survey of people’s experiences and beliefs about dissociative amnesia. Memory. 2021;29(10):1362-1374.
  7. Brandt J, Van Gorp W. Functional (“Psychogenic”) Amnesia. Seminars in Neurology. 2006;26(3):331-340.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Murielle Nsiela

MSc Graduate in Medical Engineering - Bachelor's degree, Pharmaceutical Science, Keele University, Staffordshire UK

MSc in Medical Engineering Design, Keele University Modules included: Advanced engineering applications, Engineering for medical applications report, Bioreactors and Growth environment, Creative engineering design, Experimental research methodology and research projects

BSc (Hons) Pharmaceutical Science, Technology and Business, Keele University Modules included: Core topics in pharmaceutical science, Laboratory studies - tabletting and liposomes report, applied Pharmaceutical Science 2, Pharmaceutical research project

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