What is dissociation and how to deal with it

What is dissociation and how to deal with it

Let’s talk about dissociation today, which is a severe psychological issue. I believe there’s a lot of confusion about what dissociation is, so I’ll try to make it as simple as possible. Without knowing what dissociation is exactly, it would be impossible to find ways to cope with dissociation. So, let’s start.

What is dissociation?

Dissociation is about the past. The opposite of what dissociation is would be realization, and realization is about the recognition of the present moment. Dissociation happens when our system is overwhelmed, so there’s a real threat or a perceived threat, and this threat is overwhelming. When that happens, especially for the young brains, dissociation is what occurs.

Once dissociation has occurred, the mind can easily go into dissociation again in a future situation, and the more it goes into dissociation over time, the more likely we will continue to dissociate. And it’s just now become the circuitry in our brain, started to loop it and says “hey, this feels overwhelming, I’m now going to dissociate.”

To know what to do when you’re dissociating, you have to understand how it works.

how dissociation works

How dissociation works and how to cope with it?

So, dissociation is about the past. It’s about a threat, and it’s an attempt to escape the threat. When we can’t escape it by running or fighting or feeling frozen and paralyzing, dissociation becomes the brain’s way of being able to handle that and hopefully survive.

It’s a survival mechanism that the brain is able to do. And especially the young mind which isn’t developed enough to take overwhelming situations and process them through, then brain dissociates. The brain has this capacity where it says “okay I’m checking out, I’m escaping this threat,” so that we can survive. And how does it check out? Well, there are different ways this can feel for people, depending on the situation.

For many people, it feels like everything gets foggy or blurry, the surroundings around them become very unreal. It also can be an experience like we leave the body and almost we can see what’s happening as a witness to some extent, but we’re witnessing it like we’re somebody else. Like that wasn’t them, it felt like a dream.

We hear people say “wow I saw myself I was floating above my body and I could see my body lying there”. This is an extreme example; it happens rarely – but sometimes it just feels like this.

Dissociation is a preoccupied mind; this is common, and I think this is what people don’t understand usually. Because intrusive thoughts are coming in and intrusive body sensations, feelings, emotions, image – in one word, it’s a flashback. Flashbacks are any of those things, and sometimes a flashback can be all of those things at once. You can imagine how overwhelming that is, if you are just sitting somewhere right now and all of a sudden you started having images and memories and body sensations and feelings from something that was really overwhelming to you years ago or maybe last week or perhaps before you even remember – that would be what a flashback is.

This is very common for people to have some somatic symptoms of pain but have no realization. If they go to a doctor and doctor says “well, nothing’s wrong with you, I don’t know why you’re feeling pain right now in the present moment.” Often that is a dissociative effect from past trauma, and the trauma was painful, or the emotional experience was painful, and now in the present, we have these somatic pain experiences. It’s the body’s memory of this pain coming up like a flashback.

So, what to do when we are dealing with dissociation? One of the ways is we try to integrate the experience; we try to work with the experience and bring the experience into the present and let us resolve through what the experience was. And this is how trauma therapy helps us in overcoming dissociation.