Unusual Dissociative Episode

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

The other morning, I woke up and took a shower, the next thing I remember is that I was driving on a busy highway approximately 60 miles from home, I immediately turned around and headed back. I have no recollection of why I left my house, I didnt have my cell phone, purse anything. The key I had to my vehicle was a spare key, not the usual one that I use in a key chain. I stopped at my daughter’s house (halfway between where I was when I “came to” and my house) panicked, scared, this has never happened.

My husband says that I started acting weird, after my shower and getting dressed, he came by me and he says that I told him to stay away, to not come near, then I walked around the house going through all the drawers as if looking for something, not answering him. I brushed my teeth outside (I do not remember this) then sometime I found the key and got in the car and left.
I am young, healthy, not on any medicine or drugs, i only drink on very rare occasions, this has never happened before. Please help.

A. You have described an unusual incident. What you may have experienced is a dissociative fugue. A dissociative fugue involves temporarily losing one’s sense of identity. Individuals who are experiencing a dissociative fugue might be confused about who they are and even create a new identity. Individuals who experience dissociative episodes are often under extreme duress or have experienced or witnessed extreme trauma.

Symptoms of dissociative fugue include sudden or unplanned travel away from home or work, the inability to recall past events or important information about oneself, experiencing confusion about self-identity or gaps in memory, and extreme distress and problems with daily functioning.

In cases where a dissociative fugue is suspected, it’s important to rule out physical conditions such as epilepsy or head injuries. Sleep deprivation can also mimic certain dissociative conditions.

Your doctor may also refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist who can diagnose and treat mental health conditions. Mental health treatment would likely focus on the stress or trauma that triggered the dissociative episode.

In the meantime, try to keep track of these usual experiences. Ask your husband to assist you. Document any unusual behavior before and during an incident. That information would be helpful in understanding what may be wrong. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle
Mental Health & Criminal Justice Blog

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Jul 2013

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2013). Unusual Dissociative Episode. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/07/06/unusual-dissociative-episode/