what is dissociation?

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From Wikipedia

Dissociation(in the wide sense of the word) is an act of disunion or separating a complex object into parts.

Most people have experienced mild forms of it. Have you ever been driving a car, and suddenly “woken up” without remembering anything of the last five minutes? Your brain switch off and on like this when necessary, and it feels like we zone out for a bit. Some might have felt intense anger that flared up, making them act in an uncharacteristic way. Some might have had a sudden memory popping up. It can be the smell of timber, that brings back a memory of how you worked outside with your father, or your heart starting to beat after you see someone who reminds you of your first love. We still feel like one person with one identity, because we know our minds sometimes tune out, but we have no problem with coming back to where we are at the moment. But what if this happens often? When large chunks of time evaporate, so that you can`t remember what happened the last four hours, the line is crossed and often leads to problems. That being said, a lot of people can have some pieces of their history dissociated, or hidden away from consciousness, and still live a normal life.

One example from the clinic, is about a man who experienced war when he was a little boy (before he came to Norway) and who completely forgot about this. He married, got three wonderful kids who did well, and was happy. But then he had an accident where he almost died, and suddenly a lot of hidden memories came forward again. He remembered how it felt, and could even feel the physical pain that he must have felt earlier. The part of him that had safely stored this away before, reappeared, and sadly this made a huge impact on him. Now he could not forget, and when he thought about what happened, he became as helpless and afraid as then. Logic coudn`t bring him out of it.

it`s not easy to live a normal life, when your body still feel frightened
it`s not easy to live a normal life, when your body still feel frightened.

 PTSD is the most common form of dissociation. Most people know about veterans from the war, and how they still feel as they did in a war.

One man remembers how an umbrella poking out from a window, made his heart beat wildly, activating his fear-system. The reason: In one milisecond, it looked like a gun.

When the body and mind are at different places (in a war-zone/ in safety), dissociation has occurred. The body still remembers, and feels the danger, even when logic knows no bomb will suddenly explode. This might lead to irrational fear, that spills over into real life.

just saw a documentary about children growing up with parents who abused drugs, and one of the girls said: The experiences still affect my life: If my boyfriend turns his back to me, I instantly feel bad: It reactivate the fear of being abandoned, that I had when I was little girl

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I strongly recommend this book!

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Have you ever met somebody who at the one hand can be the nicest person, and at the other a “monster” ?

Dissociation is often about feelings. It’s a defense mechanism, often at times of trauma, to handle something that feels overwhelming.

For example, if you`re raped, the body might react by “distancing itself” from what`s happening, because the feeling of fear because the feeling of fear would not help you. For people who have gone through trauma, this is usual: To “survive” a rape or violence, you can`t cry, because then mummy will hear and something bad will happened . But the sadness, fright or anger has to go somewhere, and usually it is hidden away in small pieces that “take care” of that information. If this happens often enough, it can lead to different “personalities” who take care of tasks in different situations.

In the book the “haunted self” they write about how one part might take care of work, and one part your personal life. In the book “not telling” a girl marries a man who cheats on her, but doesn`t care about it. She puts on her “sunflower” mode, where she  is “happy” and not affected by anything. SInce this is a “split-of” part, she might feel  hollow and devoid of emotions, but at least it gets her through the day. But when the original feeling or memory is reactivated by some trigger (for example the umbrella for the PTSD-patient) it can feel like it did then: All hope is lost, you forget everything else that logic normally harbors, and when you feel anger, you just see the slight in front of you. 

How does this feel for those affected? Some can feel unreal, like they are watching themselves from outside. It first gets problematic when it starts to disturb us and the people in our vicinity.

People with Borderline PF often dissociate. People outside might notice they suddenly become angry, after something they don`t quite understand. It might have been trying to joke about something in their life, but that reactivates a memory of being ridiculed as a little girl.

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One angry, happy and sad part

They feel the burning shame, and helplessness as they did then. It does not matter if this person is different from the person who hurt them in the past, because the body still reacts like there is real danger.

The body has learnt it might be dangerous (maybe it meant real danger when they were small) and to protect themselves, they automatically react like they did then.

Actually most people will sometimes react in a way that`s irrational, and that they regret afterwards. People can become so angry that they start yelling, throwing things and come with accusations that doesn`t make sense for the person receiving them. Usually this is not about what happened there and then, but about a memory from the past that come alive again.

People often call people who switch fast from one emotion to another, or from one “mode” to another, weak. Why can`t they control themselves? They just have to pull themselves together. What one forgets then, is that the behavior is based on automatic reactions that often can`t be stopped once it has been activated.

Some people cut themselves, because blood and pain force them back to reality. Some just break down, crying, feeling the bad conscience that was gone two seconds ago. This can be confusing for people around, and you get the characteristic “walking-on-eggshells” problem. I will write more about trauma, Borderline PF and dissociation later. This is meant as a introduction into a important psychological phenomena, that is shrouded in mystery, often thanks to hollywood movies portraying the extreme variants of multiple personality disorder (DID). The milder variants are much more common, and is often about your brain trying to make sense of feelings who sometimes can be hard to integrate.

Feel free to comment, maybe you have experienced some of this yourself, or know about people who have?

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Feelings while dissociated

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7 responses »

  1. Dissociation is the opposite of awareness, being present without the storyline of the past or future worries.

    et go, let the thoughts charged with emotion fade, fade. What fires together wires together, what is ignored withers without attention.

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