The Effects of Trauma on Your Sense of Self and Reality: What is Dissociation and How to Cope
Coping With Trauma-related Dissociation: A Guide for Survivors and Their Loved Ones
Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience that can have lasting effects on a person's mental and physical health. One of the ways that some people cope with trauma is by dissociating, which means disconnecting from their thoughts, feelings, memories, or sense of identity. Dissociation can help a person survive a traumatic situation, but it can also interfere with their daily functioning and well-being.
Coping With Trauma-related Dissociation.pdf
If you or someone you care about is struggling with trauma-related dissociation, you may feel confused, scared, or helpless. You may wonder what is happening, why it is happening, and how to deal with it. This article will provide you with some basic information about trauma-related dissociation, its causes, its signs, and its management. It will also offer some tips on how to support someone with trauma-related dissociation.
What is Trauma-related Dissociation?
Dissociation is a mental process that involves a disruption or detachment from one's normal sense of reality. It can affect a person's perception, memory, emotion, behavior, or identity. Dissociation can occur in different degrees, from mild to severe. Some common examples of mild dissociation are daydreaming, zoning out, or forgetting something. These are normal experiences that most people have from time to time.
However, when dissociation is caused by trauma, it can become more frequent, intense, or persistent. Trauma-related dissociation can impair a person's ability to function in their daily life, relationships, or work. It can also increase the risk of developing other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
There are different types of trauma-related dissociation, depending on how they affect a person's sense of self and reality. Some of the most common types are:
Derealization: Feeling detached from one's surroundings or feeling that the world is unreal or distorted.
Depersonalization: Feeling detached from one's own body or feeling that one is not oneself or has no identity.
Dissociative amnesia: Having gaps in one's memory of personal information or events, especially those related to trauma.
Dissociative identity disorder (DID): Having two or more distinct personality states that alternately take control of one's behavior and memory. This was formerly known as multiple personality disorder.
Dissociative fugue: Leaving one's usual environment and identity behind and traveling to a new place, sometimes adopting a new identity. This is a rare and temporary condition.
What Causes Trauma-related Dissociation?
The exact causes of trauma-related dissociation are not fully understood, but research suggests that it is a coping mechanism that the brain uses to protect itself from overwhelming stress or danger. When a person experiences a traumatic event, such as abuse, violence, accident, or natural disaster, their brain may activate the fight, flight, or freeze response. This is a natural and adaptive reaction that helps a person survive a threat by preparing them to either fight back, run away, or stay still.
However, sometimes the threat is too severe, prolonged, or inescapable, and the person cannot fight, flee, or freeze. In this case, their brain may resort to dissociation as a last resort. Dissociation allows the person to mentally escape from the reality of the trauma by disconnecting from their senses, emotions, memories, or identity. This can help them endure the situation without being overwhelmed by pain or fear.
While dissociation can be helpful in the short term, it can also have negative consequences in the long term. Dissociation can prevent the person from processing and healing from the trauma, and can cause them to lose touch with their own feelings and needs. Dissociation can also make the person more vulnerable to re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks, nightmares, or triggers. Furthermore, dissociation can affect the person's sense of self and reality, and make them feel isolated and misunderstood by others.
How to Recognize Trauma-related Dissociation?
Trauma-related dissociation can manifest in different ways depending on the type, severity, and frequency of dissociation. Some of the common signs and symptoms of trauma-related dissociation are:
Feeling numb, empty, or detached from oneself or one's surroundings.
Feeling like an observer or a stranger in one's own life.
Having difficulty remembering or recalling personal information or events.
Having gaps or inconsistencies in one's memory or sense of time.
Having difficulty concentrating, focusing, or making decisions.
Having difficulty recognizing or expressing one's emotions.
Having difficulty forming or maintaining relationships with others.
Having changes in one's personality, behavior, preferences, or beliefs.
Having a sense of confusion or conflict about one's identity.
Having voices or thoughts that are not one's own or that contradict each other.
Having sensations of floating, flying, shrinking, or expanding.
Having out-of-body experiences or feeling disconnected from one's body.
Having altered perceptions of oneself, others, or the world.
If you notice any of these signs or symptoms in yourself or someone else, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible. Trauma-related dissociation can be treated with proper diagnosis and intervention.
How to Manage Trauma-related Dissociation?
Trauma-related dissociation can be challenging to cope with, but there are some strategies and tips that can help you manage it better. Here are some of them:
Seek Professional Help
The first and most important step is to seek professional help from a qualified mental health provider who has experience in treating trauma and dissociation. A therapist can help you understand the causes and effects of your dissociation, and provide you with appropriate treatment options. Some of the common treatment options for trauma-related dissociation are:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): A type of psychotherapy that helps you identify and challenge negative thoughts and behaviors that contribute to your dissociation.
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): A type of psychotherapy that helps you develop skills to regulate your emotions, cope with stress, and improve your relationships.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): A type of psychotherapy that uses eye movements to help you process and heal from traumatic memories.
Trauma-focused therapy: A type of psychotherapy that helps you confront and resolve your trauma in a safe and supportive environment.
Medication: A type of treatment that uses prescription drugs to help you reduce your symptoms of anxiety, depression, or PTSD that may accompany your dissociation.
Your therapist will work with you to find the best treatment option for your specific needs and goals. Remember that recovery from trauma-related dissociation is possible with proper care and support.
Another important step is to practice self-care, which means taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional needs. Self-care can help you reduce stress, improve your mood, and enhance your well-being. Some of the self-care activities that can help you cope with trauma-related dissociation are:
Relaxation and grounding techniques: These are methods that help you calm your nervous system and reconnect with your present moment. Some examples are deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation, yoga, or listening to soothing music.
Physical activity: This is any form of exercise that helps you release tension, boost your energy, and improve your health. Some examples are walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or dancing.
Healthy diet: This is eating foods that nourish your body and brain and provide you with essential nutrients. Some examples are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and water.
Sleep hygiene: This is following a regular and consistent sleep schedule and creating a comfortable and relaxing sleep environment. Some tips are avoiding caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, or screens before bedtime, keeping your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet, and using aromatherapy, white noise, or relaxation techniques to help you fall asleep.
Hobbies and interests: These are activities that bring you joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment. Some examples are reading, writing, painting, gardening, cooking, or playing games.
Try to incorporate some of these self-care activities into your daily routine and notice how they make you feel. Remember that you deserve to take care of yourself and enjoy life.
Build a Support System
A third step is to build a support system of people who can understand and help you with your trauma-related dissociation. A support system can provide you with emotional support, practical assistance, and social connection. Some of the people who can be part of your support system are:
Family and friends: These are people who love you unconditionally and respect your boundaries. They can listen to you without judging you, comfort you when you are distressed, encourage you when you are discouraged, and celebrate with you when you make progress.
Therapist or counselor: This is a professional who can offer you expert guidance and treatment for your trauma-related dissociation. They can help you understand your condition better, teach you coping skills, and monitor your recovery.
Support group or peer mentor: These are people who have similar experiences or challenges as you and can relate to what you are going through. They can share their stories with you, offer you advice or tips, and inspire you with their success.
Online community or forum: These are people who can connect with you through the internet and offer you information or resources. They can also provide you with a sense of belonging and acceptance.
Try to reach out to some of these people and let them know how they can support you. Remember that you are not alone in your journey and that there are people who care about you.
Create a Safe Environment
A fourth step is to create a safe environment for yourself where you can feel comfortable and secure. A safe environment can help you prevent or reduce the triggers that may cause or worsen your dissociation. A trigger is anything that reminds you of the trauma or makes you feel threatened or unsafe. Some of the ways to create a safe environment are:
Set boundaries: These are limits that you set for yourself and others to protect your physical and emotional space. They can help you communicate your needs and preferences clearly and respectfully. Some examples of boundaries are saying no to unwanted requests or demands, asking for permission before touching or hugging someone, or leaving a situation that makes you uncomfortable.
or make you feel unsafe, or using headphones or earplugs to block out loud noises.
Manage triggers: These are actions that help you cope with or reduce the impact of things that may trigger your dissociation. They can help you regain control and calmness. Some examples of managing triggers are using relaxation or grounding techniques to soothe yourself, using positive affirmations or reminders to reassure yourself, or seeking support from someone you trust.
Try to create a safe environment for yourself and respect the safe environment of others. Remember that you have the right to feel safe and comfortable in your own space.
Explore Your Identity
A fifth step is to explore your identity and discover who you are beyond your trauma and dissociation. Trauma-related dissociation can make you lose touch with your sense of self and make you feel confused or conflicted about your identity. Exploring your identity can help you reconnect with your true self and express it authentically. Some of the ways to explore your identity are:
Journaling: This is a method of writing down your thoughts and feelings on a regular basis. It can help you reflect on your experiences, emotions, values, goals, and dreams. It can also help you identify your strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes.
Art therapy: This is a method of using creative activities such as drawing, painting, sculpting, or collage to express yourself. It can help you access and release your subconscious thoughts and feelings that may be difficult to verbalize. It can also help you explore different aspects of your personality and identity.
Personality tests: These are tools that measure your traits, preferences, or styles based on a set of questions or tasks. They can help you gain insight into your characteristics, motivations, or behaviors. They can also help you understand how you relate to others and the world.
Role models: These are people who inspire you or influence you positively. They can be real or fictional, living or dead, famous or ordinary. They can help you learn from their experiences, values, or achievements. They can also help you emulate their qualities or skills.
Try to explore your identity and celebrate your uniqueness. Remember that you are more than your trauma and dissociation and that you have a lot to offer to yourself and others.
How to Support Someone With Trauma-related Dissociation?
If someone you care about is suffering from trauma-related dissociation, you may feel worried, frustrated, or helpless. You may want to help them but not know how. Here are some dos and don'ts that can guide you on how to support someone with trauma-related dissociation:
Do Educate Yourself
The first thing you can do is to educate yourself about trauma-related dissociation. Learn about its causes, effects, signs, and treatments. This can help you understand what the person is going through and how to help them effectively. You can find reliable information from books, websites, podcasts, or videos that are written or produced by experts or reputable organizations.
Do Validate Their Feelings
The second thing you can do is to validate their feelings. Validation means acknowledging and accepting the person's emotions without judging them or trying to change them. Validation can help the person feel heard, understood, and supported. Some examples of validation are saying things like "I'm sorry that happened to you", "That must have been really hard", "I can see why you feel that way", or "You have every right to feel angry/sad/scared".
Do Respect Their Boundaries
or situation. Respecting their boundaries means following their wishes and not crossing their lines. Some examples of respecting their boundaries are asking for permission before touching or hugging them, giving them space when they need it, not forcing them to talk or share if they don't want to, or not prying into their personal information or history.
Don't Take It Personally
The fourth thing you can do is to not take it personally. Sometimes, the person with trauma-related dissociation may act in ways that may hurt or confuse you. They may withdraw from you, reject your help, lash out at you, or switch to a different personality. These behaviors are not meant to offend or manipulate you. They are a result of their trauma and dissociation and how they cope with it. Try not to take their actions personally and don't blame yourself or them for what is happening. Instead, try to be patient, compassionate, and understanding.
Don't Push Them to Remember or Share
The fifth thing you can do is to not push them to remember or share. Sometimes, you may want to know more about their trauma or dissociation and how it affects them. You may think that by asking them questions or encouraging them to talk, you are helping them heal or recover. However, this may not be the case. Forcing them to remember or share may trigger their dissociation or cause them more distress. It may also make them feel pressured, invaded, or mistrusted. Let them decide when and how much they want to share with you and respect their pace and process.
Trauma-related dissociation is a complex and challenging condition that affects a person's sense of self and reality. It can be caused by severe, prolonged, or inescapable trauma that overwhelms the brain's ability to cope. It can manifest in different ways, such as feeling detached from oneself or one's surroundings, having gaps in one's memory, or having multiple personality states.
Trauma-related dissociation can be treated with proper diagnosis and intervention from a qualified mental health provider. There are also some strategies and tips that can help a person manage their dissociation better, such as seeking professional help, practicing self-care, building a support system, creating a safe environment, and exploring their identity.
If you are suffering from trauma-related dissociation, know that you are not alone and that there is hope for recovery. If you know someone who is suffering from trauma-related dissociation, know that you can support them by educating yourself, validating their feelings, respecting their boundaries, not taking it personally, and not pushing them to remember or share.
Trauma-related dissociation is not a sign of weakness or madness. It is a sign of strength and resilience. It is a way of surviving the unspeakable and unthinkable. It is a way of coping with the unbearable and unmanageable. It is a way of living with the unimaginable and incomprehensible.
Here are some frequently asked questions about trauma-related dissociation:
Q: How common is trauma-related dissociation?
A: Trauma-related dissociation is more common than you may think. According to some studies, about 10% of the general population experience some form of dissociation at some point in their lives. Among people who have experienced trauma, the rate of dissociation is much higher, ranging from 30% to 70%. Among people who have been diagnosed with PTSD, about 15% to 30% also have dissociative symptoms.
Q: How long does trauma-related dissociation last?
A: Trauma-related dissociation can last for different periods of time depending on the type, severity, and frequency of dissociation. Some forms of dissociation are transient and last for minutes or hours. Some forms of dissociation are chronic and last for months or years. Some forms of dissociation are episodic and occur only during certain situations or triggers.
Q: Can trauma-related dissociation be cured?
and intensity of dissociation and help the person integrate their dissociated parts and memories. Treatment can also help the person heal from their