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Adolescent Dissociation versus Teen Bipolor, ADHD, and Conduct Disorders | XL Health Blog

Adolescent Dissociation versus Teen Bipolor, ADHD, and Conduct Disorders

Posted on 20. Mar, 2014 by in Wellness

In teens who have been abused physically or sexually, witnessed violence, experienced chronic bullying, gone through a death in the family, or who have experienced some sort of traumatic event, dissociation might be a common psychological symptom as a result of experiencing trauma. However, dissociation is too often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all, and instead, seen as teen bipolar disorder, ADHD, or conduct disorder.

The distressing news here is that the psychological treatment of dissociation is different than treatment of other mental illnesses. For this reason, this article will explore dissociation in teens as well as explore how that compares to common teen diagnoses, such as bipolar disorder, ADHD, or conduct disorder. In order to make this comparison, we will first take a look at how dissociation might show up in an adolescent to point out how it might be easily mistaken for another disorder. According to the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD), there are behavioral, emotional, physical and cognitive ways that a teen exhibits dissociation. If a teen is dissociating, your child might:

               Behavioral Changes

  • behave very grown up one moment and then behave like a younger child another moment;
  • become aggressive and then suddenly become passive, loving, or care taking.
  • use different voices or mannerisms at different times;
  • show favoritism for a particular outfit one day and then the next day express dislike for that same item;
  • demonstrate a certain skill one day and then another day no longer know how to perform that same skill.
  • change his or her facial expressions frequently from smiling and happy to being angered without any apparent or conscious reason.
  • appear as though he or she is staring into space and not know what is going on around her.

Emotional Changes

  • Be calm one minute and then explosive the next.
  • Exhibit emotions that are not appropriate for the circumstances
  • Not show any feelings at all.

Cognitive Changes

  • Perform well in school or on an assignment one day and then not know how to do that same assignment another day;
  • Make good choices one day and then poor choices the next;
  • Misinterpret safe situations as dangerous and dangerous situations as safe;

Physical Changes

  • Wet or soil his or her clothing and not know that it’s happening.
  • Not have the ability to feel anything in his or her body.
  • Experience stomachaches, headaches, seizure like movements, difficulty breathing, or other physical problems that have no medical basis.

It is easy for some clinicians to mistake the above signs for signs of other illnesses. For instance, if a teen has extreme swings in behavior, feeling, or thought, he or she might incorrectly diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder. Another common mistake is diagnosing a child with Conduct Disorder, particularly if dissociation has gone untreated and a teen is exhibiting anger, aggression, and violence. Also, inattention, which is common among children who are “spacing out” might be seen as teen ADHD. Obviously, it is important for a teen to be adequately assessed and diagnosed. Doing so, leads to proper treatment. Learn about different symptoms and treatments of teen adhd here.

As a parent, one course of action to consider is to explore whether the treatment your teen is receiving (if he or she undergoing treatment) is working. If not, ask that your psychologist consider other diagnostic options, such as dissociation.


Scaer, Robert. The Precarious Present: Why Is It So Hard To Stay in the Present Moment? Psychotherapy Networker, n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2014.


The Child and Adolescent Committee. “Child/Adolescent FAQ’s.” International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. Retrieved on March 14, 2014 from http://www.isst-d.org/default.asp?contentID=100

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