Dissociation is a mental process where a person disconnects from their thoughts, feelings, memories, or sense of identity. It’s often a coping mechanism to help a person deal with experiences that are too traumatic, painful, or overwhelming to integrate into their conscious self.
Everyone occasionally disassociates by daydreaming or “spacing out,” but a severe dissociative state is when someone checks out or loses touch with reality during a distressing event. The brain has learned to insulate from real or perceived trauma by disconnecting from it.
For some women, once the brain learns to ‘flip the switch’ of dissociation, it may resort to this coping mechanism whenever it perceives potential harm. This can lead to adverse consequences, as the person experiencing dissociation often loses control over their reality during these states. Learning how to recognize disassociation and work on alternative coping mechanisms is important for long term recovery.
Why Do People Dissociate?
Like most mental health conditions, dissociation doesn’t have a single cause. In many instances, long-term dissociative disorders are precipitated by trauma, often including prolonged abuse or neglect in childhood. However, a singular traumatic event can also trigger dissociation if it’s severe enough and the person lacks the emotional tools or support to process it.
People grappling with PTSD frequently experience some form of long-term dissociation as their mind strives to shield them from distressing memories. Dissociative disorders are also commonly associated with other conditions like substance use disorder, depression and anxiety.
Women with childhood trauma often disassociate and self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to shield them from difficult memories. Thus, learning to stop dissociating becomes a key step towards achieving long-term sobriety.
How to Know If You Are Dissociating
Many individuals suffering from mental health issues often overlook their symptoms. This is particularly true for dissociative disorders since the primary function of your brain’s deception is to conceal distressing situations.
While there’s no definitive set of dissociation symptoms, every brain processes things uniquely. However, certain signs often serve as a guide for diagnosis. These can include:
Time distortions: Losing track of time, hours or even days.
Depersonalization: Feeling detached from your own mind or body, as if you’re observing yourself from an outsider’s perspective. This can include feeling like you’re in a dream or unreal or as though you are watching a movie of yourself.
Derealization: The world around you seems unreal. You might feel as if you’re living in a dream or a movie, or you may perceive the world as distorted or colorless.
Memory loss (Amnesia): This can include not remembering events, forgetting personal information or losing track of time.
Identity confusion or alteration: This might involve feeling as if you don’t have an identity or that there are different people living inside of you, each with their own thoughts, memories, and ways of behaving.
Disconnection from the emotions: Some people may feel emotionally numb, while others may feel emotions intensely; they may also have difficulty recognizing their emotions.
Treatment for Dissociation
Canyon Crossing treats substance use disorder and maladaptive coping mechanisms like disassociation. By incorporating psychiatric care to manage underlying conditions, Canyon Crossing fosters a comprehensive treatment environment that ensures all programs are tailored to the unique biological and psychological needs of women. Our goal is to equip women with tools to replace coping mechanisms like dissociation with new tools to maintain lasting emotional and physical sobriety.