Dissociation Again


I posted about dissociation last July, immediately after I had an occurrence. I can’t recall experiencing this dreadful disorder since then, up until last Wednesday. If you’ve experienced dissociation you know how disabling it can be. I was proud of myself for working my way through it much better than I ever had before – it was still frightening.

What is Dissociation?

On their website, the Mayo Clinic has a good description of dissociative disorder,

Someone with a dissociative disorder escapes reality in ways that are involuntary and unhealthy. The person with a dissociative disorder experiences a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity.

Types of dissociative disorders

There are several forms of dissociative disorders. I’m going to give a brief definition of all three. These are all from the Mayo Clinic website:

Dissociative amnesia: This is the one you see on television all the time. In fiction, it’s usually caused by a bump in the head, The real story is that the main symptom of this disorder is memory loss that’s more severe than normal forgetfulness and that can’t be explained by a medical condition. You can’t recall information about yourself or events and people in your life, especially from a traumatic time.

Dissociative identity disorder: This is one that seems to be used in soap operas. It used to be called multiple personality disorder and is frequently confused with schizophrenia. The reality is it is characterized by “switching” to alternate identities. You may feel the presence of one or more other people talking or living inside your head, and you may feel as though you’re possessed by other identities. Each of these identities may have a unique name, personal history and characteristics, including obvious differences in voice, gender, mannerisms and even such physical qualities as the need for eyeglasses.

The One That Gets Me

Depersonalization-derealization disorder: This is the one I am too familiar with. Fortunately, less now than before. Its definition is,

…it involves an ongoing or episodic sense of detachment or being outside yourself — observing your actions, feelings, thoughts and self from a distance as though watching a movie (depersonalization). Other people and things around you may feel detached and foggy or dreamlike, and the world may seem unreal (derealization). You may experience depersonalization, derealization or both. Symptoms, which can be profoundly distressing, may last only a few moments or come and go over many years.

I’m happy to say mine usually last a few minutes to an hour or so. I can’t imagine it going on for years. It’s hard to describe, but I’ll give it a try. I will be doing something mundane like walking across a room, brushing my teeth, or vacuuming and suddenly everything glazes over. I feel it all over my body that I’m not really there. I do everything I can not to touch anything. Walls, doors, etc. because I believe if I touch them that my hand will go right through them and will prove I’m separated from the world – validate its all just an illusion. They almost always occur when I’m standing or walking and I’m forced to just freeze. I stand still terrified to move. Sometimes, when I’ve been in the bedroom I’ve forced myself to fall into the bed so I no longer have to stand. Falling into the bed is risky business because what may happen if I fall through it. Once in bed I still don’t believe the things around me are real other than the bed. Even the bed is suspect although I am on it.

I’ve lucked out a few times and had Maurice home when this occurred. He will hold both my hands and repeatedly tell me to,“Feel me, I’m here. Feel the floor.” By holding his hand and realizing I wasn’t falling through the floor, I could get past the fear in just a few moments.

It Came Back

As I mentioned, this nasty disorder hit me last Wednesday. I walked into the kitchen and froze. As usual I stood there afraid to touch anything. Maurice was in the living room, but I didn’t call out to him. Dissociation disorderInstead, I decided to force myself to keep moving. I opened the refrigerator and pulled out two apples. It was an odder feeling than normal because I was touching things and carrying things, yet still felt I was in a cloud and it was not happening. I was hyperventilating as I carried them to the sink. Maurice heard me and asked if something was wrong. I told him I was disassociating, but was okay. Washing the apples was the most difficult part. It required me to feel the apples and run the water, yet oddly felt like an illusion. I was terrified as I held the apples. They shouldn’t have been there. I shouldn’t have been touching the water. As I went to cut the apples, my breathing got heavier and tears were flowing down my cheeks. By the time Maurice walked up behind me, I was terrified. He put his arms around me while I took many deep breaths until the feeling mostly went away. As I sat in the living room eating my apples, I still felt uneasy and was shaking. It took longer than I would have liked, but it was a huge relief when it finally passed.

In the end I was proud of myself. I felt the fear yet did it anyway. It was nice having Maurice help me, but overall I did it on my own. I hope when it happens again that I will be able to keep my head together remember that day. It is one I will never forget.

For more about dissociative disorders, I highly recommend checking out The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation website. Their FAQ page is excellent.

Have you experienced a form of dissociation disorder? I’m interested in reading the details.

17 comments on Dissociation Again

  1. I can related completely to what you experience, though I don’t suffer at the same level as you do. It sounds much more paralyzing than what I have experienced my entire life. When this has happened to me, I’ve felt removed from reality and was content to become a different “me,” which I called “The Observer” or “Observation Mode.” I would often feel like I was being compressed into a smaller shape or body, and my senses would become very keen. Most often, it’s not an uncomfortable feeling. But, I attribute these frequent episodes to a lot of procrastination in my life, as I’ve spend much more time as an observer than a participator in life. I’m working now to be more present and active rather than a passive observer, as life it precious and it’s ticking away…

    1. Your symptoms sound very familiar. “The Observer” is an excellent word for it. Based on friends I’ve talked without a mental illness, it seems everyone goes through this occasionally. We just happen to have it more frequently and with a harder punch

  2. Also, I wanted to ask: do you ever have instances of hallucination? I’ve always had moments where I see what looks like a person from a distance or out of the corner of my eye, and when I examine them closer it turns out to be a tree, or a pile of trash or other objects. I’ve been told time and again that that can stem from bipolar disorder. Also, I have really poor eyesight, so that might be more to blame, as well as a very (over)active imagination!

    1. Yes, I’ve had hallucinations though not likely due to bipolar. I’ve had them from exhaustion when I haven’t slept well for several days. Also, saw them when I was testing some meds that didn’t work out. Hallucinations like you describe are not uncommon for those who have BP. They tend to be more pronounced with those with Bipolar I.

  3. I experienced it once for only a short while. I felt disconnected and felt as though I was watching myself. My perception seemed fuzzy, unreal. Had it lasted more than 30 minutes I would have been frightened. I don’t think it lasted more than 15 or 20. I chalked it up to all the other strange things I was experiencing (hallucinations after my dog died). I am proud of you for working through it on your own. I know it was very hard.

  4. What an informative article and so well articulated. I’ve read up on it many times and yours is by far the clearest of understanding (for me anyway). I get depersonalization. It was triggered in my late teens by my mother’s deteriorating mental illness, and fed by my abusive marriage. Strangely enough, I call it ‘going inside myself’, retreating within the very centre of my being into the size of a pin prick Although I do feel outside of my body. I become an observer of life events and thus unharmed. It happens in an instant. And I’m far away and it takes me several days to ‘come back’. Brilliant article, Brad, thank you

    1. Thank you, Pieces. It’s interesting the different ways it affects different people.

  5. This is not something i;ve had to deal with too much, but i do remember one incident where i was at this gathering (consisting of artists who had met in AA) and at one point this person ran into the apartment saying she had this college project she had to finish by tomorrow morning and wondered if the people at her party would be willing to go down the street and take head shot photos. Everyone was really excited about it, but it caused a panic attack in me and i couldn’t do it, so the shame came rushing in…so i went back to the back porch where the sofa for smoking cigarettes was and sat there smoking — when suddenly i saw myself breaking a part into molecules and each expanding outward…my identity at its core, my actual self was splitting apart, yet I was watching it happen, and having a panic attack as an observer…it was probably one of the most rattling experiences i’ve ever had. i can’t imagine having to deal with something of this magnitude on a kind of regular basis.

  6. I often have spells of depersonalization and derealization. I do my very, very best to just sit and be extremely still until they pass, and sometimes use the Five Things Meditation to ground myself. Scary stuff, but I don’t think much about it because it happens so often.

  7. I have did so I know all about this topic! It can be so scary when the dissociation gets bad. Even without switching to another alter sometimes just the level of dissociation is awful. XX

    1. I’m grateful I don’t have them as much as before. I think that’s why it shook me up so much.

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