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By Diana Wad
Disability Advocate 

Can dissociative disorders qualify for social security disability?

Ask the Advocate


Dissociative disorders (DD) are conditions that involve disruptions or breakdowns of memory, awareness, identity, or perception. People with dissociative disorders use dissociation, as a defense mechanism, pathologically and involuntarily. Some dissociative disorders are triggered by psychological trauma, or a real trauma but dissociative disorders such as depersonalization/derealization disorder may be preceded only by stress, psychoactive substances, or no identifiable trigger at all.

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

Dissociative identity disorder. This type of dissociative disorder is formerly known as multiple personality disorder. Individuals with this disorder often feel there are 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. 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.

Dissociative fugue. The main symptom of this dissociative disorder is the creation of physical distance from one's real identity. Individuals may abruptly leave home or work and go somewhere with no memory of their true identity, possibly creating a new identity. These periods can last a few hours or up to many months and end as abruptly as they began. When an individual comes out of this period, they have no memory of what happened during that period.

Depersonalization disorder. The main symptom of this dissociative disorder is the feeling of being outside yourself and watching your actions from a distance. Things you view, and time can become distorted, and the world may seem unreal to you. These symptoms can last for a few moments or can come and go over a period of years.

The Listing 12.07 Somatic symptom and related disorders, satisfied by A and B:

A. Medical documentation of one or more of the following:

1. Symptoms of altered voluntary motor or sensory function that are not better explained by another medical or mental disorder;

2. One or more somatic symptoms that are distressing, with excessive thoughts, feelings, or behaviors related to the symptoms; or

3. Preoccupation with having or acquiring a serious illness without significant symptoms present.


B. Extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning:

1. Understand, remember, or apply information.

2. Interact with others.

3. Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace.

4. Adapt or manage oneself.

If your impairment does not meet or is not equivalent in severity to the criteria of any listing, you may or may not have the residual functional capacity to do substantial gainful activity. The determination of mental functional capacity is crucial to the evaluation of your capacity to work when your impairment does not meet or equal the criteria of the listings but is nevertheless severe.

Residual functional capacity is the claimant's maximum remaining ability to do sustained work activities in an ordinary work setting on a regular and continuing basis. A "regular and continuing basis" means 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week or an equivalent work schedule. The claimant must have both the mental and physical abilities to perform sustained work activities. When the evidence supports a finding that the claimant has had a substantial loss of ability to meet the demands of basic work-related activities on a sustained basis, the unskilled sedentary occupational base is significantly eroded, and a finding of disability is justified under the Social Security Rules.

The basic mental demands of competitive, remunerative, unskilled work require the ability (on a sustained basis) to understand, carry out, and remember simple instructions; to respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and usual work situations; and to deal with changes in a routine work setting. A substantial loss of ability to meet any of these basic work-related activities would severely limit the potential occupational base and justifies a finding of "disabled" for even a younger individual under the Social Security Rules. The number of jobs the claimant is able to perform is reduced to fewer than significant numbers. The claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and Regulations.

An Accredited Disability Representative with more than 20 years experience, Diana Wade believes her clientele can be comfortable knowing that she is recognized by SSA and a charter member of NADR. To contact Ms. Wade call (661) 821-0494, email or visit


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