Getting Disability Benefits Because of a Dissociative Disorder

Social Security disability benefits are sometimes allowed for long-term dissociative disorder or chronic problems with depersonalization and derealization.

By , J.D. · Albany Law School

Having dissociative disorder can affect one's ability to keep a full-time job, especially one with work stresses, which can worsen symptoms. Dissociative disorder is a mental impairment in which individuals have a disconnection from who they are, or a sense of being disconnected from one's own body. Such disconnects can be temporary or can last for an extended amount of time.

The severity of the dissociative disorder can vary greatly from one individual to the next and thus have varied affects on the overall functioning of an individual. But if the disorder leads to significant disruptions in a person's ability to function at home and the workplace, he or she may be able to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

Overview and Symptoms of Dissociative Disorder

There are three main types of dissociative disorder. Each type has different symptoms and can affect functioning differently.

Depersonalization/derealization disorder (DPDRD). A main symptom of depersonalization is the feeling of being outside yourself and watching your actions from a distance. With derealization, the world may seem unreal to you, or things you view can become distorted and you may feel detached form your surroundings. These symptoms can last for a few moments or can come and go over a period of years.

Dissociative identity disorder (DID). This type of dissociative disorder is formerly known as multiple personality disorder. Individuals with this disorder often feel there are two or more different people living inside their head, and may switch into these alternate identities in times of stress. Each identity is different in personal history and characteristics, including physical qualities.

Dissociative amnesia (DA). The main symptom of this type of dissociative disorder is loss of memory. The loss of memory can be extreme and is not caused by a medical condition. Traumatic events often trigger this memory loss and can make people unable to recall certain traumatic periods or people in their lives.

Despite the differences between the types of dissociative disorder one suffers from, there are also common symptoms that might affect any individual with this disorder, including:

  • anxiety
  • sense of being detached from yourself
  • depression
  • memory loss of certain periods of time, events, or people
  • distortion of people and things around you, and
  • a confused sense of identity.

Long-term effects of dissociative disorder can include:

  • self harming behaviors, such as cutting
  • suicide attempts
  • substance abuse
  • depression
  • sleep disorders
  • anxiety disorders
  • eating disorders
  • severe headaches
  • significant difficulty with relationships, and
  • difficulty dealing with stress.

Ways to Qualify for Social Security Disability

There are two main ways in which to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI): meeting a medical listing or proving that you are unable to work.

Meeting a Listing

Social Security provides a list of medical conditions, along with the necessary symptoms, that will automatically qualify one for disability benefits if the condition's requirements in the Social Security Blue Book are met. For dissociative disorder, there is no specific listing. But if any of the individual symptoms become severe enough, you may be able to qualify for benefits under one of the following listings:

Dissociative symptoms may also be associated with substance use disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Ability to Work

If you don't meet a listing but you are unable to work because of the combined effect of all of your impairments, you may qualify for benefits by proving that your impairments prevent you from being able to work.

Social Security will look at several different factors in determining if you are able to work. Your physical and mental abilities and limitations will be assessed and then considered along with your age, level of education, and work history in determining if you can work.

Mental abilities that are assessed include your ability to understand and complete tasks, to interact properly with coworkers, and to handle work stresses. The ability to handle work stresses is the biggest obstacle for those with dissociative disorder, as the symptoms of the disorder generally occur in periods of stress.

Changes in personality, leaving for periods of time, and feeling outside of oneself can all affect abilities to hold down a job, and personality changes may affect your ability to properly interact with others at work. Other symptoms, including anxiety and depression, might also affect your ability to complete work and interactions with others at work.

If you have serious physical limitations in addition to mental or emotional difficulties, you have a better chance of getting disability benefits. For more information, see our article on how Social Security assesses physical and mental impairments together.

It's important to note that individuals with dissociative disorder can be treated with psychotherapy and medications. As dissociative disorder generally develops as a coping mechanism to cope with a traumatic event, individuals can learn new ways of coping, and the symptoms of the disorder can significantly decrease. Individuals who are able to decrease symptoms through treatment might not qualify for disability benefits, unless they're at risk of "decompensating," or mentally deteriorating again, when under stress.

Do You Qualify for Disability in Your State?
Find out in minutes by taking our short quiz.

Talk to a Disability Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Boost Your Chance of Being Approved

Get the Compensation You Deserve

Our experts have helped thousands like you get cash benefits.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you