Have you ever wondered if you dissociate? Do you have moments where you feel out of touch with yourself, feel detached, or like time is passing too slowly or quickly? These are just a few of the signs of dissociation. If you want to know more about what it is and how to cope with it, I’m here to help!
What is dissociation?
Dissociation is a mental process that can occur in response to trauma, stress, or overwhelming situations. It involves a temporary disconnection between a person’s thoughts, feelings, memories, and sense of identity or reality. Dissociation can be a survival coping mechanism that allows individuals to detach from distressing or traumatic experiences and protect themselves from the overwhelming emotions or memories associated with them. As such, dissociation can also be a symptom of various mental health conditions such as PTSD or BPD.
Some common symptoms of dissociation include:
- Feeling disconnected from one’s body or surroundings.
- Memory loss or gaps in memory.
- Feeling emotionally numb or detached.
- Feeling as if one is in a dream-like state.
- Hearing voices or seeing things that are not there.
- Feeling as if time is passing very slowly or very quickly.
- Feeling as if one is not in control of one’s actions or thoughts.
- Feeling as if one is observing oneself from the outside.
- Feeling as if one is not really present in the moment.
Dissociation can occur in different degrees of severity and may manifest in a variety of ways. Here are five types of dissociation:
Depersonalization is a type of dissociation where an individual experiences a sense of detachment from their own thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. They may feel as if they are observing themselves from a distance or that their body is not their own. Individuals experiencing depersonalization may feel as if they are in a dreamlike state or that the world around them is unreal or distorted.
Derealization is a type of dissociation where an individual experiences a sense of detachment from their surroundings. They may feel as if the world around them is not real, or that they are living in a dreamlike state. Individuals experiencing derealization may perceive their surroundings as distorted or unfamiliar, and may feel as if they are disconnected from the people and objects around them.
Dissociative amnesia is a type of dissociation where an individual experiences a loss of memory for a specific period of time. This can occur in response to traumatic experiences, such as physical or sexual abuse, or as a coping mechanism for dealing with stress. Individuals experiencing dissociative amnesia may have difficulty recalling important events or personal information, and may feel as if they are missing a part of their life.
Dissociative fugue is a type of dissociation where an individual experiences a sudden and unexpected change in their identity, location, and behavior. They may travel to a new location and assume a new identity, often with no memory of their previous life. Individuals experiencing dissociative fugue may feel as if they are living in a dreamlike state, and may have difficulty remembering their previous identity or life experiences.
Dissociative identity disorder
Dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder, is a type of dissociation where an individual experiences the presence of two or more distinct identities or personalities within themselves often referred to as alters. These identities may have different names, ages, genders, and personal characteristics. Individuals with DID may experience memory lapses or blackout periods, and may have difficulty remembering personal information or events.
How to cope with dissociation
If any of the above describes you, you likely want to know how to stop dissociating. Grounding techniques can be helpful for individuals experiencing dissociation by helping them feel more present in their bodies and connected to their surroundings.
Here are some grounding techniques for dissociation.
Focus on the senses
Engage your senses by noticing what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch in your surroundings. Name the objects or sensations that you notice, and focus on them one at a time. For example, you could focus on the feeling of your feet on the ground, the sound of birds outside, or the smell of fresh coffee.
Starting at your toes and working your way up to the top of your head, focus on each part of your body and notice any sensations that you feel. You can tense and relax each muscle group as you go, or simply focus on the sensation of each body part.
Practice deep breathing by inhaling slowly through your nose and exhaling slowly through your mouth. As you breathe, focus on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body.
Progressive muscle relaxation
Starting with your toes and working your way up to the top of your head, tense each muscle group for a few seconds and then release the tension. Focus on the sensation of tension and release in each muscle group.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a calm, safe place. Focus on the details of the place, such as the colors, textures, and sounds. You can also visualize yourself completing a task or activity that you enjoy, such as walking on a beach or reading a book.
Carry a small object with you, such as a rock or a piece of jewelry, and focus on the texture and weight of the object when you feel dissociated. You can also use a stress ball or other object that you can manipulate with your hands.
Practice mindfulness by focusing on the present moment without judgment. You can focus on your breath, your thoughts and emotions, or your surroundings. As you practice mindfulness, try to stay present in the moment and avoid getting caught up in past or future thoughts.
It can be helpful to practice grounding techniques regularly, even when not experiencing dissociation, to build a sense of familiarity and comfort with them. Additionally, working with a therapist who specializes in dissociative disorders can help you develop personalized grounding strategies that are tailored to their specific needs and experiences.
For more, see our related article on dissociation from previous Savvy Psychologist host Dr. Jade Wu.
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.