Dissociation, for example, is actually a very smart tactic for a child growing up in a stressful environment. Connected to the brain’s primal ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ stress response, the child must choose ‘freeze’ as they are too young and vulnerable to run off and obviously can’t fight against an adult. They go numb, floating away from their thoughts and feelings.
Of course the problem comes when we pull dissociation, so useful as a child, into our adult lives. Going blank when your partner wants a serious discussion or feeling like you are floating out of your body when your boss asks your opinion on a merger in a board meeting? Not so useful.
Again, as a defence mechanism, dissociation develops when you are young and need a way to escape feeling threatened.
Of all defense mechanisms, dissociation is the one most related to trauma. Most children who suffered abuse, either sexual abuse, physical abuse, or emotional abuse, develop the habit of dissociation. Children growing up in violent or unstable environments are also common candidates, such as children of addicts.
The dangers of dissociation
Why does it matter if you tend to ‘vacate the premise’ when life gets a bit too demanding? There are several reasons to be concerned, which can include:
you miss opportunities as others think you aren’t interested when you are
others see you as cool and aloof when you really aren’t
you miss out on the chance to communicate how you really feel
you upset others by not being responsive when they need you to be
when you do decide how you think and feel (days later) it’s too late
you don’t actually process your reactions and emotions but repress them
And, if your dissociation goes unrecognised and unresolved and you then experience more life trauma, there is a higher risk of developing a more serious dissociative disorder, such as multiple personality disorder or depersonalisation-derealisation disorder . These can include symptoms like not recognising yourself in the mirror, feeling like your body isn’t part of you, or feeling like you are more than one person.
What can I do if I have a problem with dissociation?
Defence mechanisms tend to be so second nature it can be hard to even notice when they start and end. Writing a journal in the evening can be helpful. Where in the day did you dissociate? What do you really feel and thinknow, compared to what you thought you did when zoned out?
It’s suggested dissociation is also connected to the nervous system. It’s as if your body is a computer that reaches overload for input then just shuts down. It could be postulated that those with traumatic childhoods would be more likely to have a sensitive nervous system that overloads – jumpiness is a major symptom of PTSD, for example.
A counsellor or psychotherapist can be quite necessary to truly break the pattern of dissociation. He or she can make sure you have the support and safe environment necessary to navigate past painful experiences, and try new and more effective behaviours.
Talk therapy can be intense, and for someone with a habit of ‘checking out’ under stress there is a chance you’ll be more overloaded and feel the urge to disengage even more. So it’s important to seek a therapist who is experiencedand understand how to work with clients with dissociation.
Harley Therapy only offers therapists who have at minimum five-year clinical experience, and provides therapists worldwide via Skype counselling.
Do you have a question about dissociation we haven’t answered? Ask below in the comment box.