What is Dissociation?
Dissociation is an involuntary disconnection between a person’s entire experience. The disconnection interferes with a person’s thoughts, feelings, memories, and behaviors. Typically, someone who dissociates may feel as though they lost a sense of who they are.
Have you ever read a book and then forget what you’ve just read? OR sit in a lecture and lose time?
Dissociation is often common in several people. Common, or mild, examples include mind wandering, hypnosis, or daydreaming.
Significant dissociative symptoms can potentially disrupt every area of mental, emotional, social, and spiritual functioning.
The detached experience is often associated with previous experience of trauma.
- Having flashbacks to traumatic events
- “Blanking out” or being unable to remember anything for a period of time
- Memory loss about certain events, people, information, or time periods
- A distorted or blurred sense of reality
- Feeling disconnected or detached from your emotions
- Feeling that the world around you is unreal and distorted
- Feeling numb or distant from your environment
A dissociative disorder is suggested by the presence of any of these four attributes:
- Derealization: a detachment from or unfamiliarity with the surrounding world. Objects may seem dreamlike or lifeless.
- Identity Confusion/Alteration: a sense of confusion about who you are.
- Depersonalization: A person may feel that their body is unreal. This symptom may include physical or emotional numbness.
- Amnesia: memory loss that can be localized (periods of time can’t be recalled), selective (can remember certain events but not others), or generalized (can’t recall any memory)
How It Develops
The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation is the leading dissociation society in the world (ISSTD, 2020). Here is an example from their research: “In severe forms of dissociation, someone may think about an event that was tremendously upsetting yet have no feelings about it” (ISSTD, 2020).
During a traumatic experience such as an accident or an abusive environment, dissociation can help a person tolerate what might otherwise be too difficult to handle.
To protect you, your brain will dissociate facts about the event, memory of the experience, or feelings about the circumstance to help you escape overwhelming fear or pain. From a clinical standpoint, it’s impressive, albeit, troubling “defense” mechanism.
This is meant to be an introduction to dissociation and is not meant to replace therapy. There are several resources for the treatment of dissociation.
Dialectal Behavioral Therapy and EMDR (with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) are the leading techniques in therapy today.
Below are some resources: