We all at some point in time have wished to escape our reality. The moments right after a brutal mistake, a betrayal, an embarrassment or a heartbreaking incident. We wish to undo, redo or just shut off the overwhelming feelings.
Our mind is more powerful and capable to protect us from harsh realities than we think. It will try to find all inner resources to help us deal with any distress to the point of detaching or disassociating from memories, thoughts, feelings and at extreme even identity. Literally, starting over from scratch and erasing past from surface-level memory.
So, what is Dissociation?
Have you ever felt so overwhelmed with the situation that you felt disconnected from the setting? Skipping that moment, all of a sudden you just wake up and you are back in the present. It can be really freaky, scary, right? Relax, it’s just our mind taking a break from being overwhelmed and stressed. It comes up with various coping mechanisms to help us cope with feelings of helplessness, fear or pain. Dissociation is the disconnection and absence of association between thoughts, memories, environment, actions, and self. Dissociation is what helps people get through ends of traumatic experiences.
Experiences of dissociation can last for short spans like minutes, hours or days or even for as long as weeks or months. People who dissociate during trauma especially during childhood, are more likely to develop a pattern of dissociating as a coping mechanism. In such cases, they may develop a dissociative disorder.
Dissociative disorders involve problems with memory, identity, emotions, perception, behavior, and sense of self. Dissociative symptoms can potentially upset every area of mental functioning. There are several types of dissociative disorders including:
Dissociative identity disorder: Maintenance of at least 2 distinct and comparatively persistent personality states. To get a better understanding, you may watch the movie Split.
Dissociative amnesia: It involves an inability to recall important personal information. 1976 classic movie Sybil, talks about this in an excellent way.
Depersonalization disorder: Feeling of being detached from their physical body and/or mental processes. A 2007 romantic comedy Numb is a good watch for anyone interested to know more about it.
Dissociative fugue: In this, a person may lose awareness o their autobiographical information and may engage in some form of unexpected travel. Such individuals move to a new place adopt a new identity and restart their life. To understand the fugue state better, watch episode 3 of season 2 of the famous Breaking Bad (2009) series.
Dissociation may also be experienced as a side effect of alcohol, addiction or some medication.
Symptoms of Dissociation
- Out of body experience
- Feeling that the world around is unreal
- Not remembering important personal details
- Memory gaps
- Sudden changes in mood
- Identity confusion
- Traveling to a different location
- Taking a new identity
If you or anyone you know have been experiencing these symptoms, it is time to contact a mental health practitioner.
Talk therapy: Talking about the trauma in detail with a psychologist will help you have control of that experience and the related emotions. With greater control and empowerment, there will be a lesser dissociation. Psychologists will help you with outlets to vent off those negative feelings, decreasing the stress levels in the minds.
Grounding techniques: Take 4-5 deep breaths, say out your name, your location and the current time and then use your 5 senses: Firstly, touch 5 things near you and describe them to yourself. Secondly, see 4 specific things in your surroundings and name them out. Thirdly, hear 3 different sounds around you and try to identify their sources. Next, smell 2 different scents around you and try to recognize them. Lastly, get something to eat and make your taste buds happy!
Mindful meditation: This will help you let go off your negative thoughts. You learn to accept them and make your peace with them. Exploration of those experiences can be hurtful, thus it is advised to contact a therapist who can help you with a guided meditation. Relaxation therapy combined with meditation can do wonders.
Medicines: Antidepressants may be prescribed to treat associated conditions like depression, anxiety and panic attacks. Management of these conditions can help in treating dissociation.
Treatments for other disorders like stress, anxiety, and depression can also help one suffering from dissociation get better.
Reach out. Talk to your family and friends about it. It is not an incurable disease but it definitely can cause havoc in someone’s life. Dissociation is simply a mental process of disconnecting from one’s conscious mind. It doesn’t mean you are crazy, it’s just the way your mind deals with trauma. Don’t beat yourself up about it. There are professionals available to help you deal with it.