What does dissociation feel like?

Dissociation, what does it feel like? what does it mean?

Dissociation refers to a separation or division that occurs in our experience of consciousness and on-going reality.  Dissociation refers to the sense of having moved from one state of awareness to another.  This can be part of complicated psychological states.  It may be possible to learn more about the different states of mind that we move between and to learn how to manage the experience without further intervention.  It can be a very disturbing experience.

What causes dissociation?

Dissociation can occur as a response to an experience or event that is overloading, when an experience is of such a traumatic intensity that we simply cannot take it in.

If an event is overwhelming or traumatic then it cannot be absorbed and integrated with the rest of our experience of ourselves, it is cut off or dissociated, and a split in our sense of self develops.

When this happens, parts of ourselves, our minds, become split off from other parts.  If we have the experience of being caught in one part of our mind, rather than the whole, then we are having a dissociative experience.

Traumatic events cause dissociative splits to occur

Dissociation might be thought of as a turning away from oneself.  Under certain circumstances a kind of split occurs within us and we turn from the ordinary world and way of connecting with others to something different. Often what is happening is that in the dissociative state our sense of reality is dominated by our projections.

This means that we can become caught up in frightening ideas and experience, a state that is dominated by negative emotions and which, critically we won’t realise is false while it is happening.

The way dissociation happens, the nature or style of it will vary from person to person.

Without warning the person is drawn from into a different way of relating.  This is often characterised by a sense of threat or persecution.  In these moments there is no connection with the world you were in only a moment ago.  In these moments the individual becomes caught up in a distorted and frightening experience.

The person has entered a dissociated state.

The origin of dissociative states are often found in our earlier childhood experiences.  They often related to disturbing experiences in which we were overrun by frightening and distressing events.  Experiences that were too much to handle and which we dealt with by splitting and dissociating, by separating our minds from the fears and horror that we were going through in an attempt to find a refuge.

By doing this we found a way of dissociating ourselves from the bad experience we were having.  Typically this will have gone unnoticed by those around us.  It may have been that traumatic events in the family meant

a, that the atmospheric was very upsetting and

b, that no one was there to look after you. 

So when you were going through these experiences of dissociating you did so unnoticed.  After a certain time you will have returned to your self, to your right mind and the experience will have been behind you.  But often once this has happened it leaves the way open in your mind for it to happen again.

It is often later in life, sometimes when going through the challenges of adolescence, or when faced with the sense of extreme pressure that the individual will again dissociate.

A tendency to dissociate makes relationships complicated

It is possible that someone will find that they go from the experience of feeling loved and secure, to the experience of feeling threatened and betrayed.  They may switch quickly from one state or experience to another. When this happens they will feel threatened when moments before they may have felt safe. 

Dissociating can have a very destructive effect on tying to live well.

Psychotherapy can provide a secure setting and relationship in which someone can find out more about what happens to them to cause these changes to occur.

Dissociative states can be part of a response to

  • post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • complex PTSD (where traumatic events have been repeated)
  • abuse in childhood
  • traumatic event such as bereavement, parental divorce
  • having a mother who went through post natal depression and was therefore unable to care for you
  • having been left alone for too long
Dissociating happens at a blind spot in the self
  • It is possible to learn how to recognise the way you go through these dissociating experiences
  • To become better able to spot it when it happens, and to understand what is happening
  • To become able to recognise it and contain it so that the potential for damage is minimised. 

Left unchecked dissociating can severely damage the potential to live well and to have good relationships with other people.

How can Counselling Buckinghamshire help?

At Counselling Buckinghamshire we have a depth of experience of working with people who are trying to come to terms with feelings and experiences like this. 

Contact now for a free telephone consultation to discuss how our approach may be relevant to you.

Working with Counselling Buckinghamshire could be the start of developing a more constructive future.