Dissociation is a state of mind that a person can slip into — intentionally and unintentionally — to avoid the grief and despair associated with a traumatic past. This defensive mental process can indicate a dissociative disorder or another mental health condition like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What Is Dissociation?
Dissociation is a mental process that causes you to become disconnected from your body, thoughts, feelings, memories, sense of identity, and environment. Individuals can have different experiences with dissociation that depend on the mental health disorder they have. Symptoms of dissociation generally include:
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Feeling disconnected from yourself
- Having a poor sense of self-identity
- Feeling detached from your emotions
- Experiencing a substantial memory loss of times, people, and events
- Having out-of-body experiences (like you are watching a movie of yourself)
- Experiencing mental health problems (i.e., depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation)
What Are Specific Dissociative Disorders?
There are four types of dissociative disorders that psychiatrists recognize today:
- Dissociative amnesia
- Dissociative fugue
- Depersonalization disorder
- Dissociative identity disorder
When an individual cannot remember the specifics about a particular event, this is called dissociative amnesia. Often, the incident in question was traumatic or stressful such as war or childhood abuse. Dissociative fugue is more dramatic and involves the sudden loss of memory regarding a person’s identity and life history. While in the fugue, a person may travel far from their home base and create a new identity, unbeknownst to their old self.
The third condition is depersonalization disorder, which is marked by persistent feelings of detachment from one’s thoughts, sensations, and feelings. This disorder can alternatively or additionally be accompanied by derealization, a state where people and things don’t seem real. Dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personality disorder) is the most severe of these disorders. A person will alternate between multiple distinct identities and experience gaps in memory.
Which Mental Disorders Share This Symptom?
Dissociation may be a symptom of a dissociative disorder or another mental health condition. Dissociative disorders are on the trauma spectrum, meaning that there are a number of other mental health conditions that share this symptom due to their association with trauma. The following are some disorders that can develop as a result of trauma and may be accompanied by dissociative symptoms:
- Bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
Dissociation can also be a side effect of using drugs and alcohol. The emotionally-numbing effects of self-medication are often the very reason people use drugs and alcohol in the first place. Getting treatment in a dual diagnosis program that addresses the core problem of substance abuse is paramount in treating this symptom effectively.
What Is Dissociation Caused By?
A person learns to dissociate as a response to extremely stressful or chronic traumatic experiences that occurred in childhood or adulthood. This involuntary escape from reality helps the individual evade pain and stress by detaching themselves from their environment; it helps them cope with trauma.
A dissociative disorder can develop when this process is used repeatedly over time to survive complex trauma, particularly during childhood. It can also form when a person has not dealt with the pain and continues to suppress it through dissociation although they are no longer in an unsafe environment. Using dissociation regularly as a main coping strategy may cause the individual to mentally escape every time they are confronted with stress.
What Are the Risks of Leaving Dissociation Untreated?
Dissociation is a serious mental health problem that can make it very difficult to function normally from day to day. There are a number of complications that can occur if dissociation is left untreated:
- Job loss
- Sleep problems
- Eating disorders
- Sexual problems
- Anxiety disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Self-harm and suicide
- Interpersonal problems
- Substance use disorders and addiction
Is There Treatment for Dissociation?
The good news is that this condition is manageable with proper diagnosis and treatment. Psychotherapy is the most common form of treatment and includes cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Medications may also be prescribed to treat symptoms like panic attacks and thoughts of suicide that are associated with the disorder.
Find a Dual Diagnosis Program
Because dissociation is a symptom shared with various mental health conditions and substance use disorders, it is important to find a treatment center that can treat a range of mental health conditions in addition to substance use disorders. A clinician will work with you to determine which condition(s) you have so you can receive treatment that is effective. A dual diagnosis program may be the best path forward in putting you in control of your life.
Dissociation is a mental process by which an individual dissociates or mentally escapes from reality. This practice is a learned response to traumatic experiences that occurred during childhood or adulthood. Numerous mental health conditions share this symptom and substances are often used to induce a dissociative state to relieve stress. At Oceanfront Recovery, our focus is on treating addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions that motivate drug and alcohol use. Dissociative symptoms need to be treated properly to support a higher quality of life for the individual, and we can guide this process through our dual diagnosis program. Our facility is thoughtfully located in the beautiful and serene Laguna Beach, CA, providing our clients with a quiet and peaceful place to detox and learn how to manage their condition for a lasting recovery. We can help guide you into a new chapter. Please call us for more information at (877) 279-1777.