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Sister’s Identity Crisis

by Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

My sister, 33 yo healthy, college educated, professional female, has described a phenomenon that has repeatedly (3-5 times in the past 2 years) happened to her. She will be doing something in one room and someone (her husband or mother) will speak to her in another room, while walking into the room she is in. When they enter the room she loses her identity completely and thinks that she is the other person. She sees everything from their vantage point, feels she is speaking their words and has absolutely no sense of her own identity at all. She sees herself as if she was not in her body and believes her body to be another person. So far the episodes only last about 20-30 seconds. I think this is too strange to ignore, although she thinks it is not anything to worry about yet. She did express concern that perhaps it could get worse suddenly and she might not “go back” to her own body and identity. That’s the reason she told me, just in case something like that happened.

Do you have any idea what this could be? It seems similar to a dissociative fugue, but she is not in unfamiliar surroundings when it occurs and she assumes someone else’s preexisting identity, not creates her own. I’m also worried this could be some sort of brain tumor and she may need to take action. Any sort of information to make her take this seriously would be appreciated!

Many thanks!

Your sister should consult her primary care physician. She should then consult a neurologist. They both will attempt to rule out medical causes. Before considering a psychological problem, it’s common practice to eliminate physical causes.

Fortunately, her episodes don’t happen often, they don’t last long and she has never been injured. Though they seem relatively innocuous, they should not be ignored. They are unusual and not normal. The cause should be identified.

If she hasn’t done so already, she should document her experiences. Hopefully, she can do that with the assistance of a physician who will help her in identifying the problem. I wish you and your sister the best of luck. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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