By: Nic Love LCSW 79459
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), defines dissociation as “a disruption, interruption, and discontinuity of the normal, subjective integration of behavior, memory, identity, consciousness, emotion, perception, body representation, and motor control” (American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5 ed.). Dissociation or detachment is something everyone experiences or has experienced to some degree but is not often discussed. In my experience, this is because most are unaware of what it looks like or when it is happening. Dissociation can be a natural defense mechanism that can be triggered when our body, mind, and emotions feel overwhelming and are just too much to deal with. It tends to occur more with people who have suffered trauma as it becomes a survival technique.
Dissociation is different for each person. It can last for several hours to even several weeks at a time. It can be challenging to recognize when dissociation happens, primarily when it occurs over a more extended period. Detachment may feel numb to the point of lacking awareness of what is going on with the physical body. An example of this would be an inability to recognize if you are hungry or tell if you need to use the restroom. Detachment can also make you feel as though your mind is empty or in a fog. It can cause you to feel as though you are merely existing, cruising through life on autopilot. This can leave one feeling empty.
How do you bring yourself back to the present or reattach to your body if you have dissociated? There are several ways to reattach, but the first step is recognizing when dissociation is happening. If you cannot identify what dissociation looks like for you, it won’t be easy to reattach to your body. The primary treatment modality for dissociation is psychotherapy. Psychotherapy can be used to help you recognize when you dissociate and what tools you can implement to help bring yourself back. Some examples of tools you might utilize include snapping your wrist with a rubber band, watching something funny, engaging in an activity you enjoy, or listening to music. The goal is to provoke an emotional and/or physical response allowing you to reattach. If you think that you may be experiencing dissociation and are currently in therapy, talk to your therapist about what you are experiencing. If you are not currently in treatment and you are concerned that you may be struggling with dissociation, then you should consider making an appointment with a therapist to explore further.