We have all had moments of being in a trance while not noticing what was going on in our environment. The human brain regularly functions this way to detach from reality to release stress. But when this “autopilot” state of the mind becomes the main coping mechanism, it is known as Dissociative Disorder or dissociation.
Dissociation may happen as a result of traumatic distress. It may also be a side effect of mental health problems such as chronic depression. The brain learns how to detach from one’s surroundings to protect itself from potential danger. However, dissociation may erode relationships and undermine one’s abilities to perform at work. It is important for family members to know the early signs of dissociation and intervene with effective methods.
What Are the Common Signs and Symptoms of Dissociation?
Dissociation happens when a person feels a disconnection between oneself and his or her body. Being in a dissociated state may feel like spacing out or mind wandering. There may be a sense of the world not being real. People might watch themselves from seemingly outside their bodies. There is also a detachment from one’s self-identity.
As these symptoms set in, the physical senses may also change. For example, there may be a lack of sensation. A person’s voice may become flat, non-affective, or monotone.
These symptoms may appear like an episode, but they may progress into a more frequent and constant state, which amounts to dissociative disorders. Such conditions involve issues with memory loss, deterioration in perception, emotional flatness, and other behavioral issues.
People with dissociative disorders may develop a kind of amnesia (the inability to recall significant memories). Apart from memory loss, there is increasing confusion about one’s identity and a real connection with one’s home environment. Sometimes worsening dissociative disorders may progress into multiple personality disorders as these alternate states of self all live in one person.
Why Does Dissociation Happen?
Dissociation is the brain’s response to traumatic experiences. For trauma survivors, dissociation allows them to continue functioning while living in the aftermath of severe traumatization. Dissociation may also happen after triggering events or similar traumatic stress. Being in a dissociative state is usually not life-threatening.
Although dissociative disorders count as mental illness, it does not lead to aggressive or dangerous behaviors. When people become dissociative, they are perceiving danger towards themselves; they instinctively choose to be closed off from other people. Gradually, this deep detachment from reality provides a shell to live in.
Can a Loved One With Dissociation Be Helped?
Because dissociative disorders are one of the brain’s coping mechanisms, it does not help to attempt to reason with this person to face reality.
Bringing reality to their attention may only cause them to retreat further into that shell of nonreality. Frustration and anger from family members may also cause them to dissociate further. They are sensitive to anger because they perceive anger as a threat. It is important to speak with a loved one who has dissociation by using a calm and gentle voice. Do not surprise or startle them. Avoid arguments and reasoning with them. The core principle of action is acceptance.
It is important to understand the brain science behind their conditions. Because their mind is in a protective place against potential harm, they need constant assurance that they are safe.
Only a medical professional is capable of making the formal diagnosis of dissociation. Blood work or other tests may be needed to rule out other conditions. To help people heal from dissociative disorders, health professionals developed “grounding” techniques that coach an individual to physically and mentally reconnect with the world and to re-establish a sense of reality.
Grounding begins with the five senses. The person is asked to describe what their senses are experiencing. Candy or a piece of lemon may be used to help them identify and describe the taste and sensation. Holding an ice cube in the hand helps to engage with the cold sensations. This is like waking up the traumatized brain to re-engage with the physical world.
Another grounding technique is to practice focused sight. A person with dissociation may be asked to focus on an object in the room while describing everything about it. This helps them bring their attention back to the present moment.
Medical professionals have also developed targeted therapies for treating dissociative disorders. Traditional psychotherapy and behavioral therapies can help uncover traumatic experiences and treat the problem of dissociation at its root causes. Overall, treating dissociation takes time. Patience and support can aid in recovery.
Dissociative disorders may be overlooked because not many people, including medical professionals, understand the symptoms and causes. Dissociation is an “autopilot” phase of the brain after experiencing traumatic stress. It may also be a side effect of mental health problems such as chronic depression. The brain learns how to detach from one’s surroundings in order to protect itself from potential danger. However, dissociation may erode relationships and undermine one’s abilities to perform at work. It is important for family members to know the early signs of dissociation and intervene with effective methods. At Casa Recovery, families can find professional help from experienced mental health experts. The treatment team is highly experienced in addressing the individual emotional and mental health needs of each client. Each client’s treatment team will work with them to provide customized efficient and effective treatment methods that have been developed and applied in clinical settings. Call today at (888) 928-2272.