What is dissociation?
Many people may experience dissociation (dissociate) during their life.
If you dissociate, you may feel disconnected from yourself and the world around you. For example, you may feel detached from your body or feel as though the world around you is unreal. Remember, everyone’s experience of dissociation is different.
Dissociation is one way the mind copes with too much stress, such as during a traumatic event.
Experiences of dissociation can last for a relatively short time (hours or days) or for much longer (weeks or months).
If you dissociate for a long time, especially when you are young, you may develop a dissociative disorder. Instead of dissociation being something you experience for a short time it becomes a far more common experience, and is often the main way you deal with stressful experiences.
“I felt like my body didn’t belong to me, it was like I was an outsider watching my own story unfold.”
When might I dissociate?
- For many people, dissociation is a natural response to trauma that they can’t control. It could be a response to a one-off traumatic event or ongoing trauma and abuse. You can read more on our page about the causes of dissociative disorders.
- Some people choose to dissociate as a way of calming down or focusing on a task, or as part of a religious or cultural ritual.
- You might experience dissociation as a symptom of a mental health problem, for example post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder.
- Or you may experience dissociation as a side effect of alcohol or some medication, or when coming off some medication.
How might I experience dissociation?
Dissociation can be experienced in lots of different ways.
Psychiatrists have tried to group these experiences and give them names. This can help doctors make a diagnosis of a specific dissociative disorder. But you can have any of these dissociative experiences even if you don’t have a diagnosed dissociative disorder.
|Some dissociative experiences include:||A doctor or psychiatrist might call these experiences:|
What are triggers and flashbacks?
A trigger is a reminder of something traumatic from the past, which can cause you to experience dissociation or other reactions. It could be a sight, sound, taste, smell or touch. It could be a situation or way of moving your body. Many different things can be or become triggers.
In a flashback, you may suddenly experience traumatic sensations or feelings from the past. This might be prompted by encountering a trigger. You may experience the flashback as reliving a traumatic event in the present. A flashback may cause you to switch to another part of your identity.
If you have dissociated memories (because of amnesia or because you experience different identity states with different memories) then you may find that these resurface during flashbacks.
“A flashback is a sudden, involuntary re-experiencing of a past traumatic event as if it is happening in the present.”