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  • Writer's pictureAli

Dissociation: What is it & How am I Affected?

One Wednesday morning, my day started off like any other work day: 4:45 AM wake up time, coffee in hand, ready to face another day and help my patients. I was determined to have a good day.

After I clocked in, I turned toward the elevator to push the shiny, silver button to take me up to the second floor. As soon as I pressed it, everything started spinning, things started going dark and thought I was going to pass out right then and there. Thankfully, I caught my bearings and took myself up to my floor still planning on starting my day - I'm a recovering workaholic. I used to work through anything.

Not long after I settled in, things didn't ease up enough that I felt I could continue working, and I was wheeled down to the ER to be checked.

A head CT, constant heart monitoring, two EKGs and two lab runs later clarified my diagnosis: Vertigo. Very anticlimactic.


A couple of days had passed with similar symptoms despite my hopes that the Meclizine would cure me, and something strange started to happen. My brain fog was so intense that I felt like I wasn't really present in the moment, and I had to work extremely hard to focus on routine things. Conversations with Gatsie felt like a chore, because my sentences weren't forming properly. Reading became more difficult, as I was having to super-focus my way through the material not sure if I was comprehending anything. I didn't feel like I was completely present in anything I was doing. I started to feel like I was dissociating.

 

What is dissociation?

WebMD defines dissociation as "a break in how your mind handles information. You may feel disconnected from your thoughts, feelings, memories, and surroundings. It can affect your sense of identity and your perception of time."


UW (University of Washington) defines dissociation as "being disconnected from the here and now. Everyone occasionally has times of daydreaming or mind wandering, which is normal. Sometimes dissociation is a way of coping by avoiding negative thoughts or feelings related to memories of traumatic events. When people are dissociating they disconnect from their surroundings, which can stop the trauma memories and lower fear, anxiety and shame."



What are the symptoms of dissociation?

  • Spacing out

  • Day dreaming

  • Glazed look; staring

  • Mind going blank

  • Mind wandering

  • Sense of world not being real

  • Watching self from outside

  • Detachment from self or identity

  • Out of body experience

  • Disconnected from surroundings


What are the causes of dissociation?

Some experience dissociation as a coping mechanism to previous trauma. If the dissociative experience began during the traumatic event, it has the potential to take shape in later circumstances - even those not considered to be traumatic.

  • Sexual or physical assault

  • Childhood abuse

  • Combat

  • Torture or capture

  • Motor vehicle accidents

  • Natural disasters


When should someone seek treatment for dissociation?

Spacing out for brief moments in time is normal, but dissociating for long period of time as a coping mechanism can be linked to previous trauma and pain. In those cases, help is often necessary to repair those unhealed wounds. Here are some things to remember: the trauma that you experienced is not your fault. The reasons why dissociation occurs are valid and understood by therapists and doctors treating the underlying causes. If you have questions about dissociation, reach out to your local therapist or an online platform for additional resources.


What are diagnosable names for dissociation?

Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID (previously called Multiple Personality Disorder) is a diagnosable form of frequent dissociation. DID occurs when an individual has two or more distinct personalities that split in their psyche as a result of trauma - often major trauma. This disorder can only be diagnosed by a medical professional and treatment can prevent dissociation splits that often remove memories and connections with others as a result of the separate identity(ies).

If you've seen the Netflix series Ratched, you might recognize that this description matches a character by the name of Charlotte Wells played by Sophie Okonedo. Her character showcases a number of personalities that surface as a result of severe trauma.

Spoiler alert: Charlotte easily progresses from one personality to the next and assumes a new personality later on in the season as a result of the murder of Dr. Hanover.

While I'm unsure as to the manner of real life identity transitions, I do know that those who suffer from DID can experience a range of personalities that is unlike the previous or next.


Other points to ponder:

  • DID is the proper use of the disorder mentioned. When referring to the disorder itself or those who suffer from it, I highly encourage you to refrain from using the old-age name of Multiple Personality Disorder. This name was removed as the diagnosis title, and it should be removed from our vocabulary as well.

  • People that suffer with DID are just that, people. They deserve grace, understanding and healing for the trauma they've endured. Give these people room to grow and extend acceptance.

  • I am not a therapist or psychiatrist. I don't have all the answers while posting on this forum. My goal is to educate my readers while discussing mental health topics and experiences.

 

Since my original diagnosis of Vertigo it has since been disputed, but that's a different story for a different time. I've seen improvement in my concentration and my ability to stay in the present - thank the good Lord above. I still space out while watching TV, and as I mentioned earlier, that's a normal response to feeling bored. It's not necessarily an indicator of DID, so take a deep breath and don't diagnose your spouse or significant other for not paying attention to you when they're bored or tired after work. Wives, husbands, partners, spouses, etc. - you can thank me later.

In my experiences with dissociation, I'm often tired after work, suffering from anxiety and/or depression, distracted by my to-do list while feeling overwhelmed, and my recent experience with dizziness and brain fog. Those experiences for me are all normal and can be expected in one way or another.

If you or someone you know suffer from an intense or extreme amount of dissociation, reach out to a counselor or therapist you trust. If you need help finding one, I'll be glad to provide resources as they have been made aware to me.


Here's one last thought to consider:

You are seen. You are valid. You matter.

 

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