Also known as psychogenic fugue or dissociative fugue, the fugue state is a rare psychiatric disorder that involves amnesia for personal identity. Usually it is a short-term state that lasts hours or days.
Sometimes it can last months or more. Then the people recover completely from the amnesia and usually all their memories return intact.
People affected by this disorder forget their personality, memories, personal identity and unplanned wandering or traveling is involved and people might establish a new identity.
So, this is how it happens. All of a sudden people forget who they are, where they are from, anything about themselves and disappear from their homes. Sometimes they come back after days sometimes they are found months or even years later in a far distant location living under a new identity.
When they are found, the people affected by fugue state won’t be able to recognize relatives or friends and won’t have a clue about how they got there.
The fugue state happens all of a sudden and it is not related to a general medical or psychiatric or physical cause. Specialists believe it is sometimes precipitated by a traumatic event or stress that is so severe the mind erases everything and shuts down.
But most of the time their memories will come back later, just as sudden as they disappeared.
Fugue state is a subtype of the dissociative amnesia and it is not a type of retrograde amnesia which refers to the situation when someone forgets things that happened before a brain damage. And it isn’t caused by a drug or other medical condition.
A person confused about his identity or puzzled about the past should get medical advice. And a doctor might undergo a physical examination and review the symptoms to exclude other conditions and reach a solid diagnosis. Usually the medical examination will begin with a medical exam and a complete medical history.
So far, there are no lab tests designed to diagnose the state fugue. But various diagnostic tests might be recommended to rule out other possible illness or side effects of a drug. The most common tests used are EEGs (electroencephalograms), neuroimaging or blood tests.
There are a few conditions that might cause similar symptoms. The most common such conditions are head injuries, sleep deprivation, alcohol intoxication or brain diseases.
The person is referred to a psychiatrist when no other physical illness is found. The interview used by psychiatrists and psychologists in this case is specially designed for patients that might experience fugue state.
When the fugue ends the person might experience grief, depression, discomfort and shame. Sometimes people experience post fugue anger.
Usually the recovery is pretty fast and a person usually experiences one episode.
The treatment is meant to help the person affected to deal with the trauma or the stress that triggered the condition. Unfortunately there is no medication for this disorder. The only therapies available are family therapy, psychotherapy, creative therapies, cognitive therapy or clinical hypnosis.
So far no method of prevention is known for fugue state. But it helps if treatment begins when the first symptoms appear.