Discovering Dissociation

In my dream, I am a passenger in a car and someone, a male, is driving us up a steep, windy road.  It’s dark outside, and the road is only illuminated by our headlights, directly in front of us.  I observe that the road is made of wooden planks, laid vertically out before us, only as wide as our car. We are on the side of a large mountain or hill.  I see tones of the Earth, greens, browns, and grays.  The light wooden planks look like they are in varying degrees of dilapidation. I would definitely describe the roadway as “rickety”.

I see a bend in the road and I feel like the car is travelling too fast to handle it.  I brace myself, because I already know what’s going to happen.  My husband loses control over the vehicle and we go careening off the edge.  Falling through darkened space, I brace myself for impact.  As we hit the Earth below, I see a flash of light and feel an instant pain equally as fleeting.  I see glass shattering all around me and BOOM, I wake up with shortness of breath, realizing it was only a dream…

Through my dreams and my own experience with dissociation, I have learned a few things I would like to share.  In my dream experience, I have discovered it’s possible that when we go through a traumatic death, for example, the body may feel pain for an instant, but it is also instantly released (in the form of spirit disconnecting with the body).  This is one means of dissociation.

Nearly everyone on the planet experiences some type of dissociation from time to time.  For example, we are dissociating when we drive for a long distance, and ultimately realize we have passed our exit from the freeway, but have no idea how that happened.  We dissociate when we are involved in a one sided conversation which drones on and on.  We hear the person talking, but after a few moments, we realize we have no idea what’s been said.  We dissociate when we think we tell someone something, but haven’t actually said it out loud.

On the other hand, approximately one percent of the population experiences Dissociative Identity Disorder, which escalates the dissociative experience.  For example, someone with the disorder often finds writings he/she must’ve written, but cannot recall writing.  Or they may find evidence that they must have purchased something, but cannot remember doing it.  It is common for this group to experience gaps in memory for major life events like graduations, weddings, and funerals.

Dissociation of all types is a result of trauma.  It’s a defensive mechanism the body utilizes for self-preservation.  For example, if a child is being abused, the conscious part of him/her might leave the body and “check out” so as not to endure completely what is happening in the physical body.  This is how the Ego aspect of a person can fracture off into different “parts” or personalities.  If the trauma is severe enough, one can create completely different personalities, which may or not be aware of one another.  In the abuse example given, there may be a part of this child who grows into adulthood, however he/she may feel continually haunted by that part of him/her who has unresolved trauma.

We can dissociate when we have an accident too.  For example, let’s say I’m making dinner, but not really paying attention to the task at hand, because I’m thinking about other things.  As a result, I might drop a heavy stack of hard bowls onto one of my fingers.  The exact moment of impact, I may notice that I disconnect from my body just enough to experience the shock and yet tolerate the physical pain well.  There is a part of me who isn’t present or engaged in the present moment activity, which in this example is the physical injury.

Recognizing when we have a propensity to dissociate can be tremendously helpful.  When we are aware of what triggers it, we can be more conscious about mindfulness.  When we are more mindful, we are maintaining presence of mind.  With presence of mind, we can avoid accidents.  One way to remember to be present is to notice your “Self” seeing through your own eyes.  Bring your awareness into your body, behind your eyes, see your nose in your peripheral.  Practice several times each day until it becomes habit.

For folks dealing with DID, it’s important to find a therapist who is experienced and practice DBT, CBT, and/or EMDR.  EMDR is an evidenced-based therapy which involves stimulating the brain so it can reprocess the (trauma) information in a more digestible manner, meaning more adaptively.

If you have a story about dissociation you would like to share, please feel to comment below!

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