PTSD Related Conditions What Is Dissociative Fugue? By Arlin Cuncic Arlin Cuncic Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." Learn about our editorial process Updated on April 01, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Steven Gans, MD Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Overview Symptoms Diagnosis Causes Treatment Coping Dissociative fugue, formerly called fugue state or psychogenic fugue, is a subtype of dissociative amnesia. It involves loss of memory for personal autobiographical information combined with unexpected and sudden travel and sometimes setting up a new identity. What Is Dissociative Fugue? The word "fugue" comes from the Latin word for "flight," which reflects the nature of dissociative fugue in that involves an element of traveling or wondering away from one's present situation. Dissociative fugue is a form of reversible amnesia that involves personality, memories, and personal identity. This type of temporary amnesia may last hours, days, weeks, months, or longer. It involves wandering or unplanned travel, in which the person may establish a new identity in a new location very different from their old life. While dissociative fugue used to be diagnosed as a separate disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), in the new updated DSM-5 it is a subtype of dissociative amnesia instead. In general, the dissociative disorders involve impairment of identity, perception, consciousness, and memory. Symptoms of Dissociative Fugue What are the symptoms of dissociative fugue? They potentially include all of the following depending on the case: During the Fugue State If you're in the midst of a fugue state, you may exhibit the following symptoms: Confusion about your identityAppearing to be unsure about your pastFeeling confronted if challenged about your identity However, it's important to note that a person in the middle of dissociative fugue may not show any outward signs that suggest they are experiencing mental illness. That is because, from the perspective of the person, the new identity is their actual identity. It is only when this becomes challenged that issues may present themselves. After the Fugue State Ends Once a dissociative fugue state has passed, you may experience symptoms like: Feelings of depression Periods of grief Feelings of shame Discomfort or anger Feelings of distress about being in an unfamiliar place Feeling as though you have lost time It should also be noted that a person can experience multiple instances of dissociative fugue, particularly if the underlying cause of the fugue is never addressed. Diagnosis of Dissociative Fugue How is dissociative fugue diagnosed? Diagnosis In the DSM-IV When it was originally included as a separate disorder in the DSM-IV, the following criteria needed to be met for diagnosis: Sudden or unexpected travel away from one's home or workThe inability to remember your past experiencesConfusion about your identity and taking on a new oneSignificant distress and impairment about these issues However, it's important to know that dissociative fugue is typically only diagnosed retrospectively since a person in the middle of it may not show any outward signs and it might be hard for others to recognize. So, it is only when the fugue ends, either abruptly or gradually, that a diagnosis is usually made. Diagnosis In the DSM-5 Since the release of the DSM-5, dissociative fugue is now a subtype of dissociative amnesia (a disorder) and refers to symptoms of dissociative amnesia accompanied by the state of purposeful travel or bewildered wandering. All of the other subtypes are listed below: Different types of amnesia that might be present in this condition include: Localized amnesiaSelective amnesiaGeneralized amnesiaContinuous amnesiaSystematized amnesia Diagnostic Exclusions Dissociative fugue will not be diagnosed if the fugue state is directly related to any of the following conditions or situations: Ingestion of psychotropic substances A general medication condition Dissociative identity disorder Diagnosis of delirium Diagnosis of dementia Head trauma Ingestion of drugs or alcohol Diagnosis of epilepsy Furthermore, in very rare cases, people may feign dissociative fugue for legal or other reasons. Methods of Diagnosis An assessment for dissociative fugue would generally start with a medical and neurological examination. If indicated, a neuroimaging study such as an MRI of the brain or additional testes such as an electroencephalogram (EEG) to rule out things like epilepsy would be performed. Once physical causes were ruled out, a psychiatrist or psychologist would administer a series of assessment tools and conduct an interview to assess whether the symptoms were best accounted for by a diagnosis of fugue. Prevalence Dissociative fugue is rare with some estimates being around 0.2 percent of the population. It is more common in adults than in children, and also more common in people already diagnosed with other dissociative disorders. Causes of Dissociative Fugue What are the causes of dissociative fugue? Below is a list of some potential related causes. Generally, these situations involve a history of significant or repeated trauma: Childhood sexual abuseExperience of violence (e.g., rape, torture)Combat violenceSuicide attemptAutomobile accidentNatural disastersCommitting a homicide If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. While you may appear fine after the initial trauma, reminders of an earlier trauma could cause trigger dissociative fugue. For example, seeing your abuser later in life or experiencing an event that reminds you of the earlier event (e.g., seeing a small fire after being involved in a tragic fire). In addition, there is evidence that there may be a genetic link as family members of person's with dissociative disorders are more likely to experience dissociation. The Link Between Trauma and Dissociative Disorders Treatment of Dissociative Fugue The duration of the forgotten events can vary. Some episodes resolve rapidly, while others can persist for years. There may be multiple episodes. The goal of treatment is therefore twofold: To help recover your identity and develop coping strategies to prevent the same thing from happening again.To help you come to terms and cope with the original trauma that triggered the episode. Treatment There are a number of different types of treatment that can be employed with a person who has experienced dissociative fugue; Psychotherapy to gain insight into thinking patterns Medication for related depression and anxiety Family therapy to ensure you receive support Art therapy to explore feelings in a safe way Clinical hypnosis Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) to treat flashbacks, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) to help with managing potentially overwhelming feelings Meditation and/or relaxation techniques to manage symptoms and monitor your internal state. Unfortunately, without treatment of the underlying issue, dissociative fugue may happen multiple times. The Best Online Therapy Programs We've tried, tested and written unbiased reviews of the best online therapy programs including Talkspace, Betterhelp, and Regain. Prevention The best prevention involves treating the underlying problem and/or removing the threat that caused the episode. Coping With Dissociative Fugue Coping with dissociative fugue can be challenging since most people with the condition do not know that they have it. However, if you've experienced it in the past, there are things you can do to prevent recurrence: Receive therapy to cope with symptoms related to the fugueDeal with the underlying issue that caused the fugue through therapyObtain the support of family members to help you notice when you are at risk of fugueTry to reduce or eliminate potential triggers of a dissociative fuguePractice meditation or other techniques to help manage your internal statesFind a creative outlet, such as painting or drawing, for your emotionsIf you are prescribed medication for anxiety or depression by your doctor, be sure to take your medication regularly Helping Someone With Dissociative Fugue How can you help someone who has been diagnosed with dissociative fugue? Below are some suggestions. Attend therapy to learn about their issues and how you can offer support.Recognize potential triggers and be sensitive to those and how they might influence the person experiencing dissociative fugue.Make sure that the person is receiving adequate care and taking all prescribed medications as directed by the psychiatrist. What to Do If Someone Seems Confused There can be many reasons a person might seem confused about their surroundings or identity, and as dissociative fugue is relatively rare, it is not likely to be first on the list. If you have concern for someone's well-being, mental state, or safety, it is best to notify their physician or bring them to an emergency room. A Word From Verywell More research is needed to identify how best to handle this complex and relatively rare psychiatric issue. If you or someone you know has lived with dissociative fugue, know that you are not alone and others have experienced the same thing. If you have not already, ensure you are receiving proper treatment to prevent the same thing from happening again. Why Some Disorders Are Not Found in the DSM-5 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. Bressert S. Dissociative fugue symptoms. Cleveland Clinic. Dissociative amnesia. Spiegel D, Loewenstein RJ, Lewis-Fernandez R, et al. Dissociative disorders in DSM-5. Dissociative disorders in DSM-5. Depress Anxiety. 2011;28(9):824-52. doi: 10.1002/da.20874. Staniloiu A, Markowitsch HJ. Dissociative amnesia. Lancet Psychiatry. 2014;1(3):226-41. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(14)70279-2 By Arlin Cuncic Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for PTSD Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.