Dissociation and Trauma

Most people daydream now and then, and if that happens to you, it’s perfectly normal. But if you have a mental health problem called “dissociation,” your sense of disconnect from the world around you is often a lot more complicated than that.

Dissociation is a break in how your mind handles information. You may feel disconnected from your thoughts, feelings, memories, and surroundings. It can affect your sense of identity and your perception of time.

The symptoms often go away on their own. It may take hours, days, or weeks. You may need treatment, though, if your dissociation is happening because you’ve had an extremely troubling experience or you have a mental health disorder previously, (depression, bi-polar, schizophrenia, etc.)

What Are Symptoms of Dissociation?

When you have dissociation, you may forget things or have gaps in your memory. You may think the physical world isn’t real or that you aren’t real.

You may notice other changes in the way you feel, such as:Have an out-of-body experience
Feel like you are a different person sometimes
Feel like your heart is pounding or you’re light-headed
Feel emotionally numb or detached
Feel little or no pain

Other symptoms you can get are:Have an altered sense of time
Not remember how you got somewhere
Have tunnel vision
Hear voices in your head
Have intense flashbacks that feel real
Become immobile
Get absorbed in a fantasy world that seems real

Causes of Dissociation

Trauma. You may psychologically disconnect from the present moment if something really bad happens to you, or has happened to you in your past. This is called peritraumatic dissociation. Experts believe this is a technique your mind uses to protect you from the full impact of the traumatic experience you had.

Peritraumatic dissociation can happen when you’ve been through things like:

  • Sexual or physical assault
  • Childhood abuse
  • Combat
  • Torture or capture
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Natural disasters
  • Divorce

If you’ve had disturbing or abusive experiences over and over, you may get severe forms of dissociation known as dissociative disorders. You may leave your normal consciousness, forget things, or form different identities within your mind.

Hypnosis. When you daydream or let your mind wander, you are in a type of “auto-hypnotic state.” You may no longer have a strong awareness of your body. Other types of hypnosis may put you in a deeper dissociated state. PTSD may be involved on these levels.

Certain drugs. You may lose your sense of identity or reality if you drink alcohol or take illicit drugs, or abuse prescription medications.

Meditation. Like daydreaming, you may become less aware of the here and now while you meditate. Some expert meditators say they lose an awareness of their self or body during certain mindfulness meditation practices. (Genuine forms of meditation, such as meditating on God’s Word are not included in this.)

Related Mental Health Conditions

You may have dissociation with certain mental health disorders. Besides schizophrenia and PTSD, dissociation is also linked to:

  • Acute stress disorder
  • BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Affective disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Eating Disorders
  • Certain Depression/Anxiety situations

Warning Signs

It’s possible to have dissociation and not know it. If you have a dissociative disorder, for example, you may keep your symptoms hidden or explain them another way.

Common signs you or a loved one should watch out for include:

  • Rapid mood swings
  • Trouble remembering personal details
  • Forgetfulness about things you’ve said or done
  • Behavior or abilities that change (altered identities)
  • Depression, anxiety, organic attacks
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • Substance abuse
  • Failed treatments or hospitalizations for mood disorders 

There are as many treatment modalities as there are manifestations of dissociation. As always, if you believe you are suffering some form of dissociation or any other mood difficulty, you should seek help from a professional. A counselor, coach, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Dissociation is a measure the body and mind is taking to cope with whatever stress/trauma has happened or is continuing to happen, due to repeated cyclical behavior patterns, ( guilt, shame patterns, ongoing abuse patterns, and more.) Seeking an effective modality of treatment, including dealing with root issues effectively, can bring lasting change and freedom from such destructive cycles.

Source: American Psychiatric Association, Other sources/Adapted, BH

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