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What is Disassociation

Disassociation is a process through which you disconnect from what is happening to you or in the world around you. This can include disconnecting from your thoughts, feeling, memories, sense of identity, or even from your senses. Disassociation in and of itself is not necessarily considered abnormal. We all can disassociate from time to time. For instance, have you ever driven home from work and not remembered how you got there? Or maybe you became so absorbed in a movie or a book that you stopped realizing where you were. Even daydreaming can be considered a form of disassociation. However, as with most things, if disassociation becomes too extreme, it can cause severe disruption in your life.

Disassociation is often caused by trauma. Especially if the trauma is chronic.

Why Do We Experience Disassociation?

Disassociation is a way that we might use to cope with a stressful situation. This is why disassociation is often associated with a traumatic event. It can be a way that we protect ourselves from the horror of what we went through.

Sometimes, when we are in a traumatic situation such as an accident, physical assault or abuse, or a natural disaster, our brains automatically disassociates for us. Again, this is a way of self-protection. With trauma, the fight, flight, or freeze response will be triggered to protect ourselves from whatever is threatening us. As part of this response, disassociation will serve to dampen our emotional response so that we are better able to do whatever needs to be done during the emergency situation. The disassociation might suppress your memory of the event, the details of what happened, or your feelings associated with it.

Disassociation might affect your performance in school or at work. It might affect your relationships with family, friends, or your significant other.

If you have experienced chronic trauma in your past, disassociation may become habitual and troublesome to you, and a dissociative disorder may develop.

What are the Signs of Disassociation?

Unfortunately, disassociation can look different for different people and so it can be hard to easily pin down what it looks like. However, there are some general categories which I will explain below:

1. Dissociative Amnesia or having difficulty remembering personal information.

  • You have gaps in your memory where you can't remember certain events

  • You might not be able to remember information about yourself or your life history

  • You forget how to do something you’ve been able to do well in the past

  • You notice that you have items that you don't remember ever owning

2. Disassociative Fuge which is when you travel to a different location, and/or take on a new identity

3. Derealization which is when you feel like the world around you is unreal.

  • You might see objects changing in shape, size or color

  • You feel detached or separate from the world around you

  • Maybe you see the world as 'lifeless' or 'foggy'

  • You feel like you're seeing the world through a pane of glass

  • You feel like you're living in a dream

  • You feel as if other people are robots (even though you know they aren't)

4. Depersonalization or feeling like you’re looking at yourself from the outside

  • You feel as though you are watching yourself in a film or looking at yourself from the outside

  • You feel as if you are just observing your emotions

  • You feel disconnected from parts of your body or your emotions

  • You feel as if you are floating away

  • You might feel unsure of the boundaries between yourself and other people

5. Identity Alteration which is feeling your identity shift and change

  • You switch between different parts of your personality

  • You find yourself speaking in a different voice or voices

  • You use a different name or names

  • You feel as if you are losing control to 'someone else'

  • You might experience different parts of your identity at different times

  • You act like different people, including children

6. Identity Confusion or difficulty defining what kind of person you are

  • You find it very difficult to define what kind of person you are

  • You feel like your opinions, tastes, thoughts, and beliefs change a lot

What Do I Do If I Believe I Disassociate?

Well, first of all, don’t panic! Remember that disassociation can be part of everyday, normal behavior. If, however, you believe that it is interfering in your daily life or in your relationships, then I would suggest talking with a trauma specialist. There are several different types of therapy that can address this and help you to learn healthier ways of coping with stress in your life as well as ways to put your trauma in the past where it belongs.

Treatment can be difficult to complete, but it CAN be effective. You can learn to be fully present in your life.

Closing Thoughts

If you believe you or someone you love is affected by dissociative episodes or a dissociative disorder and would like to talk further on this subject or about trauma treatment, please follow the link. I would love to talk with you!


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