Dissociation can be developed at any age after having an experience of trauma. This can be in the form of standard dissociation, de-realization, depersonalisation or escalate to dissociative identity disorder. In fact, the average prevalence of dissociative disorder ranges upward of ~3% of the total UK population. Converting that to numbers, it equates to about 2 million people in the UK alone who face this mental illness.
After reading that, it should bring some peace of mind knowing that if you are experiencing symptoms of dissociation after living through a traumatic experience, you are certainly not alone. No, not all cases are a catalyst of trauma and PTSD, but it is one that is exceptionally common and heavily linked, making it worth covering more in-depth to offer clarity. With that being said, whether you are facing this adversity for the first time or have been living with it for years, below is a compressive overview of what dissociation genuinely is, the connection between dissociation and trauma, and fundamental ways to combat it so you can achieve new levels of advanced wellbeing.
What is Dissociation?
By definition, dissociation is when someone becomes mentally and emotionally separated or disconnected from something; it is a state of being disconnected from the present and what is going on around you. Many who experience a dissociation episode report feeling detached from their bodies and the world around them, as though everything they are seeking and feeling at that moment is unreal. Some other dissociation signs are out-of-body experiences, losing touch of awareness and surroundings, feeling like a different person, and feeling both mentally and physically numb. Keep in mind that not everyone experiences dissociation the same, so some of these common signs may or may not apply to you specifically.
How Trauma Causes Dissociation
If you are facing dissociation, there is a good chance it formed as a result of a traumatic event(s) and PTSD. The reason why is because during a trauma where a person feels powerless, their mind tries to protect itself by disconnecting from the situation or situations that trigger the past trauma to cope with feelings of fear, pain, and helplessness.
Whether it be extreme acts of violence, war, abuse, kidnapping, or any other traumatizing where the victim feels out of control, it can lead to dissociation when trauma triggers arise because that is a way for them to submerge the adverse feelings by stopping the memories from resurfacing.
Overall, dissociation may sound like it mentally protects a person in the moment from their thoughts and feelings. But the truth is that dissociation does nothing but suppresses emotions, ignores the problem rather than solving it, and can significantly interfere with everyday life. Now, the most vital part to note about this is that dissociation is generally not a planned or pre-determined thing that occurs. People who dissociate frequently do not even know it is happening until they mentally reconnect with themselves and reality.
Treatments for Dissociation
To overcome dissociation, the best thing you can do is seek a qualified psychologist or counselling professional who can support you and tailor your treatment plan to ensure you have long-term stability. What that being said, there are several different treatments that you may be exposed to when choosing to seek professional assistance. The most prevalent ones include:
Trauma Focused CBT – Talking therapy is when a psychologist or counsellor will talk with you and help you explore your past trauma(s) in-depth to discover the root cause for why you dissociate. Once you are able to find this and understand it, they will then be able to help you adapt to healthier coping mechanisms (such as PTSD grounding methods), so you can feel more in control of your mind/body and manage your emotions better without detaching.
EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, also known as EMDR, is a pragmatic form of psychotherapy that enables you to relive your trauma and coinciding triggers while the psychologist simultaneously directs your eye movements. This is effective because it makes the past trauma less upsetting, dampening the impacts by diverting your attention during the recall process. There are specific protocols created so that if dissociation does not resolve following processing the traumatic events, you then look to process the different times or events that caused a compromise of boundaries that leads to a dissociative response.
Medication – Though there may not be any specific medications to treat dissociation specifically right now, there are some that can help remediate other coinciding symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and OCD. The idea is that being able to manage other mental disorders not only improves wellbeing on its own but can help you recover more seamlessly from dissociation along the way.
Additional Dissociation Self-Help Tips
Having a psychologist or counselling professional is pinnacle to increase the chances of recovery from trauma-induced dissociation. However, there are some self-help practices you can do as well that optimise/speed up the process. Some of those said self-help outlets include:
- Grounding Techniques – As noted above, there is a good chance your psychologist will bring up and support the concept of grounding. However, this is something you can also perform on your own. Grounding is when you promote the mindset of being present, which helps pull you back to reality or out of a PTSD flashback. You can do this by focusing on your breathing, naming ten items that are around you, naming the scents that you can smell in the moment, and being mindful of the sensations you are feeling, such as the wind in your hair or the sheets of your bed on your skin.
- Keep A Journal – Journaling is a great way to get your feelings and emotions out on paper, leaving you feeling less bottled up and lighter. Even more, documenting each time you dissociate or are triggered is perfect for unearthing patterns such as what your actual triggers are. After all, recognizing dissociation and knowing why and how it occurs is essential to build the proper techniques to tackle it.
- Practice Positive Affirmations – Implementing positive affirmations has a reputable track record for improving self-esteem, confidence, and perspectives on life. This does take about a month or more to influence the subconscious, but worth trying to obtain positive mindset shifts. All you need to do is find or create an affirmation phrase that has deep meaning to you, say it out loud every day, and allow it to be your anchor during challenging moments. Some ideas would be, “I am worthy of recovery” or “I am present and I am safe.”
- Take Care of Yourself – Make sure that you put yourself first and fulfill all of your basic self-care needs so you can operate at peak performance each day. This means getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and being social with friends and family. The more you put yourself first and dynamically prioritize your wellbeing, you may notice that you dissociate less just from that alone.
Conclusion – Becoming More Present
Dissociation, trauma, and PTSD are all connective and intertwining terms that can pose detrimental effects on one’s mental health and overall life quality. Because of that, it is important that you review and absorb how trauma can be the leading cause for what you are currently facing and the proper steps to take to begin the road to optimal recovery. In summary, take advantage of psychologists and counselling professionals to help you overcome past traumas and create tailored treatment plans to overcome the mental barriers caused by it. Furthermore, simultaneously leverage the self-help tips to become more mindful of your state of mind, recognise triggers, address the unaddressed, and develop healthier coping mechanisms. In the end, countering a traumatic experience and coping with dissociation may not be an overnight fix, but the long-term recovery effort will certainly provide monumental benefits that will allow you to achieve the balanced, fulfilled life you deserve.
Quest Psychology Services are specialists in providing psychology and counselling for people with dissociation within Salford, Manchester. To discuss getting help yourself call us on 07932737335