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  • Grace Dowd

Dissociation: What is it?

Maybe you've heard about dissociation from a friend, a TikTok, or possibly even your therapist. Depending on how it is used, it may mean many different things. Dissociation is one of the most complex responses to trauma that we may experience. In Dr. Jamie Marich's book Dissociation Made Simple she explains the Latin root of dissociation, which simply means to sever or to separate. This separation can happen to varying degrees depending on the level of separation one may be experiencing. It may mean separating from self, the environment, or both.



Why does dissociation happen?


We could not survive without dissociation - meaning everyone experiences this to some degree. Every day dissociation that many people experience is "highway hypnosis," where you may be driving on a familiar route and get to your destination but you don't recell how you got there. Another one may be zoning or blanking out, or daydreaming.


Regardless of whether you identify with a specific diagnosis, or you have your own dissociative experience that is as unique as you are, you might be curious why dissociation happens in general. Dissociation is our brains smart and adaptive way of protecting us. When we go through something traumatic, we may separate from the present moment, from our Self, or from our body. This can happen from a single traumatic event, ongoing interpersonal trauma, or chronic stress. The level to which our brains dissociative is dependent upon the


What are the varying experiences of dissocation?


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes dissociative disorders as "characterized by a disruption of and/or discontinuity in the normal integration of consciousness, memory, identity, emotion, perception, body representation, motor control, and behavior." There are multiple dissociative disorders, as well as a dissociative subtype of PTSD. Many individuals identify with having a dissociative experience even if they do not "qualify" for a dissociative disorder. A few of those experiences may fall in line with the following disorders, or they may be a mix.


Dissociative Amnesia

This is as it sounds. You may forget parts of your life or significant events (especially if traumatic). Individuals may forget entire traumatic events, and sometimes forget information about themselves. These episodes may last anywhere from minutes to months. There are some cases of dissociative amnesia in which individuals experience a fugue state - confusion about yourself and moving away from your life to strange places.


Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)

Previously referred to as multiple personality disorder. Despite how sensationalized the media has made this disorder, it is not as rare nor fantastical as it has been deemed. DID is characterized by multiple self-states residing in one body. These parts/alters/states may or may not be aware of each other. Each identity can have varying mannerisms, tone, gender identity, sexual orientation, style, age, name, and more. They are each very unique and may have varying needs and desires for their life.


Depersonalization-Derealization Disorder (DP/DR)

Depersponalization is the experience of feeling unreal. Either you or your body feels unreal to you. You may feel like you are outside of your body, watching yourself do things, or watching events happen to you. Derealization is the experience of things around you feeling unreal or altered. Some individuals describe this as feeling that they are in a videogame or a simulation.




How do you treat dissociation?


Whether you identify as a system (having multiple parts/alters/self-states), or you experience depersonalization or dissociative amnesia, or some other experience of dissociation, it is important to find someone well-versed in working with dissociation and trauma. They may be training in Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Hypnosis, EMDR, or Internal Family Systems. Many of these approaches to treatment have been proven helpful and effective in treating trauma and dissociation, though it's important to ensure the therapist is well-versed in trauma related dissociation.


Reach out to us today for support from a qualified trauma therapist.

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