View Full Version : Fugue State

04-10-2012, 04:37 AM
I have a MC with PTSD, and one of the side effects is a dissociative fugue. I get the gist of the MC forgetting who he is and traveling away from the situation that instigated the fugue state, but I don't know the details of the trigger actually happening or what it takes to get a person out of a fugue state.

So, the fugue state is a way to cope with trauma. It's not terriby healthy. MC encounters a situation that triggers the fugue state. How long does it last? Is there something that other characters have to do to get him out of it? Does he come out on his own? I'm also looking for other tidbits that I may not even know to ask about.

Thanks in advance!

04-11-2012, 06:59 AM
Typically, I describe a fugue state as something that happens when there's been a major stressor that overwhelms the person's coping abilities. As a result they "split" themselves off from the trauma (the dissociation), and while they're dissociated, they travel away from the place the stressor/trauma occurred and may even take on a new identity. In other words, the person is running away from the trauma, both psychologically (by dissociating) and physically (by traveling away from the place the stressor occurred).

In a lot of ways a fugue is just like dissociative amnesia ("repressing" or forgetting a trauma), with two things that are different -- first, the person travels away from the trauma. Second, the person may take on a new identity. (If a new identity develops in adulthood, it's usually a fugue. Multiple personality disorder -- when you go with the theory that it's caused by trauma and not by an unethical therapist -- generally starts in childhood.)

The person can spontaneously come out of the fugue, or (if they've taken on a new identity) they may come out because they discover that their ID has a different name on it, with their picture. Or because their SS# belongs to their "old" identity when they try to get a job. Or when others question their new identity or tell them about their "old" identity.

After the fugue ends, the person may or may not remember what happened during the fugue.

Ah, last thing -- how long it lasts. It depends on the person, and perhaps things like their surroundings' ability to remind the person that they're actually someone else. So it can last hours, days, maybe even months, but years would be very rare. (I like the movie The Long Kiss Goodnight as an example of a fugue, but in the film she is in the fugue for 8 years, which is kind of extreme.) Fugues are likely to be shorter than longer, but you can adjust based on your story.

Also remember that it's hard to disappear in our society these days. Everything is linked to fingerprints, social security numbers, credit cards, bank accounts, and there are video cameras and people who watch too much TV (and spread the word of missing people on Facebook)...so it would be hard to totally vanish in a fugue. And I don't know that someone in a fugue would be aware enough of the fugue to try identity theft (unless perhaps they were already a regular identity thief!)

I hope that's helpful!

04-11-2012, 07:13 AM

I didn't plan on the fugue states lasting very long, and I'm almost toying with the idea that it's more dissociative amnesia rather than dissociative fugue. Although I have two instances where the character is driven to leave the situation. But the don't go/get very far before they come out of with with no recollection. And obviously therefore don't intend for the state to last more than half a day, and he's found by family the first instance, and is actually with friends and family in the second, but he suddenly doesn't recognize them and tries to leave, takes these strangers with him, and they tell him that he can crash at their place, playing along, and he wakes up as himself with no memory of the night before.

I basically want to make sure it's not off-base, and now trying to figure out whether the fugue part is actually necessary.

04-11-2012, 07:54 AM
Hi, an occasional sufferer of disassociative (catatonic) fugues here.

What triggers it? Given a particularly stressful situation, the triggers can be many things and it is unpredictable what it might be.

What gets me out of it? Any opportunity to give myself a long time to relax. Sometimes I am given muscle relaxants to get me out of them.

For someone with a disassociative fugue that sees them travelling, it is an automatic motion as that person steps away from the stressor and wanders away from it. It can be another form of catatonia (the face waxes over but the feet keep on moving) or it can be re-enacting a defensive manoeuvre (running to a foxhole, running out of the house and down the road to flee, a slow walking away used to assuage the former antagonist.)

04-12-2012, 06:34 AM
Xelebes, it looks like you are outside the US, so terminology may be a little different where you are, but in the US, catatonia is a very different state than dissociation. What you are describing sounds like a catatonic state (again, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM-IV-TR). The triggers and things that help also sound like they are related to catatonia.

Unfortunately, in the mass media there is a lot of confusion between psychotic disorders (and related phenomena, like catatonia) and dissociative ones, which can contribute to confusion. As I said, I am not questioning your experience, just remarking that the terminology in the DSM does differentiate pretty clearly between what we call catatonia and what we call dissociation.

Dissociation is something pretty much everyone has experienced -- a split in perception, identity, or consciousness -- for example, when you're driving somewhere, and when you arrive, you realize you don't remember the drive because you were thinking about something else. The act of driving was dissociated from your main thought processes.

Dissociative disorders are only diagnosed when the dissociation is extreme and causing problems with the person's life (as might be the case with a dissociative amnesia or fugue).

Just to give you an example of dissociative amnesia to compare with a fugue, chartruscan, if you've seen the Bourne Identity, that would be an example of dissociative amnesia rather than a fugue, even though Bourne travels -- he has to travel, the trauma happened at sea. :)

04-12-2012, 09:46 PM
I understand the difference. I'm just saying that catatonia is the disassociation with the physical body and a fugue is a disassociation with the mind or memory. I'm not too up with the doctor's end of terminology or theory, but with the sufferer's side.

04-13-2012, 03:48 PM
If it helps, Strangers by Dean Koontz plays with fuge state, and is a fantastic novel.