Detachment from reality as a coping mechanism

What dissociation is and how to manage it

People space out from time to time, especially while doing everyday activities. Daydreaming becomes part of daily life—washing the dishes, attending a meeting or the morning commute to work. It’s an entirely innocent escape from what is happening in front of a person and is caused by someone being lost in their thoughts while awake.   

However, some people go into an entirely different realm when they detach from what is happening in front of them. When this feeling becomes frequent and intense, this could be a result of someone experiencing dissociation. 

A 2021 article by WedMD says that dissociation is a complete disconnect from reality as well as a person’s thoughts, feelings and memories to the point where it can affect a person’s perception of themselves. It can make a person unaware of  how much time has passed after their state of dissociation. 

There is a fine line between dissociation and zoning out which causes people to use the terms interchangeably. However, they are different because zoning out falls on the lower end of the dissociation spectrum. 

For a person that dissociates, general symptoms include emotional numbness, a disconnect from the body, an altered sense of time and not remembering where they are or how they got to a certain place. 

People can experience dissociation differently. Additional symptoms include a person experiencing traumatic flashbacks, derealization (watching themselves outside of their body) or feeling like their surroundings are unreal and that they’re in a dream. 

The main cause for dissociation is trauma. This makes it quite common because  people experience trauma for many different reasons. 

Although the American Psychological Association (APA) defines trauma as a response to a horrific event like abuse or an accident, Medical News Today says that trauma can be a response to anything emotional or physical such as emotional abandonment, neglect or bullying. 

Dissociation acts as the brain’s coping mechanism from trauma. People cannot feel the intense negative emotions while enduring a traumatic event or when they think about the trauma if their mind clocks out, thus shielding them from the event. 

Oftentimes, people get confused with those that dissociate and those that have dissociative disorders like Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). DID is a result of severe and consistent dissociation and people with DID can have two or more different identities. 

In contrast, dissociation is a symptom that comes with several mental health issues and illnesses, so just because a person dissociates, it doesn’t mean that they have DID or other dissociative disorders. 

Dissociation is common in people that suffer from stress disorders, borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders and depression. 

It can be a daily burden for someone experiencing dissociation and can be hard to completely eliminate episodes from occurring, especially when the person went through trauma. Because of this, it’s better to learn how to cope with it instead. 

Here are some ways to cope with dissociation:

Consider yoga or develop a stretching routine

Since dissociation can feel like an out-of-body experience, it is important to reconnect with your body and bring yourself back to the present. 

Healthline says that doing yoga can be beneficial because it can help a person ground themselves without doing an intense workout. They mention that a slow, casual workout gives you the opportunity to focus on your breathing and really feel your muscles stretch. 

Have sensory items handy 

Sensory items act as another great way to bring you back to reality because it helps you engage with an item by using your senses.

The best part is that sensory items can be anything lying around your home. It can be your favourite fuzzy blanket, a nice smelling candle, a sweet treat or a childhood toy, to name a few. Try to place one in every room of your home. 

Improve your sleep

Having a proper sleep schedule is extremely important when it comes to maintaining good mental and physical health. It’s no surprise that dissociation can be impacted by the amount of sleep you get. 

Symptoms of dissociation and derealization can be even worse when you’re tired, so be sure to get enough shut eye each night. 

It’s important to remember that dissociation is common because trauma is common. So try not to be too hard on yourself whenever you dissociate. Instead, thank your brain for looking out for your well being and trying to protect you.    

About the author

Reporter at Youth Mind

Grace Nelson-Gunness is a reporter for Youth Mind. She enjoys watching Criminal Minds or reading a suspenseful horror-thriller novel while drinking a vanilla latte.

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