Put simply, dissociation is the mind’s way of coping with stress. Often, people who have a dissociative disorder have experienced a traumatic event in childhood.
According to the Sidran Traumatic Stress Institute:
During a traumatic experience such as an accident, disaster or crime victimization, dissociation can help a person tolerate what might otherwise be too difficult to bear. In situations like these, a person may dissociate the memory of the place, circumstances or feelings about the overwhelming event, mentally escaping from the fear, pain and horror.
Although people can experience dissociation in a variety of ways, the more common symptoms include:
- Feeling disconnected from one’s own body
- Feeling a sense of unreality, as though living in a dream
- Feeling numb
- Experiencing an altered sense of time
- Experiencing multiple distinct identities
- Difficulty with memory (including personal details like name, address, etc.)
When a person experiences dissociative symptoms with frequency or intensity, causing impairment in daily living, it’s a clear indication that professional help could be beneficial. An assessment with a mental health provider like those at Travco Behavioral Health can determine a proper diagnosis that will inform the best course of treatment. A provider might also recommend testing to rule out possible medical conditions(head injury, brain tumor, etc.) that can cause symptoms like memory loss(which can appear similar to dissociative symptoms).
The American Psychiatric Association identifies three types of dissociative disorders:
Additionally, individuals diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder might also experience dissociative symptoms.
Treatment for dissociative disorders includes psychotherapy (cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy), EMDR and medications such as antidepressants to treat symptoms of often-related disorders (depression, anxiety).
To be clear, the experience of dissociation does not indicate that a person has a dissociative disorder. It’s not uncommon to experience mild dissociation—for example, losing sense of time if absorbed in an activity or maybe driving a familiar route and forgetting the process of getting to our destination. In fact, according to Mental Health America, about a third of people experience dissociation on occasion. However, when symptoms are frequent, intense or impairing your life, it might be time to speak with a mental health professional.
If you’re looking for compassionate mental health care with a qualified professional, Travco Behavioral Health can help. Contact us today!