In dissociative fugue, individuals lose some or all memories of their past, and they usually disappear from their usual environments, leaving their family and job. (“Fugue” comes from the Latin words for “flight” and “to flee.”).
Dissociative fugue is a rare form of dissociative amnesia.
A dissociative fugue may last from hours to months, occasionally longer. If the fugue is brief, individuals may appear simply to have missed some work or come home late. If the fugue lasts several days or longer, individuals may travel far from home, form a new identity, and begin a new job, unaware of any change in their life.
Many fugues appear to represent disguised wish fulfilment or the only permissible way to escape from severe distress or embarrassment. For example, a financially distressed executive leaves a hectic life and lives as a farm hand in the country.
Thus, dissociative fugue is often mistaken for malingering (faking physical or psychologic symptoms to obtain a benefit) because both conditions can give individuals an excuse to avoid their responsibilities (as in an intolerable marriage), to avoid accountability for their actions, or to reduce their exposure to a known hazard, such as a battle.
However, dissociative fugue, unlike malingering, occurs spontaneously and is not faked. Medical professionals can usually distinguish the two because malingerers typically exaggerate and dramatise their symptoms and because they have obvious financial, legal, or personal reasons (such as avoiding work) for faking memory loss.