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What is Dissociation?

You may have seen the term dissociation used before, but might not be sure exactly what it means.

Let’s start with a definition:

Dissociation is a psychological experience in which people feel disconnected from their sensory experience, sense of self, or personal history. It is usually experienced as a feeling of intense alienation or unreality, in which the person suddenly loses their sense of where they are, who they are, of what they are doing. (Source: VeryWell Mind)

But what does dissociation actually feel like?

For me, I describe dissociation as feeling like my body is a car, and I suddenly go from being in the driver’s seat to being in the back seat. My body is still moving around, I might still be completing tasks, but it’s like I’m not in control of it. I can see what’s happening, but I’m further away, and everything feels a bit wishy-washy – almost like I’m underwater. I don’t leave my body, but I’m sitting in the back seat, struggling to see or connect with what’s going on around me.

What causes dissociation?

Dissociation is often a response to trauma, or reminders of trauma. It can also happen in times of extreme stress and anxiety. It’s something of a coping mechanism that the brain does to try to protect us from whatever we’re going through.

What should I do if I dissociate?

Obviously, I’m not a mental health professional, but as someone who experiences dissociation, I can offer my advice for what I do. Try to get somewhere safe, whether it’s home, to a friend’s house, etc, but do not drive while dissociating. If you can, try to use the same skills you would use to deal with anxiety. Try to ground yourself mindfully. Focus on the sensations in your body – clench your muscles, then relax them. To me, dissociation feels very floaty, so I try to drop anchor on something that will bring me back.

If you are struggling with dissociation and you’re not already under a mental health team, you might want to make an appointment with your GP to discuss it. As I said before, dissociation is often a response to trauma, so it may be that you need some psychotherapy to deal with the underlying trauma that is causing the dissociation itself.

Do you struggle with dissociation? What methods have you developed to cope with it? Do you have any tips for others who are struggling? Let me know in the comments.

What is dissociation


5 replies »

  1. I have never heard of disassociation before today but I think I’ve experienced it. I was involved in an accident once and I just stopped. I just blanked as I saw the wreckage. Could that be disassociation? There are times when I just stare at nothing, think nothing, feel nothing, am nothing.


  2. I used to think of it as looking at the world from further back in my head, or looking through clear jello. It took me a while to realize that’s actually dissociation because for me it’s relatively mild.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really struggle with this. It happens every other month and it can last weeks. I feel like I’m not really here and I worry that I’m not saying or doing things or that I am saying the wrong things. I usually have to just wait for it to pass and calm myself down. It happens when I get overly stressed or anxious

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve never heard of disassociation before but this is really interesting. I think I may have experienced this briefly as a teen and just sort of accepted it. Without going into too much detail, my dad experienced some pretty hefty strokes when I was about 13/14 and for a long time I just worked on autopilot?! I thought it was just that time was passing but in reality I was so disconnected from the real world at the time!

    Thanks so much for this post, its a really interesting read and not anything that I’ve considered before so it may have cleared one or two things up for me!

    Thanks again,

    Jess (coffee and corfu)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I once described dissociation as being like my body was a bus and different people could take the wheel while I was in the back watching. Nice to align with what you wrote. I just wrote a post about dissociation as it’s becoming more prevalent as we explore difficult subjects in therapy. I enjoyed reading this thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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