Dissociative Experiences Scale

The Dissociative Experiences Scale is a clinical screening tool that assesses dissociation in patients. Download this PDF to evaluate dissociative tendencies. 

By Harriet Murray on Jun 20, 2024.


Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

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What are dissociative disorders?

Dissociative disorders are a group of conditions characterized by disruptions or breakdowns in various aspects of memory, awareness, identity, and perception. These disorders involve a disconnect between thoughts, emotions, memories, behaviors, and sense of self. The key feature of dissociative disorders is the presence of dissociative symptoms, which can range from mild to severe.

Dissociative disorders can develop as a coping mechanism in response to traumatic or highly stressful experiences, such as abuse, neglect, or other forms of trauma. However, it's important to note that not all individuals who experience trauma develop dissociative disorders.

The most well-known dissociative disorder is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder. Other dissociative disorders include Dissociative Amnesia, Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder, and Other Specified Dissociative Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Healthcare practitioners need to be aware of and recognize the signs and symptoms of dissociative disorders, as they can have a significant impact on an individual's daily functioning and well-being.

What are the symptoms of dissociation?

Dissociative symptoms may include the following:

  1. Amnesia or memory gaps: Individuals may experience periods of time where they cannot remember a past event or other important events.
  2. Depersonalization: Feeling detached from one's own thoughts, feelings, or body with events happening from outside oneself. This can cause one to ignore pain and other bodily sensations, affecting how one functions in daily life.
  3. Derealization: One might suddenly realize how they perceive the world around them as unreal, dreamlike, or distorted.
  4. Identity confusion or fragmentation: Dissociative phenomena involve experiencing a disruption in one's sense of identity or having distinct states differently compared to how they typically think or behave.
  5. Dissociative fugue: Temporarily losing one's sense of personal identity and impulsively wandering or traveling away from home.

Printable Dissociative Experiences Scale

Download this Dissociative Experiences Scale and assess your client’s dissociative symptoms.

What is the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES)?

The Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES) is a widely used self-report measure designed to assess the presence and severity of dissociative experiences. It is a valuable tool for screening and identifying individuals who may be experiencing dissociative symptoms or disorders.

The DES consists of 28 items that describe various dissociative experiences, such as feeling detached from one's body, experiencing memory gaps, and having a sense of watching oneself from outside. Individuals rate the frequency of these experiences on a scale from 0 (never) to 100 (always) (Bernstein & Putnam, 1986).

The DES has been extensively validated and used in normal and clinical populations, making it a reliable and widely recognized measure for dissociation (Trujillo et al., 2022).

In clinical settings, this dissociation scale can be a valuable screening tool for dissociative disorders and can help inform treatment planning and monitoring. This can be integrated into a structured clinical interview. It can also be used in research to investigate the relationship between dissociation and various mental health conditions, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder, substance use disorders, and other psychiatric disorders. This can also rule out symptoms that might not meet the full criteria for a disorder considered other specified dissociative disorder.

How to use this dissociative scale

Step 1: Obtain and administer the DES

Once the template is saved on your computer or tablet, it can be administered digitally or printed. This 28-item self-report measure asks individuals to rate the frequency of various dissociative experiences on a scale from 0 (never) to 100 (always).

Step 2: Compute and interpret the scores

Sum the scores for each item and divide by 28 to obtain a mean score ranging from 0 to 100. Higher scores indicate a greater frequency and intensity of dissociative experiences.

Step 3: Integrate with other assessments

The DES should not be used as a standalone diagnostic tool. Combine the DES results with a comprehensive clinical interview, structured diagnostic interviews (e.g., SCID-D), and collateral information.

Step 4: Develop and monitor treatment

If dissociative symptoms or disorders are present, collaborate with the client to develop an appropriate treatment plan. Periodically re-administer the DES to monitor changes in dissociative symptoms over the course of treatment.

Dissociative Experiences Scale example (sample)

When you see a template with answers, it becomes easier to grasp the assessment tool to administer or react to the indicators. To help you see the template and how it can be answered, we have provided a sample Dissociative Experiences Scale.

Download this Dissociative Experiences Scale example (sample) here:

Dissociative Experiences Scale example (sample)

Scoring and interpretation

The DES consists of 28 items rated on a scale from 0 (never) to 100 (always). To calculate the total score, simply add up the scores for all 28 items and divide by 28. This will give you a mean score ranging from 0 to 100.

While there is no definitive cut-off score, research suggests that scores above 20 generally indicate clinically significant dissociative experiences. Higher scores indicate a greater frequency and intensity of dissociative symptoms (Murray, 2014).

When interpreting DES total scores, it's essential to consider the individual's overall clinical presentation, including their history, symptoms, and other relevant factors. The DES should be used in conjunction with other assessments, such as structured clinical interviews, collateral information from family or friends, and other relevant diagnostic measures.

Why use Carepatron for Dissociative Experiences Scale software?

Using Carepatron for the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES) software provides several benefits, making it a comprehensive and user-friendly mental health software.

Carepatron offers a library of pre-made worksheets and materials, including a Dissociative Experiences Scale, which provides therapists with ready-to-use tools to facilitate assessment processes. Practitioners also have the ability to build and customize their assessment materials through our clinical documentation software, allowing for tailored approaches to patient care and assessment based on individual needs.

The platform is designed with user-friendliness in mind, ensuring that mental health professionals can efficiently manage and use assessment tools. Experience these features and transform how you deliver care. Sign up for a free trial!

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American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Pearson.

Bernstein, E. M., & Putnam, F. W. (1986). Development, reliability, and validity of a dissociation scale. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 174(12), 727–735. https://doi.org/10.1097/00005053-198612000-00004

Murray, K. (2014). Scoring the Dissociative Experiences Scale – DES (and DES-II). https://katymurraymsw.com/images/Murray_Scoring-the-DES_4_2015.pdf

Trujillo, M., Brown, A., Watson, D., Croft-Caderao, K., & Chmielewski, M. (2022). The Dissociative Experiences Scale: An empirical evaluation of long-standing concerns. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice. https://doi.org/10.1037/cns0000334

How do you measure dissociation?
How do you measure dissociation?

Commonly asked questions

How do you measure dissociation?

Dissociation is typically measured using standardized scales such as the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES). The DES is a self-report instrument that assesses the frequency and intensity of dissociative symptoms, including depersonalization, derealization, and amnesia. The DES is widely used in both clinical and non-clinical samples to evaluate dissociative experiences and identify potential dissociative disorders.

What are the stages of dissociation?

The stages of dissociation are not strictly defined but can be broadly categorized into three stages: (1) mild dissociation, characterized by brief episodes of depersonalization or derealization; (2) moderate dissociation, marked by increased frequency and duration of dissociative episodes; and (3) severe dissociation, characterized by significant impairment in daily functioning and a high frequency of dissociative episodes.

What is a normal score for a Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES)?

A normal score for the DES typically falls below 20, indicating minimal dissociative symptoms. Scores above 20 are generally considered indicative of dissociative disorders, such as dissociative identity disorder or depersonalization disorder. However, high scores do not necessarily mean a more severe dissociative disorder is present, as the scale measures both normal and pathological dissociation.

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