Dissociation: What It Is and What Can Be Done
By Gina Cipriano
Have you ever lost time, forgot events about your life, and/or feel as if you are walking through a dream? If you have ever felt like that, you are not alone. Also, while what you are experiencing is not necessarily the typical human experience, you are not broken or crazy. What you may be experiencing is something called “dissociation.” Dissociation can present itself in several ways (Lynn et al., 2019):
- Depersonalization has to do with how an individual experiences themselves; they may feel as through their body, thoughts, and/or feelings are not their own.
- Derealization has to do with the environment; an individual may feel as though they are walking through a dream.
- Dissociative amnesia occurs when a person does not remember information or events that occurred to them, and these events are usually traumatic in nature.
- Dissociative fugue occurs when a person loses time. For instance, a person can find themselves at different locations that they do not remember going to.
Dissociation does not necessarily equate to psychopathy. Rather, these symptoms serve as a means to protect someone who endured a traumatic experience. In order to survive, the person becomes divided, and they create parts of themselves. One part is the person who endured the trauma that was experienced. Neuroimaging has showed that people who have dissociative symptoms may have a prefrontal cortex that is less active, which is the part of the brain responsible for assisting in emotional regulation, concentration, and self-awareness (Bailey et al., 2017).
How do I know if I am dissociating?
Many people experiencing dissociation may not even recognize or know they are experiencing it. However, people experiencing dissociative symptoms may have some of the following problems:
- They may be called liars (because they do not remember spending money, going to a place, remember meeting someone, etc.)
- They may hear people talk about events they were at but do not remember being there
- They may frequently lose time (i.e. drive to a destination but not remember the drive)
- People, object, or places may not feel real
- They may not know if something happened in reality or was a dream
Dissociative symptoms, while scary for the person enduring them, are treatable. However, these symptoms need to be directly addressed. Generally, peoples’ reactions to these symptoms are to ignore their alternate identities, which prevents healing to occur. The goal of therapy is for the separate identities of a person to become fully integrated. The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (2011) explains that this process may entail some of the following:
- Communication between the alternate identities
- Not labeling a person’s separate identities as “bad” or “wrong”
- Recognizing that each part of a person serves a purpose and learn what that purpose serves; Usually, that purpose is often to protect the person from harm
- Help alternate identities become unified through greater awareness and solving conflicts between each part
Bailey, T. D., & Brand, B. L. (2017). Traumatic dissociation: Theory, research, and treatment. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 24(2), 170-185. https://doi.org/10.1111/cpsp.12195
International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. (2011). Guidelines for treating dissociative identity disorder in adults, third revision. Journal of Trauma and Dissociation , 12(2), 115-187. https://doi.org/10.1080/15299732.2011.537247
Lynn, S. J., Maxwell, R., Merckelbach, H., Lilienfeld, S. O., Kloet, D. V., & Miskovic, V. (2019). Dissociation and its disorders: Competing models, future directions, and a way forward. Clinical Psychology Review, 73, 101755. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2019.101755
Trauma psychologist Jupiter.