Dissociation is the Essence of Trauma
But what is dissociation?
Dissociation is one way the mind copes with too much stress, such as during a traumatic event. It usually describes an experience where you feel disconnected in some way from the world around you or from yourself.
Dissociation occurs in between 2-10% of the general population
Dissociation is a natural response to trauma for many people (up to 73%) in the hours, days or weeks following either a once off event or ongoing trauma and abuse. However or the majority dissociation subsides after a few weeks following the cessation of the traumatic event(s).
Triggers such as a sight, sound, taste, smell or touch, a situation or way of moving your body acts as a reminder of the past and can result in dissociation occurring. When you experience the past trauma as if it’s happening now, then a dissociative episode can occur or memories that have been forgotten can arise.
Dissociation results in “made” thoughts, feelings, and actions. These are thoughts or emotions seemingly coming out of nowhere and you feel taken over and make no sense at the time. Alternatively, you find yourself doing something that you would not normally do, but cannot stop, sometimes it feels as if you are a passenger in your own body. Dissociation occurs in people with PTSD, however there is a clear distinction between PTSD and dissociation and it is generally accepted that Dissociation is the result of chronic childhood trauma. There is an increased likelyhood of developing a dissociative disorder, it is no longer something you experience for a short time, it becomes a more common experience and the main way that stressful situations are dealt with.
In severe forms of dissociation, disconnection occurs in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity, or perception. For example, someone may think about an event that was tremendously upsetting yet have no feelings about it (emotional numbing)
The diagnosis of Dissociative disorders is complex and their symptoms are common to other illnesses and should be made by qualified professionals.
There are five dissociation disorders:
Depersonalization: Being detached from, or “not in” your body.
Derealization: The world is not real, it may looks fake, clouded or distant. You may be detached from it or experience it as if you are watching a movie
Dissociative Amnesia/Dissociative fugue: Typically micro-amnesias occur where the content of a conversation isn’t remembered but often an important event: such as abuse, a disturbing incident or a period of time are forgotten. With dissociative fugue you travel to another location and temporarily take on another identity
Identity confusion: Not knowing who you are at times for example doing an activity you get a thrill in while doing, that otherwise you would find repugnant
Identity Alteration: Being very different from other parts of yourself. Typically, these are subtle and involve different voice tones, language or expressions and suddenly switching between emotions and reactions to an event: for example moving from being timid to violent. However, there may be a shift into different personalities or distortions in time, place and situation. E.g. believing you are a child and in a different location and time.