Dissociation is a psychological term that refers to disconnection or detachment from one’s thoughts, feelings, memories, or identity. It is often described as a defense mechanism that can occur in response to trauma, stress, or certain psychological disorders. Dissociation may feel like not being fully present in the body. It may also lead to amnesia or gaps in memory, as well as a feeling of unreality in one’s surroundings. These disruptions can significantly alter a person’s usual functioning in daily life in inexplicable ways.

Most of the dissociative symptoms are not objective but subjective in nature. i.e. cannot be observed from outside but experienced by the individual. Hence, dissociation is often invisible to others.

Dissociation can vary in intensity and manifestation from person to person, but it exhibits some common characteristics, including the following:

1: Depersonalization and Derealization (DPD):

Depersonalization is a type of dissociation that alters an individual’s perception of self, leading to a sense of detachment or disconnection from their own being. This state is often described as feeling like one is observing themselves from a distance, similar to watching a movie or going through the motions. It may also involve a dream-like sensation or feeling enveloped in a fog. Depersonalization commonly occurs alongside derealization.

Derealization is defined as a sense of disconnect from one’s own surroundings, people, and objects. It manifests as a sense of unfamiliarity with an individual’s environment.

Mild to severe forms of depersonalization and derealization can be experienced in various psychological conditions such as anxiety disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and certain dissociative disorders. Additionally, individuals without psychological disorders may experience these symptoms in certain situations, including extreme stress, fatigue, illness, medication side effects, and intoxication.

2: Emotional Numbing:

Emotional numbing refers to a psychological state in which a person experiences a significant reduction or absence of emotional responsiveness. It is a defense mechanism that may seem helpful to avoid confronting one’s own emotions. It makes emotions distant and inaccessible. This state is often manifested in individuals as appearing “too cold”, “flat”, “careless,” or simply detached from the ups and downs of life.

Individuals with a past history of trauma or brought up in dysfunctional families are more likely to exhibit emotional numbing. They may struggle with identifying their emotions and labeling them properly. Moreover, trauma survivors also struggle with connecting with others and showing empathy.

Emotional numbing can lead to a desire for solitude. Social interactions may become overwhelming and less rewarding, causing individuals to isolate themselves more.

3: Memory Gaps:

Memory gaps, also known as dissociative amnesia, refer to periods of time during which a person is unable to remember important personal information or specific events. During dissociative episodes, the individual might experience amnesia or memory gaps. It is a way for the mind to protect itself from distressing memories or emotions associated with the traumatic event.

The memory gaps can vary in duration, ranging from hours to days, weeks, months, or even years. During these periods, the individual may have no recollection of what happened or may have fragmented memories. It’s important to note that memory gaps are not the same as forgetting common everyday events or minor details. Dissociative amnesia involves the inability to recall significant personal information that would typically be remembered.

4: Time Distortion:

Time distortion refers to a subjective experience in which a person’s perception of time becomes altered or distorted. Dissociation may cause one to lose track of time. It may feel as though time is passing more quickly than usual. Hours may seem like minutes, or days may feel like they are passing in a blur. Conversely, time can also feel like it is moving very slowly. Minutes may seem to stretch into what feels like hours, and events may appear to unfold in slow motion.

Time distortion may also cause the memory to be fragmented i.e. the individual might have difficulty remembering and sequencing events in chronological order. Past events may feel like they occurred in a different order or time frame than they actually did. This can contribute to a sense of confusion or disorientation.

Additionally, time distortion can make it challenging to estimate the duration of activities or accurately gauge how much time has passed. This can lead to difficulties with time management and planning. Thus, dissociation may make an individual feel like a lazy person with no regard for time.

5: Sensory Changes:

People may feel various sensory changes during episodes of dissociation. These changes can involve alterations in the perception of sensory input, leading to experiences that feel distorted, heightened, or dulled. It can be manifested as reduced sensitivity or extreme sensitivity in the body. Sounds may seem louder, lights brighter, and textures more intense. It can make the environment feel overwhelming.

Visual distortion may occur in a dissociative state. The objects around the person may seem blurry, colors too vibrant or too muted and the visual field may become unreal. The auditory sense is also affected by making sounds seem too loud, muffled, or distant. Affected individuals may hear sounds that can’t be heard by others or vice versa.

Distortion of body perception is another manifestation of dissociation. Persons in a dissociative state may feel as if their body is changing in shape or size. Alternatively, it might feel that body parts are not connected to them or they are not in sync with the body.

It’s important to remember that these sensory changes can vary among individuals and may not be felt in all cases of dissociation. The specific experiences can be influenced by factors such as the underlying cause of dissociation, individual differences, and the context in which dissociation occurs.

Conclusion:

Dissociation can be caused by underlying psychological conditions or simply by the stress of daily life. Regardless of the cause, it can disrupt your life, making you feel disconnected from yourself and others. This disconnection can diminish the joy of living.

If you feel yourself experiencing dissociation on a regular basis, it is recommended to consult a mental health professional for a comprehensive evaluation and guidance to identify the underlying causes. They can provide appropriate support and treatment options. While techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, body scan, and mindfulness can promote relaxation and self-awareness, they may not specifically address dissociation. Professional intervention and therapeutic approaches tailored to your individual needs are essential in addressing dissociation effectively.

Have you or your loved ones ever experienced dissociation? If so, what helped you overcome it? I would love to read about your experiences in the comments.