Dissociative fugue

Dissociative fugue is one of the five types of dissociative disorder it was once known as psychogenic fugue.  ‘Fugue’ basically means ‘flight’ and the condition is called this as it refers to the fact that a sufferer wonders off or flees impulsively from their normal routine.

People with dissociative fugue lose their feeling of personal identity and during this state they wander from their home or place of work.  This state is generally quite short-lived, usually persisting for hours or days. It is not uncommon for people with this condition to become confused and they may create a new identity during an episode. People with this disorder may display no odd behaviour and outwardly show no signs of illness.

Dissociative fugue is a relatively rare condition and despite most sufferers reporting trauma or abuse in their history, it certainly is not present in all trauma or abuse sufferers.

Symptoms

People with this condition have disruptions of memory, conscious awareness identity and sometimes perception.  These symptoms can interfere with an individual’s general day-to-day functioning due to fugue episodes. It can make it hard to keep long lasting relationships or jobs.

Symptoms of dissociative fugue may include:

  • Sudden and unplanned travel away from home or work ‘flight’
  • Inability to recall events or information regarding their life
  • Loss of memory
  • Confusion about identity
  • Possibly assuming a different identity
  • Problems with day-to-day functioning as a result of fugue episodes

As with other conditions covered by the ‘dissociative disorder’ umbrella, dissociative fugue is linked to severe stress, often caused by a traumatic event.  Patients report that they have experienced traumas such as childhood abuse, extreme violence, accidents, severe illness or disasters.

Treatment

Treatment must be individual to each different case but includes a combination of psychotherapy and cognitive therapy to focus on getting past a trauma that may have triggered the episode, and learning new ways of effective thinking and behaving. Medication may be used to help some symptoms (insomnia for example) or comorbid conditions (anxiety or depression) however there is no specific medication for this disorder.

It has been found useful to provide family members with family therapy to help them to recognise symptoms of a recurrence and to understand the condition.

Although periods of fugue can be short-lived, without treatment it is common for episodes of fugue to recur and it is, therefore, necessary to seek treatment.