What is Dissociation?
Dissociation is a difficult thing to explain. It’s a defense mechanism that is developed as a child due to trauma. The child typically attempts to remove themselves consciously from the abuse so they don’t have to deal with the pain and the suffering. Unfortunately this can turn into a coping skill and be used well into adulthood. When the adult encounters stress or situations that remind them of their trauma, they can become distant, more distracted than usual. They may seem less animated, withdrawn, and may even have a difficult time making eye contact with those around them. Those who dissociate frequently, can do it well. They learn how to blend in, go to work, school, come home, all while dissociating. Dissociation can also feel like an out of body experience. It can feel like you are watching yourself as if it were a movie playing out in front of you. It can happen to each person differently, and to explain it to someone who has never experienced it is one of the most difficult things to do.
For me, it can happen briefly, or for days. In therapy, my therapist has caught me dissociating a lot lately. Usually she will call me out of it, or I’ll catch myself drifting and I’ll pull myself right back out. But she’s good enough to know I already drifted and she will ask where I went. The struggle is to tell her. Usually when I dissociate in a session, I’ve gone back to some form of trauma in my past. Clearly it’s because thats what we are talking about. Dredging up all those emotions is difficult, and I tend to shut down when talking about the really deep stuff.
This past week though, I think I’ve been in a dissociative state all week. It started on Monday and carried through so far into this weekend. Monday I felt pretty socially withdrawn. I didn’t want to talk to anybody, even at work. This is difficult because I work in HR. Even in therapy I didn’t want to talk about anything. This week we talked about some really sensitive topics, mostly about my sexual assault and rape, child abuse, and wanting to talk publicly about everything that has happened. This kept me in a withdrawn state the rest of the week. Thankfully my husband is one of the most understanding, patient people I know and is completely ok with just sitting quietly on the couch with me after work. My therapist has been concerned that my medication could be a factor and we have to monitor me closely to make sure no suicidal thoughts or self harm thoughts try to relapse themselves back into the picture. My appointment with the psychiatrist at the VA isn’t until June but we may need to bump that up as they aren’t aware of my new found Borderline diagnosis yet.
I think dissociating will be one of the most difficult coping skills to move past. It has proven effective for me over 30+ years. Its one of the most unhealthy coping skills yet I find the most comfort in it. Eventually I’ll work with my therapist on how to not dissociate so much and I think this Wednesday I can tell her that’s what’s been happening all week. What’ll come of that, I’m not sure, but I trust her, and that’s really all that matters.