This is a post written back a few months ago, and it’s an interesting question, that I have some thoughts about.
“Dissociation is a primary coping mechanism for children living in a scary world. It isn’t something that has to be taught. It is a natural response to a threatening environment. And to children, it is quite common for something to feel threatening. The event doesn’t have to be newsworthy to trigger a dissociative response. And the dissociation doesn’t have to be debilitating and obvious for it to be dissociation. Dissociation can be as simple as leaving the keys in the refrigerator or driving to work without really knowing how we got there (lost in thought). This is how it works and we are all dealing with it. So why is nobody talking about it? It is important that we understand what is happening here.”
I think Elisabeth is on the right track here, in terms of understanding that dissociation isn’t something that is uncommon, it’s not even a disorder by itself. Remember, the disorder is actually DID – Dissociative Identity Disorder. Dissociating is just something we have the ability to do when necessary, and really what more necessary situation could we have than surviving childhood trauma?
I find her description interesting in another way too. I dissociated for a long time even after surviving my childhood. There were situations where the stress overwhelmed me, and lacking other tools, I would dissociate. Sometimes that turned out to be helpful, it got me through the stress until I could keep going with my life.
Other times, it would continue on too long, leading, in my case, to fugue states. That was a problem, having no other skills, not the basic dissociation.
I suspect though, that many people don’t talk about simple dissociation because they don’t realize they dissociate. It’s kind of the opposite problem with have with depression and anxiety.
We have an issue with depression and anxiety because people who are just sad, or worried, tend to misuse the terms, and society gets the impression that “getting over” depression should be simple, after all we all get over being sad about a ball game or a breakup eventually.
With dissociation, I think we tend to define it the way we see it in movies or TV shows, which is the most dramatic way possible, often what they are really showing us is multiple personality disorder.
Don’t get me wrong, MPD or DID, is a form of dissociation, but it’s an extreme form. Most of us do not have that, but most of us do dissociate from time to time for various reasons.
And we should talk about it. Because as much trouble as dissociation caused me in my twenties when I had no control over it, it was also the skill that helped me survive childhood, and remains one of the skills I use to continue focusing on work, or whatever else I need to focus on, to get through to a time when I can deal with whatever emotion needs to be dealt with.
So, don’t give it a bad name. For many of us survivors, it probably saved us. But, I’m hesitant to call it what it is, because I know that if I talk openly about it, many people will picture something that is much different than what I really went through. But maybe if we all recognized how often we dissociate, it might help those who are dealing with an identity disorder get a bit more understanding as well?
What comes to your mind when we use the word dissociation?