What It’s Like To Disassociate

There is very little known about this mental health experience and issue. Everyone is familiar with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, but disassociation is a little lesser known aspect of mental health. It kinda links up with the other three problems but is it’s own issue.

Disassociation is defined as a state in which some integrated part of a person’s life becomes separated from the rest of the personality and functions independently.

I also like Mayo Clinic’s definition:

Dissociative disorders are mental disorders that involve experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity. People with dissociative disorders escape reality in ways that are involuntary and unhealthy and cause problems with functioning in everyday life.

I have had some of the symptoms that Mayo Clinic describes including:

• A sense of being detached from yourself and your emotions
• A perception of the people and things around you as distorted and unreal
• Inability to cope well with emotional or professional stress
• Mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.

It’s known to be more of a coping mechanism that’s used when someone goes through something traumatic, but if left to linger can have lasting effects on the personality.

I first disassociated when I had achalasia, a crippling esophageal disorder that took 4 years to diagnose. It was such a hard thing to go through as a child. I remember just separating that part of my life from who I was as a person. I’d hide it from other people, lie if someone asked about it. It was literally a part of my life that I never wanted to acknowledge. Being sick wasn’t who I was as a person, it was just something I was going through. So separating that aspect of my life from who I was as a person made sense.

It was the longest charade but I refused to let my disease define me. During my worst years, I truly believed that my life wasn’t really my life.

It was an escape mechanism; the ego is a frail thing and in some ways that’s good and bad. I’ll acknowledge that it did help me mentally to disassociate. I truly believe it helped me to keep my sanity and mental health together. But I learned how to disassociate so well, it kinda never left, even after I got better from my surgery for achalasia.
I continue having issues connecting with people. In my social interactions, I can’t just flow the way other people do. I can’t be spontaneous. There’s still a part of me that disassociates and looks at the interaction from a third party experience-from the outside looking in. I’ll subconsciously try to see how the other person feels or thinks about me, in order to try to “socialize better.” It causes me to seem distant. It’s like I stepped out of the situation and am trying to look at it from a third party perspective instead of just looking at it from my own perspective and socializing that way.

I know, it sounds crazy just trying to write about it.

Anxiety also triggers my disassociative behavior, it makes it 100x worst. I’ll just shut down, and try to pretend I’m not even there. That’s my coping mechanism.

I think a lot of people struggle with dissociative behavior and don’t even know it. Like the guy that pulls away every time he gets too close in a relationship or the soldier who came back from war and doesn’t connect with his family the way he used to or even the guy who plays video games all day and starts to find his online relationships more rewarding than the ones in real life.

Overall, it doesn’t effect my behavior too badly other than make me feel a bit distant. It hasn’t gotten to a point where I feel I need professional help but I am interested to find out what causes it.

Personally, I think it’s an ego thing. Something we do to protect our sense of self when we feel threatened. When I’m in a fight or flight triggered anxiety episode, I usually choose flight. I think a lot of people struggle with this kind of mental block and they don’t even know what it’s called.

So far, I’ve found that removing myself from the situation that caused my disassociative behavior helps. As well as calming camomile or valerian root teas. After I’ve managed to clear my head, I can return to the task that triggered me.
I also don’t kick myself over being a little more reserved or distant from other people. Disassociation is just part of who I am because of the things that have happened in my past, just like my anxiety.

But there are more serious versions of disassociative disorders that can cause amnesia or even a complete shift in personality. If this is happening to you or if you have thoughts of suicide, please contact your mental health professional immediately.

Though it’s lesser known, understanding how disassociative behavior affects your mental health is important to keeping it together, at least mentally.

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