Dissociation Symptoms - Sound Familiar?

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Find that every time stress hits, you space right out? You might have what’s known in psychology as ‘dissociation’.

What is dissociation?

Dissociation is a defence mechanism that sees you react to stress or boredom by detaching from reality. You numb out your thoughts, feelings, and even physical sensations.

And what is a defence mechanism? It refers to a way of behaving you developed as a child in order to cope with situations you didn’t know how to handle.

For example, a child with a violent alcoholic parent doesn’t have the option to just walk out the door and rent their own apartment. So perhaps spacing out to feel less pain was a good decision.

The trouble is that we continue these ways of coping into adulthood, when now we actually do have better options.

What are dissociation symptoms?

So then how do you know if you have dissociation, or you just are a bit spacey now and then? Let’s look at dissociation symptoms.

If you have a dissociation problem, stress or boredom can cause the following:

  • your head feels filled with fog or sand and you can't think straight
  • you feel very tired or even struggle to stay awake
  • there is a sensation you are ’out of your body’, you can feel light, odd
  • you might even feel like you are watching and hearing yourself from a distance
  • if people ask how you are feeling you don’t know
  • you feel numb, inside and even physically.

And in general, people who suffer from dissociation:

  • are known for delayed reactions
  • find decisions difficult
  • feel uncomfortable if other people get upset and avoid arguments
  • can be seen as aloof, uninterested or 'always in the clouds'
  • have relationship problems as partners find them confusing
  • tend to ‘miss the boat’ with opportunities
  • can feel lonely in relationships as their delayed responses sabotage connection
  • suffer from depression and/or anxiety
  • can have a bad memory.

If your dissociation is at the level you question reality, sometimes don't know who you are, or think you are more than one person, do seek help. You might have a dissociative disorder.

Why do I suffer from dissociation?

Of all the coping mechanisms described by psychoanalytic theory, dissociation is most connected to trauma. Children facing neglect and abuse dissociate as a way to escape.

So if you always dissociate, there is a high chance you have trauma in your past you haven't dealt with. Although dissociation can be triggered by stressful experiences later in life, too.

Dissociation, or just stress?

Yes, stress overwhelms the brain and can leave you exhausted and struggling to think straight.

But stress symptoms will only be related to obvious and big life challenges, like losing your job or a breakup. They won’t be something you’ve experience too often.

People who suffer from dissociation can experience it from things other people wouldn't necessarily react to, like a cashier yelling at them or being late for an appointment. They often have PTSD or complex PTSD, so their brains are always seeking for danger and overreacting. Dissociation will affect their capacity to cope with relationships and daily life.

Sure that you have dissociation symptoms, and want to talk to someone about it? Use our easy booking tool now to find a therapist you like at a price that works for you.

Andrea M. Darcy is a popular health writer and therapy coach who has dealt with dissociation her entire adult life.

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