Dissociation & Dissociative States
Dissociation has been defined as ‘a perceived detachment of the mind from the emotional state or even from the body’. We all experience some form of dissociation at times – from ‘losing’ ourselves in a book or piece of music to not remembering the car journey that we have just driven. However, studies show that most people who have moderate to severe dissociative states (discussed below) have experienced some form of abuse in childhood, although not all abuse survivors have a dissociative disorder.
Dissociation can be separated into five different types
- Amnesia: Being unable to remember occasions, experiences or personal info
- Depersonalisation: A feeling that your body is unreal or not quite ‘there’. Some people also report feeling like they are watching themselves as if they are in a film
- Derealisation: A feeling that the world and the people in it are not real. Objects may change in size, shape or colour
- Identity confusion: A feeling of uncertainty about who you are or what makes you ‘you’
- Identity alteration: A noticeable change in your identity or personality that alters the way you behave in different situations (for example, behaving differently when with your family or your work colleagues)
We all experience occasional episodes of dissociation as a part of our everyday life, even severe episodes are a natural response to a traumatic event such as the death of a loved one. Dissociative disorders, however, happen when someone experiences continued and repeating dissociative episodes that cannot be explained away by, for instance, everyday forgetfulness or a period of illness.
What can be particularly difficult about dissociative disorders is that while the person experiencing them may be feeling frightened, alone or confused, outwardly they may appear to be functioning perfectly well.
Some potential effects of a dissociative disorder may include:
- Gaps in memory
- Distorted views of your body
- Forgetting appointments and/or personal information
- Feelings of being unreal
- Internal voices and dialogue
- A sense of detachment from your emotions
- Feeling as though there are different people Inside you
- Feeling that you don’t know who you are
- Feeling detached from the world
- Finding possessions that you cannot recall buying or being given
- Feeling like a stranger to yourself
- Acting like different people/child-like behaviour
If you feel that you may be affected by a dissociative disorder, you may want to discuss this with your counsellor. Counselling can be an effective way of re-establishing the connections between thoughts, feelings, memories and perceptions that you may have learnt to dissociate from as a way of surviving your abuse.
Over time, you will form an accepting, non-judgemental and clearly boundaried therapeutic relationship with your counsellor. This will allow you to safely reconnect to your experiences and regain a sense of empowerment and control.