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Checking-Out

Question:

What is the condition/syndrome which causes an individual to “check out” mentally when some situation occurs? The example I tend to see most often relates to the medical field: A shy and self-conscious female patient undergoing some kind of significant physical or other procedure by a male doctor. She “checks out” when things start (or before), and doesn’t “come back” until after things are completed. What happened, what was said, advice, questions, etc, cannot be remembered at all. She will walk out of the office (after dressing, etc), and have no clue what just transpired. I have a family member who suffers from this (not just in medical situations), and would like to give her a direction to look for help.

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Answer:

What you are describing sounds like it could be in the ballpark of dissociation, a phenomena defined by the presence of ‘checking’ or ‘spacing’ out, memory loss, alterations in identity, etc. Everyone probably dissociates a little from time to time (as in normal ‘spacing out’ behavior). However, frequent and severe dissociation is considered to be a serious mental problem. At its most severe, dissociation problems culminate in what is termed, “Dissociative Identity Disorder” (commonly known as Multiple Personality Disorder) in which dissociation is such an integral part of life for a person that they don’t have a coherent single sense of self. In milder forms, dissociation is associated with amnesia (forgetting) for events.

Dissociation is frequently associated with trauma and abuse. The behavior you describe is not considered normal and would raise enough flags for me that I would investigate past or current abuse (possibly sexual abuse?). This is not to say that abuse is happening or has happened, but rather that it would be something to inquire about. Help for dissociation would best be sought from a Clinical Psychologist, or specialist Psychiatrist specializing in dissociation.

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