Dissociation

Where did I go?

One of the most frustrating symptoms of my disorders is called dissociation. It is mainly associated with borderline personality disorder, but it is present in others as well and is often a response to trauma. Dissociation is a feeling of disconnect or unreality, where the person is detached from their present moment and body, often viewing things form the 3rd person.

In psychologydissociation is any of a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experiences. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis.

I started dissociating when I was very young as a response to stress. I would zone out and appear totally detached, often needing someone to draw me back into reality. I would become numb and shut down, which as a teenager often led me to self harm just to jar myself back into the real world, to feel something, anything. For me dissociation can be both comforting and excruciating, depending on the moment. When all you want to do is be present but you can’t, it’s infuriating. When you want to snap out of it and you can’t find the words to ask for help, it’s depressing. When I want to escape from a situation into a numb cocoon, it’s wonderful. Sometimes when I’m manic I dissociate a little bit because I become so wild and detached, but it happens more when I’m low. Typically when I get into severe depressions I dissociate to pull away from the pain, it seems.

Being dissociated is like living underwater. You can see people moving, hear them talking, but it’s so blurred, slow, and muffled that even your underwater reactions can’t get there in time. For me, it’s like floating through this murky underwater-scape, not always able to successful direct where I’m swimming and unable to swim up and out of the water. If someone is above the waterline forget it, nothing is getting through from them except vague motions and sounds. In these moments it’s hard for me to form memories, react properly, act properly, or even feel at all. Sometimes I find myself absolutely paralyzed and stuck in this world in my head, sitting motionless and silent for long stretches just…stuck. Honestly, it’s always hard to stay away from addictions in these modes because it’s easier to live with a forced unreality, like from drugs, than an organic unreality, as from dissociating.

An account from a Haven member:

“Dissociation, for me it’s both a blessing and a curse. The ability to slip away from such intense emotion into a pit of nothingness and lost time can make a painful memory or day pass with a little more ease. It can be one of the only coping mechanisms that works, but, at the same time, it can be one of the worst too. Although, for me, dissociation is a method of my brain switching off when everything’s a little too much to handle, it can also do quite the opposite. It’s something that I’m never really sure how to put into words, not that I’ve ever actually tried. I can feel physically lost, but mentally present. As if my mind is still working but my connection with my own body has been disconnected. I can’t feel, but I can think. And the only way to make things manageable once again, is to disconnect that thinking wire. The only way I know how to do that is to hurt… To self-harm. So for me, dissociation is a way of my mind to take time off and give itself time to adjust and repair the things too intense for it to handle. A way of my mind telling me it’s had enough. It’s just a shame that this ‘brilliant’ coping mechanism, comes with so much self-destruction and pain.”

The following is MHA’s description of dissociation.

What is Dissociation? (By Mental Health America)

Dissociation is a mental process that causes a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memory and sense of identity. Dissociation seems to fall on a continuum of severity. Mild dissociation would be like daydreaming, getting “lost” in a book, or when you are driving down a familiar stretch of road and realize that you do not remember the last several miles. A severe and more chronic form of dissociation is seen in the disorder Dissociative Identity Disorder, once called Multiple Personality Disorder, and other Dissociative Disorders.

How Common is Dissociation?

Transient and mild dissociative experiences are common. Almost 1/3rd of people say they occasionally feel as though they are watching themselves in a movie, and 4% say they feel that way as much as 1/3rd of the time. The incidence of these experiences is highest in youth and steadily declines after the age of 20.

7% of the population may have suffered from a dissociative disorder at some time. But these disorders are difficult to identify and may go undiagnosed for many years.

Other Forms of Dissociation

Other dissociative disorders include “psychogenic amnesia” (the inability to recall personally significant memories), “psychogenic fugue” (memory loss characteristic of amnesia, loss of one’s identity, and fleeing from one’s home environment), and “multiple personality” (the person has two or more distinct personalities that alternate with one another. This is also known as “Dissociative Identity Disorder” or “Multiple Personality Disorder”).

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