Have you ever been in a situation where you wished you would disappear into thin air? Or have the ground open from underneath you, and swallow you out of existence? The motivation behind what drives these thoughts is similar to those who often experience dissociation.
Before I start defining dissociation, I wanted to share with you my own experience with dissociation when I was a high school student.
I was sixteen, it was the middle of winter, and I was seated with my therapist. We had seen each other for about 5 sessions, so I think that she felt that it was time to get into the “hard stuff”. Without warning or permission, she asked a bunch of probing questions that were triggering for me, before I even knew what “being triggered” meant. I immediately stopped talking, turned my head so that we didn’t make eye contact, stopped crying as hard, and checked out. Anything that she said to me was translated into nonsense once it got into my brain, and to this day I still have no idea what topic she even brought up.
“...Marissa? Marisssaaaa....are you still here?”
I found myself back in the room, it was winter, and it was 2009. I was back in my body, and I was back to being 16-year-old Marissa exploring the invaluable--but sometimes triggering!--world of therapy. That was the moment I had dissociated for the first time.
It is hard to adequately explain what dissociation is to someone, especially if they have never experienced it firsthand. When you dissociate, your mind is protecting you from what is happening in your present space. You may be experiencing trauma firsthand, or have been reminded of trauma that occurred several years ago. Whatever the occasion, your mind shifts away from the present as a way of protecting yourself from intense emotional turmoil. As one of my favorite Instagram accounts once stated, “When you were traumatized, dissociation is what helped you survive."
As you dissociate, you gain distance between yourself, and your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. In more severe cases, people lose touch with their own memories, beliefs, and identity. Dissociation becomes problematic when we begin to really lose touch with the present, but I would hate for anyone to feel ashamed if they have ever dissociated. If dissociation was what you needed to survive trauma, then you did the right thing.
Another way of thinking about dissociation is recognizing its opposite, mindfulness. When we’re being mindful, we tune into what is happening in our present state. We use our observing mind, and tap into our five senses as a way to ground ourselves in our present space. If you find that dissociation is a consistent coping mechanism you use, you may want to talk to a mental health professional about implementing mindfulness techniques into your day-to-day life.
If you find yourself debilitated by constant dissociation, please contact a mental health professional once you’ve ruled out any extraneous causes with a physician. To make an appointment with Resolve, visit our website or call 913.735.0577