Demystifying Dissociation

Dissociation, pronounced ‘diss-o-sea-ae-shun’, is arguably one of the more misunderstood psychological phenomena out there.

Typically, it tends to be defined as the experience of feeling disconnected from yourself and/or the world around you, and it seems to sit along a spectrum from ‘normal’ to ‘severe’.

Most people will experience a form of dissociation at some point in their lives. This will likely be a fleeting experience that isn’t of any cause for concern, which may be induced by high emotional arousal, substances or even spiritual states. Arguably, daydreaming is even a type of dissociative experience, where a person temporarily disconnects from their present environment and loses track of time and place. Have you ever drifted off mid-conversation and missed what’s been said, or found yourself unable to recall the route you’ve just driven?

For some people however, dissociation can be a frequent occurrence which is pervasive, distressing and impairing.

Whilst dissociation is not a mental health condition in and of itself – rather a symptom or experience that can vary considerably from person-to-person, it tends to be associated with a number of serious mental health conditions and needs. For example, childhood abuse, ‘multiple personality disorder’, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis. Research suggests that trauma typically lies at its roots.

5 key types of dissociation include:

  • feeling like the world around you is unreal – things and people seem surreal, foggy, robotic or lifeless
  • feeling like you are floating outside your body or observing yourself from the outside
  • feeling like you are being pulled away from the present moment into reliving a past trauma as if it is happening again
  • being unable to remember important information about yourself, your life, or an event
  • switching between multiple and different identities and personalities, who may all speak and act differently

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Article written by Dr Emily Smyth, Clinical Psychologist