Dissociation: A Genius Mechanism To Cope With Emotional Pain!

Dissociation – dis-association or separating from one’s self or surrounding – is a clinical jargon to describe the experience of “checking out”. We all check out from time to time. In fact, it is an evolutionary survival strategy that helps us go to a different world in our mind when this one doesn’t seem so appealing. For instance, we check out when watching mindless TV, on long drives in the open road or when feeling trapped and frustrated during an argument.

Similarly, in aftermath of trauma, many individuals “check out” in order to reduce the intensity of unbearable pain and overwhelming conditions. Dissociation varies from one person to another. Some separate themselves from their body or shut down neuropathways to certain emotional states such as pain, sadness, love or fear. Others may separate from the world outside spending countless hours daydreaming, living in a fictional world or losing gaps of time.

Dissociation is a unique capacity of the human brain, and while protective, it has devastating impact on our life. More often than not, the trauma remains unresolved leaving the mind and the body chronically overwhelmed. Perhaps, the biggest problem is that when we pull away and separate, we “leave home”. We leave safety. We throw away connection in fear of falling or catching on fire. We stop belonging. And, then comes the dis-ease of separation. Loneliness. Shame. Anxiety. Abandonment. Inadequacy. Apathy.

Common Signs Of Dissociation

·       Re-experiencing of an event that took place in the past (also known as flashbacks)

·       Getting stuck in intrusive memories or looping images

·       Feeling detached from people, places and things that should matter

·       Inability to fully feel or stay with strong emotions

·       Feeling like you’re in a fog or cut-off from the world

·       Uncontrollable rage or sudden impulsive outbursts

·       Feeling physically immobilized, frozen or unable to respond

·       Feeling like the trauma did not happen to you or that what happened wasn’t really real

·       Feeling like hours went by without knowing how

·       Forgetting part of or all of events

·       Feeling like you have left your body and are experiencing life from a great distance

·       Not remembering events or places that feel familiar

·       Feeling like there are distinct and discrete parts to your personality

 ***Important Notice: Above mentioned symptoms must occur independently of substance or psychotropic use. If you are experiencing any cluster of symptoms mentioned above, please know that dissociation can be treated with therapy. Depending on the severity, different techniques are used based on mindfulness model, structural dissociation theory and internal family systems therapy.