What Is Dissociation/ Dissociative Disorder?

What is Dissociation or Dissociation Disorders? When does this happen in your life? What does it feel like? What are some causes? When does it show up? How does it affect us? What are the results of this? Lets YAC about it!
dissociation disorder
Defined by the Mayo Clinic:
"Dissociative disorders are mental disorders that involve experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity. People with dissociative disorders escape reality in ways that are involuntary and unhealthy and cause problems with functioning in everyday life."

So.. What Does This Mean?
We all day-dream, sometimes we lose track of our thoughts. But when this is occurring involuntarily, and often without us even noticing, there can be a bigger issue. Dissociation is your brain's way of coping with trauma by separating itself from reality, leaving you feeling like you are on the outside looking in. In some cases, but not all, people experiencing dissociation believe that they have at least two completely separate identities and change their values, interests, and desires as such. Often though, it is just your mind leaving things out like memories and personal information to cope with immense mental pain. 

What Causes Dissociation?
Traumas are the number one cause of dissociation. Events like emotional abuse or neglect, sexual or physical abuse, stressful or unpredictable environments, displacement, war, horrific accidents, natural disasters can contribute to dissociation. Even being around these things can increase your likelihood of dissociation. 

Types of Dissociation
Typically Dissociation is broken down into three different categories:

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)
Formally referred to as multiple personality disorder, DID, causing people to shift suddenly and involuntarily from one identity to another causing distress. Typically these identities carry completely different tastes, values, interests, attitudes, and needs. 90% of DID cases are associated directly with childhood traumas of abuse and neglect. Aside from alternate identities, can cause memory gaps and loss of personal or day-to-day information. More than 70% of people with DID attempt suicide.

Dissociative Amnesia
Dissociative Amnesia refers to significant memory loss that cannot be contributed to average forgetfulness or a medical condition. This type of amnesia is usually surrounding a trauma, although it can come in multiple different forms. The loss of memory could be localized - missing information for a few days after a trauma, selective- patchy or incomplete memories of trauma, generalized- difficulty remembering information from your entire life, or systematized-  very particular like the loss of information of a specific person. In this type of dissociation, individuals realize they are missing information and this can last from a few days to years. 

Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder
The sense of detachment or feeling "out of body" like you're watching your actions and feelings in a movie is experienced by people with depersonalization. You likely have trouble focusing or sometimes even recognizing yourself. Derealization is the feeling of the world around you slowing down or again feeling detached, foggy, or 'dream like'. Usually, this disorder is linked to childhood trauma as statistics show people typically exhibit dissociation behaviors before age 16 and less than 20% of patients exhibit their first symptoms after age 20. People are aware of their reality and that this sensation is peculiar which often causes immense stress even if they appear to be lacking emotion or reaction.

What Are The Symptoms?
  • Spacing out/ daydreaming
  • Glazed look/  staring
  • Mind going blank or wandering (concentration problems)
  • Memory loss (amnesia) of certain time periods, events, people and personal information
  • Sense of the world not being real
  • Watching self from outside
  • Detachment from yourself, your emotions, your identity, your surroundings
  • Out of body experience
  • A perception of the people and things around you as distorted and unreal
  • Significant stress or problems in your relationships, work or other important areas of your life
  • Inability to cope well with emotional or professional stress
  • Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Sudden and unexpected shifts in mood – for example, feeling very sad for no reason
  • Feeling compelled to behave in a certain way
  • Identity confusion – for example, behaving in a way that the person would normally find offensive or abhorrent.
How Is It Treated?
Treatment will vary depending on which type of Dissociation Disorder you identify with the most. That is why it is imperative to consult a medical doctor and mental health professional as your first step to get to the bottom of whatever you feel is going on. Often some of these symptoms can present themselves, but be completely unrelated to dissociation. Treatments could include Medication to treat depression or anxiety involved in dissociation or psychiatric drugs, however, there is no medication specifically for Dissociation Disorders. Treating your other disorders is extremely important as they often contribute to your dissociation symptoms. The most significant treatment is Psychotherapy or "talk therapy", this can be daunting as it often requires you to dig into past traumas; however this will allow you to better understand your feelings and actions as they pertain to dissociation in order to develop tools to deal with symptoms. There are also other forms of therapy which have proved beneficial such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) or hypnosis. Lastly, a safe environment is crucial for your recovery and rehabilitation as you work through your mental illness and gain/apply the tools you need to feel better and healthier.

Let's YAC About It!
It's time to break down the barriers and end the stigma surrounding mental health. If you live with mental illness or just want to chat, our comments and inboxes are always open. We strongly believe in the value of sharing our experiences + stories in hopes even one person knows they're not alone. This blog is an introduction to a two-part series and our last installment will introduce all sorts of resources and ways to find the help you need. Thank you again for everyone who got to this point- and again, don't be afraid to YAC about it!

Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals and are not able to provide licensed medical advice. This is a platform to relay information and share about mental illness. 

1. What Are Dissociative Disorders?. (2019). Psychiatry.org. Retrieved 19 April 2019, from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/dissociative-disorders/what-are-dissociative-disorders
2. (2019). Depts.washington.edu. Retrieved 19 April 2019, from https://depts.washington.edu/hcsats/PDF/TF-%20CBT/pages/3%20Psychoeducation/Diss
3. Mayoclinic.org. (2019). Dissociative disorders - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic. [online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dissociative-disorders/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355221 [Accessed 19 Apr. 2019].
4.Dissociation and dissociative disorders. (2019). Betterhealth.vic.gov.au. Retrieved 19 April 2019, from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/dissociation-and-dissociative-disorders

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