Dissociation 101

Updated: Jan 5

'Checking out' of your body is a normal response to trauma.

Dissociation is your physiology and neurology hi-jacking your awareness to "protect you" from seeing, feeling, and hearing what's going on around you.

You may have dissociated during abuse, and you may still be dissociating after abuse. This is 100% normal.

Dissociation kept you safe when unsafe things were happening to you, and now, post-trauma, your body still resorts to this 'safety tool' during stress or in a 'trigger.'

Dissociation helped you during abuse. It numbed your senses, blurred your vision, turned the volume down on life, and transported you into your own little safe world somewhere else until it felt safe to come back. Without dissociating, your traumatic experience might have killed you from the shock, pain, and horror of the event.

After trauma, it's very normal to dissociate. Dissociation is still trying to keep you safe, which can be annoying if you're trying to stay 'in your body.' Here are some of the ways dissociation likes to manifest in the lives of survivors even after the danger of trauma is gone:

Dissociation feels like:

  • feeling like you're floating away even while you're awake, or especially during sex

  • feeling like you're disconnected from your body, like your limbs are in one place but your mind is not connected to them, numbness & paralysis

  • hyperawareness of your body or limbs, monitoring your physical space

  • trouble talking about what you're feeling, other people know what you're feeling before you can even figure out you're feeling something

  • feeling like you're suffocating or have trouble breathing, shortness of breath, gasping for air or holding your breath without realizing it for a long period of time

  • zoning out when you don't want to zone out

sub-symptoms that can sometimes come alongside dissociation:

  • memory problems

  • trouble focusing

  • poor balance

  • inability to think rationally or engage in common sense

  • inability to plan or think long term

  • emotions that 'come out of nowhere'

  • hazy thinking

  • trouble following a conversation

  • reading & comprehension issues

  • speech issues, like stuttering or stammering

Growing Beyond Dissociation

I had no control over dissociation when I first started healing. In the beginning I didn't have the luxury of being able to 'stay in my body' to fight down triggers or stress, I would just float out of my body and that was it. Some dissociation episodes would last for days. I'd come back into my body, like "hello, oh wow, I'm back, what day is it?!"

Over time my mind and body learned that I was 'safe' and that triggers weren't going to kill me, so I didn't struggle with the unwanted splitting that at first was hard to control.

But there comes a point in all of our recovery journeys where we have to decide to throw our old trauma-response 'tools' out the window and reclaim our life. Dissociation feels safe and comfortable, and sometimes it can be tempting to use it as an excuse to not be present or show up in your full strength, but we're not actually living when we 'check-out' and get good at checking out in a crisis.

I traded in my worn out trauma-tools like dissociation by asking God to replace it with better tools -- like his peace, like the strength to face unwanted feelings, and the courage to forgive myself, my mom, my dad, and every single person involved in the painful part of my journey.

If you've reached the limit of what you can do in your own strength to fight of dissociation in a trauma-response, click here for a freedom prayer I wrote for you.

Read More:

• Self-Care for Dissociation

• The Dangerous Side of Dissociation

• My Dance with Dissociation

• Prayer for Dissociation

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