Chances are high that you’ve dissociated before. Most people have.

 Dissociation happens when we disconnect from ourselves and the world around us. Sometimes it can be a helpful way to unwind. Other times it can get in the way of what we want to do.
You may have heard that dissociation is a trauma response, and to some extent that’s true. But it isn’t always a trauma response – otherwise that would mean almost everybody is traumatized!
Dissociation occurs on a spectrum. On the one end, there’s the more commonplace dissociation: daydreaming during a boring lecture, getting completely absorbed in a suspenseful Netflix series, or losing track of time while playing a videogame. After a particularly rough day at work, you might catch yourself zoning out rather than concentrating on a conversation. This kind of dissociation is normal. Sometimes our brains need that time to disconnect and recharge.
The farther along the spectrum you go, however, the more dissociation may interfere with your day-to-day activities. Instead of zoning out every now and then, you might spend hours completely oblivious to time passing, your mind blank. Or when a stressful event occurs, you find yourself suddenly immobilized and feel lost. Sometimes dissociation can make you feel like you’re not real, or like the world around you is constantly blanketed in a fuzzy haze.
Dissociation is very natural. That’s why the body uses it sometimes during traumatic events. When dissociation is used to cope with trauma it can manifest in multiple ways such as:
  • Dissociating from painful memories to the point where you forget long gaps of your history
  • Dissociating from your body so you don’t feel physical or emotional pain
  • Dissociating from your identity so essentially the trauma “didn’t happen to me”
This kind of dissociation starts out as adaptive and helpful. It’s your body’s way of trying to spare you from painful sensations and feelings that are far too overwhelming to process at once. It only gets in the way when the trauma remains unprocessed, and you try to go about your everyday life again only for the dissociation to keep happening. That’s when you may feel totally disconnected from who you are, from others, and from life in general.
When dissociation is at the more severe end of the spectrum, you may lose track of time on a regular basis, have trouble remembering the details of your day, or come to in the middle of an activity you don’t remember ever starting. You may also feel internally conflicted about who you are, as if there are multiple sides to you all arguing over who is really “me.”
Regardless of where you find yourself on the spectrum of dissociation, if you feel like it’s beginning to interfere with your life, it may be time to seek support. A counselor can help you learn the skills needed for your body to reorient to the present moment and for you to find safety in connection again.