Dissociation is quite common. Tuning out from boredom, or not remembering a conversation that was uninteresting, are some typical ways you might dissociate. However, sometimes it can occur often and become problematic, especially after experiencing a traumatic event. When this happens, you might develop a dissociative disorder that can have a negative impact on your daily life. Read on to learn more about dissociation and what you can do about it.
What Is Dissociation
Dissociation refers to someone disconnecting from their thoughts, emotions, memories, surroundings, or sense of self. Everyone dissociates at times. It can be described as zoning out, such as when you arrive home, but can’t remember the drive, or when you reread the same sentence over and over again because your mind was elsewhere. When you dissociate, you often lose your sense of person, time or place. There are mild forms of dissociation, like spacing out when you are bored, or more severe forms, such as emotional numbness that can occur after a traumatic experience. With complex or severe trauma, a dissociative disorder can develop requiring professional treatment.
Why Does Dissociation Occur
Dissociation is often linked to a traumatic event. When a situation overwhelms your capacity to cope, your brain protects you by enabling you to disconnect from this experience. This makes it easier to cope with the feelings of fear, helplessness, or pain. It is a part of the freeze response in the fight-flight-or freeze response system. The shut down helps protect you from the trauma you are going through so you can survive. Although dissociation can be helpful in times of increased stress, with experiences of trauma, the brain often remains on high alert. This can cause it to occur even in benign situations.
What Are The Common Types Of Dissociation
The most extreme form of dissociation, dissociative identity disorder, where someone experiences two or more distinct personalities, is extremely rare. Depersonalization, derealization and dissociative amnesia are more common types of dissociation. In dissociative amnesia, you are unable to remember things about yourself, a period of time, event, or even your own identity. Dissociative amnesia can last from a few minutes to several years. Depersonalization feels as though you are having an out of body experience. It is common to feel detached from yourself as if you are watching what is happening from outside of your body. With derealization, you may feel as though the things and people around you are not real.
What Are The Symptoms Of Dissociation
One of the most common symptoms of dissociation is zoning out. Feeling disconnected from your body or numb to your emotions is another common symptom. Memory loss, daydreaming, and having flashbacks are all symptoms of dissociation. A more extreme symptom is losing touch with reality. Most people will experience mild forms of dissociation at times. However, dissociation can become problematic if it interferes with your ability to function effectively in one or more areas of your life. If this happens, a dissociative disorder may have developed and treatment will be needed.
Treatments For Dissociation
A combination of medication and psychotherapy is used to treat dissociative disorders. There are also some techniques you can try. Grounding techniques can help you reconnect with your body and can bring you back to the present. To ground yourself, you want to engage your senses. Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. You can drink something hot or cold, or hold an ice cube in your hand and pay attention to the sensation as it slowly melts. A technique called box breathing can also be helpful. For this technique, you slowly breathe in through your nose for a count of 4. Next, you hold your breath for 4. Then you slowly exhale for 4. Finally, you hold your exhale for 4 and repeat the cycle over again.
While mild dissociation is very common and generally not an issue, dissociation related to trauma can be difficult to overcome on your own. If dissociation is interfering with your ability to function effectively, therapy can help. Then you can learn to manage it so it no longer has a negative impact on your life.