In a world with many different diagnosed ailments, it becomes increasingly difficult for physicians to identify a disorder accurately. ADHD and dissociative disorders may cause similar signs and symptoms, but they are two different conditions that require a doctor’s diagnosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, dissociative disorders are mental disorders that involve experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between memories, thoughts, actions, surroundings, and identity.
Individuals with dissociative disorders cope with life by escaping reality in ways that are involuntary and unhealthy, which cause issues with functioning in everyday life. Dissociative disorders are typically caused by reactions to trauma and help the person keep painful memories at bay. These symptoms may range from amnesia to alternate identities. Periods of stress may also cause symptoms to worsen and make them more prominent.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a more common but chronic condition that affects millions of children and may last into adulthood. ADHD is a combination of persistent problems that range from hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, to sustaining attention. Children diagnosed with the condition may also struggle with low self-esteem, troubled relationships, and typically perform poorly in school.
What Is a Dissociative Disorder?
Dissociation is a state of mental disconnection from what’s going on around you. This may be like zoning out, but it may also be a more profound out-of-body experience. Dissociation that makes you feel outside yourself or that you are observing the world from behind a pane of glass can happen in response to a traumatic event.
Dissociation is a natural function of the brain, and researchers believe a healthy brain intends to dissociate from time to time. It’s thought that dissociation during a traumatic event like a bad car accident is designed to psychologically distance you from the trauma, preserving your mental health. When the event is over, the dissociation ends.
For most people, dissociation is brief, and you will have no problem returning to full awareness and mental presence. However, people with dissociative disorders may experience dissociative episodes that continue or recur frequently. Recurring dissociative episodes can get in the way of your everyday life and lower your quality of life. This is what makes normal dissociation different from a dissociative disorder.
There are multiple types of dissociative disorders that can vary in severity. Even mild dissociative disorders can make it hard to form relationships and connect with other people. It can be harder to take care of daily obligations, employment, school, and other important aspects of life as the disorder becomes more severe.
Subtypes Of ADHD
The most common features of ADHD involve inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behaviors. The symptoms may appear before the age of 12, but in some children, they may be noticeable as early as three years of age. The symptoms are sometimes mild, but in some cases, can be severe and continue into adulthood. ADHD occurs more often in boys than girls, and behavior is different in boys than girls. While boys may be more hyperactive, girls will typically be more quiet and inattentive.
There are three subtypes of ADHD, which include:
- Predominantly inattentive: A majority of the child’s or adult’s symptoms fall under inattention.
- Predominantly hyperactive/impulsive: Most of the symptoms are impulsive and hyperactive.
- Combined: A mix of inattentive symptoms and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms.
Those diagnosed with ADHD may also be more likely to have conditions that include:
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
- Conduct Disorder
- Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder
- Learning Disabilities
- Substance Use Disorders
- Anxiety Disorders
- Mood Disorders
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Tic Disorder or Tourette Syndrome
Symptoms Of Dissociative Disorder
Signs and symptoms of dissociative disorders will vary based on the type of disorder you are diagnosed with. While one person may experience one set of symptoms, someone else may experience something completely different. The most common symptoms, however, include, but are not limited to:
- Memory loss of certain periods of time (amnesia), people, events, or personal information
- Feel detached from yourself or your emotions
- A blurry sense of your identity
- A perception that things and people are distorted or unreal
- Problems or significant stress in relationships, work, or other crucial areas of your life
- Unable to cope with professional or emotional stress
- Mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts & tendencies
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-5) mentions there are three major dissociative disorders, which include:
- Dissociative Amnesia
- Dissociative Identity Disorder
- Depersonalization-Derealization Disorder
While some symptoms may overlap, the only way to be sure is to reach out to a licensed professional that can diagnose you.
Are ADHD and Dissociative Disorders Similar?
ADHD and dissociative disorders have little in common when you examine them closely. One is a neurodevelopmental disorder, and the other is a mental health issue that trauma typically causes. But they may share some similarities and consequences on the surface. One of the clearest commonalities is the perception that the person is zoning out. Zoning out dissociation symptoms is caused by depersonalization or derealization. It’s a common feature of dissociative disorders, and it may even be present in people with a severe dissociative identity disorder.
In ADHD, zoning out can result from losing focus, getting lost in thought, and having trouble resisting in-born mental distractions. Like dissociation, someone with ADHD may zone out in the middle of a conversation, in a work meeting, or in class. To someone on the outside, it may look the same as a dissociative episode. However, the person with ADHD is likely thinking or looking at something actively, and they may not be experiencing dissociation from the world around them or from themselves in the same way as a dissociative episode.
People with ADHD and dissociative disorders may struggle in school, at work, and in relationships. They may run into problems where they fail to pay attention or miss details. This can cause people with untreated ADHD or dissociative disorders to experience many of the same consequences in their lives. However, these consequences may be caused by different symptoms.
ADHD is a common diagnosis in children, especially boys. However, if a child has a dissociative disorder, it’s possible that they might be misdiagnosed as having ADHD. ADHD is thought to begin early on in development or from birth. But early childhood trauma could lead to dissociative symptoms around the same age range.
Does Adderall Help With Dissociation?
Adderall, and other ADHD medications, aren’t officially approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in treating dissociative disorders. However, there are studies into the effects of Adderall on dissociation. For instance, a case study involving a woman with depersonalization and derealization disorder was reported in 2020. It showed that mixed amphetamine salts, the active ingredient in Adderall, noticeably reduced the dissociative symptoms. However, since Adderall isn’t approved for this use, it’s important to weigh all your options with your doctor.