What is dissociation?

Have you ever felt yourself “check out” and then have found yourself unfamiliar with your surroundings once you tune back into life? That feeling is known as dissociation. Dissociation is disruption or disconnection in a person’s consciousness, sense of identity, or awareness.


What causes dissociation?

Most people will experience dissociation at some point in their lives. There are a variety of things that can cause you to dissociate; for example:
1. There is stress induced dissociation,
2. It can be induced by a traumatic event,
3. It can be a symptom of another mental illness such as anxiety.


What are the symptoms of dissociation?

      –    Forgetting about certain time periods, events and/or personal information

  • Feeling disconnected from your body

  • Feeling disconnected from the world around you

  • Not having a sense of who you are

  • Having multiple identities that you are aware of or not (this is more a symptom of DID)

  • Feeling little/no physical pain.


How long does dissociation last?

These symptoms can appear for a short period of time after being triggered or last throughout the entire feeling of being triggered. This is known as an episode. Others can experience these symptoms for much longer or constantly which may indicate they have a dissociative disorder.
If you, or someone you know is experiencing that kind of dissociation, please seek the help and expertise of a trained mental health professional or family doctor.


What about dissociative identity disorder?

Dissociative Identity Disorder is different to dissociation. DID is defined as someone who has two or more distinct identities. These “alters” are accompanied by changes in behaviour, memory and thinking.


The following link will take you to the Mayo Clinic’s description of DID and the three major dissociative disorders. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dissociative-disorders/symptoms-causes/syc-20355215


The Mayo Clinic defines the symptoms as the following:

“Signs and symptoms depend on the type of dissociative disorders you have, but may include:
– Memory loss (amnesia) of certain time periods, events, people and personal information

  • A sense of being detached from yourself and your emotions

  • A perception of the people and things around you as distorted and unreal

  • A blurred sense of identity

  • Significant stress or problems in your relationships, work or other important areas of your life

  • Inability to cope well with emotional or professional stress

  • Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”


Here are some other statements about DID that would indicate the need for further investigation:

  • I experience two or more distinct parts, each with their own sense of self

  • The different parts have their own behaviours, moods, thoughts, memories, and way of understanding the world

  • I lose my sense of identity—sometimes I don’t recognize myself

  • I feel disconnected, like I’m not real or everything around me isn’t real

  • Sometimes it feels like someone else is controlling my body

  • I hear voices or notice sensations, thoughts, or feelings that don’t seem to belong to me

  • I often have significant gaps in my memories, ranging from experiences in childhood to what happened during my day

  • I often find evidence of things I don’t remember doing, like purchases, receipts, or notes.


If you agree with most of these statements, please talk to your doctor. Some of these symptoms may present as a result of other mental illnesses, physical illnesses, injuries, substance use, or experiences like trauma, so it’s important to work with a trained health professional.


How to manage DID:

If you have been diagnosed with DID, there is hope for managing your symptoms and getting support, some of the most effective ways to treat dissociation and dissociative disorders are:

  • CBT; cognitive behaviour therapy.

  • DBT; dialectical behaviour therapy

  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy

  • EMDR; eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.