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What is Dissociation?

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

Dissociation is what happens when your mind deals with too much stress. It is a natural response to trauma in which people feel that they have little or no control. It is a way of "checking out" to help your brain focus on what is most important in keeping you safe and alive (keep in mind triggers can either be real or perceived). It can also be a way to focus or calm down. When you are experiencing dissociation it can be very uncomfortable or even scary. Please know that you are not alone - as many as 50% of people experience at least one dissociative episode in their lives. At the end of the day, the function of dissociation is to keep you safe. If you can begin viewing dissociation as a warning system and that it is your brain and body's way of simply trying to get your attention rather than to scare you, you can begin to feel better about why it is happening and how to treat it.

Common Symptoms: 1) Memory loss - you can't remember things about yourself or events in your life 2) Loss of sense of place and time 3) Body wants to escape - you might feel lightheaded or feel like I'm gonna pass out. There might be times when you actually pass out 4) You don't feel pain 5) Derealization - seeing life as "foggy" or "lifeless," objects change in shape, size, or color, people and things around you don't feel real 6) Depersonalization - difficult to define what kind of person you are, feel like you're floating away, feel disconnected from parts of your body or emotions, as if you're just observing your emotions Ways to Cope: 1) Name it, understand where it come from, and that it happens to others too 2) Learn your triggers 3) Make a plan while calm on how you will deal with it when it happens 4) Seek therapy with a mental health professional - TF-CBT, EMDR Things you can do right now: Cognitive grounding techniques: 1) Show yourself that you're safe - remind yourself where the trauma occurred and remind yourself where you are now 2) Orient yourself to time and place - describe where you are, what you see around you, say the day, month, year, and what time it is 3) Use an inspiring quote or saying - I'm stronger than I think I am, I'm going to get through this 4) Say coping statements - I'm no longer in my trauma, I'm not where I once was, this is only temporary Sensory grounding techniques: 1) 5-4-3-2-1 exercise - 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell - strong smells, 1 thing you can taste 2) Keep a pleasurable sensory object in your pocket 3) Splash cold water on face or hands 4) Practice deep breathing 5) Go for a walk 6) Engage in touch if it feels appropriate and ok to you (i.e. hugs, snuggling, holding hands, caress your own arm, twirl your hair) 7) Hot baths - this calms the nervous system down 8) Talk it out with a trusted friend or family member Find Distractions: 1) Talk to a friend about anything else other than the trauma or the trigger 2) Engage in a new activity - go watch TV, play a board game, read, or do a sport 3) Pet your animal 4) Listen to music/read a book Move to a safer place - either physically or visualize a safe place

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Blue Sage Counseling and Wellness, and the information provided by Ashley Francis, is solely intended for informational and entertainment purposes and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis, or treatment regarding medical or mental health conditions. Although Ashley Francis is a licensed marriage and family therapist, the views expressed on this site or any related content should not be taken for medical or psychiatric advice. Always consult your physician before making any decisions related to your physical or mental health.

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