What Is Dissociation?

When faced with an excessive amount of worry or stress, the mind can have a difficult time coping. This level of stress may result in dissociation. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) defines dissociative disorders as a category of mental illness “characterized by an involuntary escape from reality characterized by a disconnection between thoughts, identity, consciousness and memory.”

While an estimated 75% of people experience a dissociative moment in their lifetime, only 2% meet the criteria for their dissociative episodes to be considered a chronic issue. Dissociation has been previously believed to be more common in women. However, recent studies suggest otherwise. One study postulates that men only appear as a lesser number due to their unlikeliness to seek help. It states that men with dissociation are more likely to end up in the legal system rather than the health system.

What Are the Causes and Symptoms of Dissociation?

Similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dissociation is caused by exposure to a traumatic event. Whether witnessing a terrifying and traumatic event or experiencing it directly, the mind uses dissociative episodes as a way to cope. Some examples of trauma can include combat trauma, sexual or physical assault, and natural disasters.

There are many symptoms involved in an episode of dissociation but they can differ depending on the type. Any added stress or worry can worsen episodes, causing the individual to face challenges functioning in day-to-day activities. While the symptoms experienced in dissociation vary, they all share a few similar traits. These include:

  • Out-of-body experiences, where individuals may feel like they are watching a movie of themselves
  • Emotional numbness, where individuals are detached from personal emotions
  • Depressive symptoms, potentially developing into major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • Development of anxiety or anxiety disorders
  • Increased risk of suicidal thoughts or tendencies
  • Significant memory loss due to dissociative episodes
  • Losing a sense of self, which can result in a lack of personal identity
  • Feeling little to no pain
  • Having multiple personalities or identities

The symptoms involved in dissociation, when left untreated, can make life challenging. They can affect an individual’s day-to-day life, interrupt work responsibilities, and even put a strain on familial relationships.

Types of Dissociation

There are three main types of dissociation. Proper diagnosis is necessary for receiving the correct care for each different type.

Depersonalization/Derealisation Disorder

The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) defines depersonalization/derealization disorder as being “characterized by persistent or recurrent experiences of depersonalization, derealization, or both. Depersonalization refers to the experience of feeling detached from, and as if one is an outside observer of, one’s mental processes, body, or actions. Derealization refers to the experience of feeling detached from, and as if one is an outside observer of, one’s surroundings.”

In short, with this disorder, one experiences themselves or their surroundings as if they were watching them, rather than being in them.

Dissociative Amnesia

This disorder is characterized by recurrent memory gaps. These losses usually include personal or important details and information. The individual loses these details and is unable to recall them. In most circumstances, memory gaps surround a traumatic or stressful situation. This disorder is often associated with underlying personality disorders.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)

Formerly referred to as multiple personality disorder, this type of dissociation includes the amnesia symptoms found in the previous type. This disorder is set apart by the fact that the individual has multiple identities. A person may experience multiple voices in their head trying to take over. Each voice might have names with distinct personalities and mannerisms.

Some coping methods work well for managing dissociation when paired with treatment. The most successful and recommended addition to treatment is practicing mindfulness.

The Value of Mindfulness for Navigating Dissociation

One study states being mindful is “becoming aware and nonjudgmentally accepting toward the present moment experiences.” It goes on to explain how this is contradictory to the state of experiential avoidance seen among patients with dissociative disorders. With mindfulness, an individual can predict and control dissociation by building awareness of their dissociative process.

Another study found that mindfulness reduces the tendency for avoidance, resulting in less need for dissociation. It also states that mindfulness gives individuals specific techniques for improving the prediction and control over dissociation. This is done through building awareness of dissociative processes and offering tools for staying in the current moment.

What Are Some Mindful Activities?

While treatment is the best and most important aspect of healing, there are several mindful tasks and habits individuals can perform to help manage dissociation. Begin with breathing deeply in a slow pattern. This will help lower their heart rate and help them focus on listening to the happenings around them. They can also place their bare feet on the ground as a way to ground themselves.

Utilizing sensory activities can significantly help the effects of dissociative symptoms by making individuals ground themselves physically in the present. When paired with proper treatment, balance and self-awareness can greatly assist in finding peace within the disorder of dissociation.

When to Seek Treatment

The best news of all is the simple fact that dissociation is a treatable condition. It’s as easy as setting up a diagnosis and beginning treatment. Knowing when to seek treatment may be confusing but the answer is clear and concise. If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, it is important to reach out as soon as possible.

Medication and psychotherapy are the most common forms of treatment for dissociation. Therapy often consists of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in which the patient will recount and discuss the event(s) which led to the development of the disorder. Treatment is essential to alleviate the effects of dissociation as well as achieve peace and happiness free from the challenges of this disorder.

You are worth picking up that phone and making the call to seek diagnosis and treatment for dissociative disorders. The call you’re about to make will change your life for the better. Facing dissociation is challenging but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Help is available to equip you with everything you need to face this disorder head-on. There is a whole world of wonder available to you that’s being hidden by the challenges of dissociation. At Alter Behavioral Health, we can take the blinders off your eyes and uncover the joys you deserve to experience. Call us today at (866) 691-4386 and let us guide you back to yourself and to a life of newfound happiness and peace.