The key feature of dissociative fugue is “sudden, unexpected travel away from home or one’s customary place of daily activities, with inability to recall some or all of one’s past,”. The travels associated with the condition can last for a few hours or as long as several months. Some individuals have traveled thousands of miles from home while in a state of dissociative fugue. (The word fugue stems from the Latin word for flight— fugere). At first, a person experiencing the condition may appear completely normal. With time, however, confusion appears. This confusion may result from the realisation that the person can not remember the past. Victims may suddenly realise that they do not belong where they find themselves.
During an episode of dissociative fugue, a person may take on a new identity, complete with a new name and even establish a new home and ties to their his/her community. More often, however, the victim realises something is wrong not long after fleeing – in a matter of hours or days. In such cases, the victim may phone home for help, or come to the attention of police after becoming distressed at finding himself/herself unexplainably in unfamiliar surroundings.
Dissociative fugue is distinct from Dissociative Identity disorder (DID). In cases of DID, which previously was called Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), a person loses memory of events that take place when one of several distinct identities takes control of the person. If a person with dissociative fugue assumes a new identity, it does not co-exist with other identities, as is typical of DID. Repeated instances of apparent dissociative fugue are more likely a symptom of DID, not true dissociative fugue.