Dissociation is a mental process that causes a lack of connection or disconnection between your thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity. In a dissociative state, you might feel like you are not connected to either your own body, feelings or the world around you. For example, you may think about a very upsetting event that happened to you but have no feelings about it.
Lots of us will experience dissociation at some point. You may have noticed that on a familiar journey you have managed to get from start to finish without noticing anything you have walked past. However, you might also dissociate during or for a short time after a traumatic event or when you are very stressed. Episodes of dissociation can also occur as symptoms of other conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
More severe forms of dissociation are seen in dissociative disorders, such as dissociative amnesia, depersonalisation disorder and dissociative identity disorder. If you have a dissociative disorder you might experience severe dissociation symptoms for long periods or even constantly. If you are concerned that you have a dissociative disorder, it is important to seek professional help.
Symptoms and signs of dissociation may include:
Dissociation can develop as a defence mechanism in order to cope with stress or overwhelming, traumatic events. Children who have grown up in a very stressful environment, such as a dysfunctional, abusive or violent home, may develop dissociation to be able to cope with difficult experiences and to reduce distress caused by traumatic events.
However, if dissociation continues to be used as a major way of coping with emotions in adulthood, you may automatically disconnect from situations that are perceived as dangerous or threatening. This can leave you feeling disconnected from situations in ordinary life and unable to protect yourself in conditions of real danger.
While many people will experience dissociation from time to time, dissociative disorders involve feeling disconnected from the world and/or yourself on an on-going basis. Repetitive childhood physical and/or sexual abuse and other forms of trauma are most commonly associated with the development of dissociative disorders.
Dissociative disorders are conditions which involve feeling disconnected from yourself and/or the world for long periods or all of the time, often from childhood. Dissociative disorders can cause substantial distress and make everyday life challenging. Three of the most common dissociative disorders are:
Psychotherapy is often used in the treatment for dissociative disorders. Psychotherapists can help you to work through the trauma that may have caused the development of dissociative states or a dissociative disorder to develop more helpful coping mechanisms. Therapy can also help you to find ways to manage your emotions and to cope with stress more effectively.
Some individuals with a dissociative disorder benefit from eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing therapy (EMDR). EMDR therapy requires you to move your eyes from side to side, following the movement of some kind of stimulus, while talking to your therapist. This allows the part of the brain responsible for memory to “let go” of the traumatic memories so that they lose their intensity. To find a therapist specialising in EMDR and dissociative disorders, see recommended EMDR therapists here.
There are no medications that treat dissociative disorders, however there are medications that can help with coexisting conditions or symptoms that you might experience because of a dissociative disorder, such as depression and anxiety.
Whether you would like to overcome your feelings of emotional numbness and disconnection or you are looking for treatment for a dissociative disorder, talking therapy with a psychotherapist or psychologist can help. It is important that you find a therapist for dissociation who is experienced and understands how to work with clients who dissociate.
To find a therapist to overcome dissociation or to manage a dissociative disorder, you can use the Harley Therapy search to find psychotherapists and psychologists who specialise in these conditions across the UK and worldwide by Skype. To book an appointment online now, click here or choose a recommended therapist below.