Dissociation is something we all do –and is a vital part of our natural survival system. It helps us cope with stressful situations which may otherwise feel overwhelming. It is ingrained, built-in, and not pathological. But, when in a troubling experience, sometimes this built-in response leads to a greater degree of disconnection in an effort to protect the self from traumatic material, emotions, memories, or body sensations that are just too much to bear.
In that sense, Steinberg and Schnall (2001), defines dissociation as “an adaptive defense in response to high stress or trauma characterized by memory loss and a sense of disconnection from oneself or one’s surroundings.”* Dissociation happens when a person disconnects from some part of themselves or the environment. It can occur in numerous ways, including disconnection from their senses, memories, emotions, body sensations, etc.
Dissociation is essentially a response to distress (emotional, mental, or physical). It's different from "highway hypnosis", monkey mind, or daydreaming. We all want to feel safe –it's a basic human need. Hence, if we feel a sense of "unsafeness" for far too long or to an extreme, we dissociate. When trauma is recurring, dissociation can become "fixed and automatic". In this case, integration of memories becomes hard and grueling for the brain, while the brain continually sends off signals of danger even when the traumatic experience is finished. Such dissociation can continue for years after the traumatic situation is over.
According to Steinberg and Schnall (2001), the five major symptoms of dissociation are: amnesia, depersonalization, derealization, identity confusions, and identity alteration.
To have a better understanding of the disorder, here's Dr. Andrew Moskowitz's lecture on Delusions and Hallucinations from a Trauma and Dissociation Perspective. In this short video, Dr. Dawn Elise Snipes also explains the relationship between dissociation and safety. And finally, to help us see a bit clearer the reality beneath the veil of schizophrenia, Eleanor Longden talks about “the voices in my head”.
Know that dissociation in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it IS a gift –a protective mechanism that our brains create to protect us from getting overwhelmed with highly distressing or disturbing experiences– unless it becomes our automatic coping mechanism and is disrupting our normal daily functioning.
If you, or someone you love, are showing dissociation symptoms or have dissociative disorder JarvisHypnotherapyhas the tools to help you.