How to Deal with Dissociation
Dissociation is best described as a mental health condition in which you feel disconnected from your thoughts, feelings, memories, and surroundings. This disconnection results in a lack of continuity, making you feel detached from the people around you and even yourself.
This article will explore several types of dissociation and how to deal with dissociation.
How to Deal with Dissociation
For someone who has not experienced dissociation, feeling as though you are not yourself may seem absurd. For those who have experienced dissociation, it is not typically described as fun.
People who experience dissociation are rarely in control of when it occurs or how it manifests. It can leave a person feeling lost and empty and produce extreme anxiety due to the lack of ability to anticipate it. The following are some descriptions of the diagnoses provided to those who experience varying degrees of dissociation and how to deal with dissociation.
Dissociative Identity Disorder
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is the layperson’s understanding of what dissociation encompasses.
This disorder was previously known by the more common term of Multiple Personality Disorder, as periods of dissociation tend to involve a complete changing of personas. Those with DID experience 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 when it feels as though they are not actually in their bodies, 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 another survival tactic that has evolved to protect us from terrible experiences.
The brain of a person with this type of disorder 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 this type of disorder stories in documentaries about missing persons.
A person in fugue will withdraw so far from the painful memories that they become a new person entirely. A person will lose all recollection of their 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 being diagnosed. Extreme stress is believed to exacerbate 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 feeling disconnected from the self. 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 cannot always control the outcome of events effectively. In worst-case scenarios, a person cannot return to prior levels of reality once the substances have worn off.
If you struggle with alcohol addiction or drug addiction, consider the benefits an intensive outpatient program can offer.
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 it happening. This decrease in anxiety over the dissociative episode can help you to get back out of it more quickly.
A branch-off of the mindfulness technique is that of sensory stimulation. When it comes to reminding us that we genuinely exist 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 need the most attention.
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.
People experience dissociation for many different reasons, so it’s always best to seek professional help. A professional will provide an evaluation, which acts as a starting point. This will provide a clear path based on your unique experience and what may have caused dissociation.
- Tracy N. Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) Statistics and Facts | HealthyPlace. Published January 12, 2022. Accessed October 9, 2022. https://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/dissociative-identity-disorder/dissociative-identity-disorder-did-statistics-and-facts
- Mayo Clinic. Depersonalization-derealization disorder – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Published May 16, 2017. Accessed October 9, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depersonalization-derealization-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20352911
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- Frothingham S. Sensory Stimulation: What It Is and How It’s Used. Healthline. Published September 10, 2020. Accessed October 9, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/what-is-sensory-stimulation
- Star K. The Mental Health Benefits of Physical Exercise. Verywell Mind. Published August 18, 2021. Accessed October 9, 2022. https://www.verywellmind.com/mental-health-benefits-of-exercise-2584094
Last medically reviewed October 9, 2022