Dissociation

What is dissociation?

Dissociation occurs if some of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions or memories become ‘disconnected’ from each other or if you are not consciously aware of them. When this happens it can mean your sense of identity, memories or the way you see things around you change.

This type of disconnection happens to all of us occasionally, such as not remembering having locked the front door. They can also happen when we experience something frightening or traumatic, such as rape or sexual abuse. You may experience dissociation as a way of coping with what is happening at the time, and you may also experience it in the months or years afterwards as a way of dealing with painful memories. For example, some survivors report having memories or dreams of the abuse in which they feel like they are watching it happen to someone else.

What does dissociation feel like?

Dissociation can feel very different for different people. Some examples of how it might feel are:

  • Amnesia: not remembering particular experiences, or important personal information.
  • Depersonalisation: feeling like your body is unreal, changing or dissolving. This may also include out-of-body experiences, such as seeing yourself as if watching a movie.
  • Derealisation: feeling like the world is unreal; you may see objects around you changing in shape, size, or colour.
  • Identity confusion: feeling uncertain about who you are, or feeling an internal struggle about who you are.
  • Identity alteration: a shift in your identity that changes your behaviour in ways that others could notice, for instance being very different at home from at work.

What can I do if I am experiencing dissociation?

It can be very scary to experience any of the feelings above, whether that is forgetting chunks of time, or feeling disconnected from your body. Depending on what you are experiencing, you may find different things helpful, but some ideas include keeping a journal to help record memories, or explore inner turmoil; or using techniques to help bring your mind back to the present such as focusing on what materials or objects you can feel under your hands, or sniffing something with a strong or familiar smell.

Dissociative disorders

Dissociative disorders occur when you have persistent and repeated episodes of dissociation. They are often very challenging and can interfere with work, school or social life. If you experience a dissociative disorder, your experiences may fit particular patterns of types of disorders, such as Dissociative Fugue, or Dissociative Identity Disorder. There is more information about these on the Mind website: www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/8039_dissociative_disorders