Types of Disorders
Somatoform and Dissociative Disorders

Main Page
What is "abnormal"?
Types of Disorders
Anxiety Disorders
Mood Disorders
Personality Disorders
Delusional Disorder
Sexual Disorders
Somatoform & Dissociative

Somatoform Disorders


The most common characteristic of the somatoform disorder is the appearance of physical symptoms or complaints of such without any organic basis. Such dysfunctional symptoms tend to range from a specialized sensory or motor diability to hypersensitivity to pain. Four major somatoform disorders exist: conversion disorder (also known as hysteria), hypochondriasis, somatization disorder, and somatoform pain disorder.


Conversion Disorder

Primary symptom is often a lack or change in physical functioning. The diseased often react with an attitude of indifference, showing an amazing lack of concern. However, the primary symptoms which may include such serious ailments as blindness, amnesia and paralysis, are used as a defense mechanism by the person to escape from a stressful situation. In addition, there may be an awareness of the gains possible through the use of the symptom, which may prolong the symptom. Symptoms are grouped as follows:

Sensory Symptoms: These include anesthesia, excessive sensitivity to strong stimulation (hyperanesthesia), loss of sense of pain (analgesia), and unusual symptoms such as tingling or crawling sensations.
Motor Symptoms: In motor symptoms, any of the body's muscle groups may be involved: arms, legs, vocal chords. Included are tremors, tics (involuntary twitches), and disorganized mobility or paralysis.
Visceral Symptoms: Examples are trouble swallowing, frequent belching, spells of coughing or vomiting, all carried to an uncommon extreme. In both sensory and motor symptoms, the areas affected may not correspond at all to the nerve distribution in the area." 1


Unlike conversion disorder where an individual perceives a functional disorder and simply uses it to escape from uncomfortable situations, hypochondriacs have no real illness, but are overly obsessed with normal bodily functions. They read into the sensations of these normal bodily functions the presence of a feared disease.

The afflicted magnifies small irregularities in bodily functions, real or imagined, and then express concerns over their general health. Focus may lie on a changing area of the bodily system or be specific, such as a certain believed lung condition. Usually, the individual seeks opinions of many physicians and take pleasure in criticizing their methodology when they are diagnosed as perfectly healthy. Still, these individuals tend to lead a fairly normal life with some difficulty in the area of interpersonal relationships. Rarely, an afflicted person becomes a lifelong invalid and cease most independent activity, relying on others to care for their needs.

Dissociative Disorders

These include four recognized varieties: psychogenic amnesia, psychogenic fugue, multiple personality, and depersonalization disorder. Again, these are highly publicized in the media but they are relatively rare.

Psychogenic Amnesia

Amnesia is the temporary or permanent loss of a part or all of their memory. When this is due to extreme psychosocial stress, it is labeled psychogenic amnesia. This stress is most often associated with catastrophic events.

There are four sub-categories of psychogenic amnesia: localized amnesia, selective amnesia, generalized amnesia and continuous amnesia.

Localized Amnesia
This is most often an outcome of a particular event. The disease renders the afflicted unable to recall the details of an usually traumatic event, such as a violent incestual rape. This is undoubtably the most common type of amnesia.

Selective Amnesia
As it's name implies, this is similar to localized amnesia except that the memory retained is very selective. Often a person can remember certain general occurences of the traumatic situation, but not the specific parts which make it so.

Generalized and Continuous Amnesia
These less common forms of amnesia are defined as when the diseased either forgets the details of an entire lifetime, or as in the case of continuous amnesia, they can't recall the details prior to a certain point in time, including the present.

Psychogenic Fugue

Recognized as an independent clinical syndrome, a fugue is simply the addition to generalized amnesia of a flight from family, problem, or location. In highly uncommon cases, the person may create an entirely new life.

Multiple Personality

Defined as the occurence of two or more personalities within the same individual, each of which during sometime in the person's life is able to take control. This is not often a mentally healthy thing when the personalities vie for control.

Symptoms are of course somewhat self-explanatory, but it is important to note that often the personalities are very different in nature, often representing extremes of what is contained in a normal person. Sometimes, the disease is assymetrical, which means that what one personality knows, the others inherently know.

Depersonalitation Disorder

This is the continued presence of feelings that the person is not oneself or that they can't control their own actions. While these are common human feelings, it is labeled a disorder when it is recurrent and impairs social and occupational function.

One symptom is a change in the person's perception of themselves. The disease may incur strange feelings that one's limbs are not shaped or sized correctly. It also may cause a sense of being outside of one's body. While self-awareness is extremely distorted, "reality-testing functions" remain intact which denotes an absence of delusions or hallucinations. The person perceives others as mechanical or as if they existed in a dream. The afflicted have a constant worry about going insane.

Article 1999 Orlando Rojas
HTML 1999 Katrina Spoor