Dissociation is a spectrum of experiences an individual may have after surviving traumatic experiences. The dissociation can range from “spacing out” or not feeling focused to forgetting hours, days, weeks, and years of your life. Dissociation has a bad reputation in the movies and television where it is presented as being a big dramatic experience in which the person who has the dissociation hurts or kills themselves or other people. In reality this isn’t an accurate portrayal, a person may not know what they are doing but the person usually does not do things that are completely against their morals or values.
Dissociation often starts in childhood when the child has frightening experiences that they aren’t able to run away from or defend themselves from, instead of physically leaving the situation they begin to mentally leave the situation. When a dissociative experience happens the person is leaving the situation mentally, they go into their mind and their own thoughts and become submerged in their internal world.
A number of physical symptoms have been talked about as a sign of dissociation including headaches, physical numbing, dizziness, shakiness, confusing, feeling in a fog, feeling like you’re watching yourself from the outside, seeing things blurry, having a hard time hearing and having a hard time focusing. The person may also feel as if they have allergies or a mild flu.
There are a number of ways people learn to overcome their dissociation and to incorporate it into their lives in a healthy way so it isn’t a barrier to their day to day life. Often people work at overcoming the memory problems they’re experiencing, they may write in a journal, keep an agenda, make reminders for themselves of the things they’ve done and what they need to do, or they may rely on a friend or family member to help them keep track of what they have been doing. Breathing exercises, mindfulness, and awareness exercises are often also used to help the person be more aware of themselves, their body, and their environment. By being in the moment the individual can lessen their experiences of dissociation and learn to keep themselves in the moment for longer.
There is hope, just because you or your loved one is struggling with memory problems, dissociation, and other associated symptoms now doesn’t mean they have to struggle forever. There are many exercises that can be done and skills that can be learned so that the individual can live a happy and healthy life. You deserve to be living your life instead of losing your time.
Reference: Nijenhuis, E. & Van Der Hart, O. (June 2011). Defining Dissociation in Trauma. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation. 12(4). P.469-473 Retrieved from: http://www.tandfonline.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/doi/full/10.1080/15299732.2011.570599#tabModule