Dissociation is best described as a mental health condition in which you feel a disconnection from your thoughts, feelings, memories, and surroundings. This disconnection results in a lack of continuity, which can make you feel detached from the people around you and even yourself.
In this article, we will explore several types of dissociation as well as how to deal with dissociation.
How to Deal with Dissociation
For someone who has not experienced it, the idea of feeling as though you are not actually yourself may seem absurd. For those who have experienced it, it not typically described as anything fun.
People who experience dissociation are rarely in control of when it occurs, or how it manifests. It can leave a person feeling very lost and empty and can produce extreme feelings of anxiety due to the lack of ability to anticipate it. The following are some descriptions of the diagnoses that are provided to those who experience varying degrees of dissociation as well as how to deal with dissociation
Dissociative Identity Disorder
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is the lay person’s understanding of what dissociation encompasses.
This disorder was previously known by the more common term of Multiple Personality Disorder, as periods of dissociation would tend to involve a complete changing of personas. Those with DID have the experience of being faded to the background as other, more adaptive, versions of themselves take over and run the show.
When it comes to exposure, DID receives a disproportionate amount of attention in movies and social media. It is estimated to affect only around 1% of the population.
The experience of Depersonalization-derealization Disorder – which doesn’t come with a handy acronym – is much less noticeable than what occurs with DID.
People who suffer from this disorder will find that there are periods of time where it feels as though they are not actually in their own body, looking through their own eyes. People who have been through traumatic experiences will recognize this sensation, as its derealization is a survival coping mechanism for separating oneself from the horror of what is occurring.
The disorder aspect comes in when a person is experiencing this sensation without any presence of actual danger. In this case, you may benefit from exploring your trauma treatment with a trained professional.
Dissociative Amnesia is yet another survival tactic that has evolved to protect us from terrible experiences.
The brain of a person with this type of disorder simply refuses to recall information that it deems harmful. While refusing to think about painful events may produce more comfort in the immediate, it also prevents a person from properly processing and moving past the trauma.
A diagnosis of Dissociative Fugue is similar to that of Amnesia but is more pronounced and drastic. You may have heard stories of this type of disorder in documentaries about missing persons.
A person in fugue will withdraw so far from the painful memories, that he or she becomes a new person, entirely. A person will lose all recollection of former life and will either manage to create a new identity or will be labeled a John or Jane Doe.
Other Sources of Dissociation
It is possible to experience episodes of dissociation and derealization without having the diagnosis of such. Extreme stress is believed to be what exacerbates a tendency to feel disconnected from the self, and poor adaptation to stress is a factor in many diagnoses.
Experiences of trauma also play a role in many disorders and can prime a person for attempting to cope by escaping reality.
Borderline Personality Disorder
The condition of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is gaining increasing attention across social media. A person with this disorder has often experienced traumatic events in childhood, and these experiences contribute to difficulty in forming a developed sense of self. Having a weak grasp on who you are, as an individual, can make keeping your grip on identity precarious.
Those with BPD will often report feelings of dissociation as a symptom.
As can easily be imagined, substances can also contribute to feelings of being disconnected from the self. In fact, some substances are sought out for exactly this purpose.
The downside of seeking this out-of-body thrill is that a person under the influence is not always able to effectively control the outcome of events. In worst-case scenarios, a person is not able to return to prior levels of reality once the substances have worn off.
Bringing Yourself Back from Dissociation
It is one task to recognize that you struggle with dissociation. It is another task to learn how to manage – or even reduce – the episodes. As dissociation involves a disconnect from reality, coping techniques which lend themselves to reconnecting with our immediate environment tend to be the most helpful.
The practice of mindfulness has caught on as a trending therapeutic approach to a multitude of disorders. When it comes to dissociative disorders, it can be extremely useful for both relieving anxiety and returning to reality. Mindfulness involves accepting the moment as it exists, without putting pressure on yourself to change it.
During periods of dissociation, it can be used to process the information, as it comes in, without worrying about the fact that it is happening. This decrease in anxiety over the dissociative episode can actually help you to get back out of it more quickly.
A branch-off of mindfulness technique is that of sensory stimulation. When it comes to reminding us that we are genuinely existing on this planet, there is little more useful than relying on our five, basic, senses. Try keeping a sensory kit near you for times of unexpected dissociation.
This kit can contain your favorite scents, a favorite visual image, a favorite snack, a favorite song on a playlist, or a favorite cloth texture. The key is to create your kit with the real you in mind and to keep it handy for stimulating reminders when you need it.
Another idea for coping with episodes of dissociation is to make a pact with yourself to engage in some form of physical activity. Our bodies are very efficient machines, and our brain knows what processes it needs to most attention to.
As dissociation occurs in our mental self, redirecting our bodies to divert engines toward focusing on physical needs can result in a return to tangible reality.
As already noted, many difficulties with dissociation arise as a result of unresolved trauma and anxiety.
While the above approaches can help to mitigate the episodes when they occur, getting to the root of the issue through therapy can make them occur less frequently.
Now that you’re more familiar with dissociation and how to deal with dissociation, you may want to consider the benefits of speaking with a professional for help.
There are many different reasons people experience dissociation, so it’s always best to seek professional help. A professional will provide an evaluation, which acts as a start point. This will provide a clear path forward based on your unique experience and what may have caused dissociation.