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Disassociation, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


What is disassociation or dissociation, when used as a psychiatric term?

Dissociation is defined by DSM-IV as “a disruption in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity, or perception of the environment” (American Psychiatric Association, 1994) and by the tenth edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) as “a partial or complete loss of the normal integration between memories of the past, awareness of identity and immediate sensations, and control of body movements” (World Health Organization, 1992).

In English, please? The ability of the brain to separate into different compartments, each compartment having the necessary tools for survival in a given situation.

So, is dissociation a bad thing? not always, in fact most people dissociate in one way or another during their lives. It is the extremes that seem to get us in trouble. As we dissociate we break ourselves into parts and the sum of these parts make the whole of ourselves. Some of these parts are good, some are helpful, some we want to encourage and strengthen and others we want to suppress. This is where the saying “part of me wants to go out and get wasted and part of me knows that it will only make it worse in the long run” sort of fits in. As we become more aware of our parts, somehow it is supposed to help us learn to change some of our thinking and help us to stay grounded and dissociate less…I’ll let you know if I ever get this far.

As for me?

Sometimes I am aware that I am dissociating, especially during therapy when we are working on something painful, emotional or something I just plain old don’t want to deal with.  I start staring at the books on the bookshelves (I could probably list all the books by title) or at the detail in the woodwork or at my toe or anywhere but near my therapists eyes. I can try to pull myself back by glancing at her or pinching myself . She will often ask me if I am thinking or dissociating. Or ask me to please look at her.  Other times I am gone and I didn’t even know I was leaving. Sometimes she can get me back by totally changing the subject, asking about one of my kids,  or something that is so off base from what we were discussing I just answer. Sometimes I know she is trying to bring me back and I want back and I keep trying to answer the questions in the new conversation because I don’t want to be where I went when I dissociated, it usually isn’t a very nice place to be. Other times, just let me stay, it is better than the reality of what happened.

other words for dissociate:

disjoint, disunite, divorce, part, split, split up, separate, break, break up, decouple, disconnect, disjoin, disjoint, dissever, divide, ramifyresolve, sever, sunder, uncouple, unlink, unyoke

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 06/27/2011 9:47 am

    I know what you’re speaking about because I used to experience this exact same thing with regard to math or anything to do with science. I would just ‘zone out’ so to speak; almost involuntarily. It began with an extremely cruel math teacher I had in High School and grew from there. Having to use the computer has helped me a lot. I wish you the best and applaud your courage in getting help. You are moving forward and that is praise-worthy!

    • 06/28/2011 1:13 pm

      It sounds like you are moving forward also, the computer can be a great aid.

  2. 06/28/2011 3:44 am

    I tweeted and FB’t this – its the simplest way I think Ive seen it described. It helped that you explained your experience of it too. Thanks so much for linking it up at Monday Madness – any more golden nuggets like this – please bring the to us – the linky facility remains open throughout – shah from X

    • 06/28/2011 1:15 pm

      Thanks, as I manage to write some more informational posts as opposed to just rants I will link them up. It is a wonderful thing you do maintaining the Monday Madness and all the links that help us remember we are not alone.

  3. 07/25/2011 12:57 am

    I often just have to physically remove myself from a situation… in other words, I Hide! I didn’t say it was the best way to deal, but sometimes, it’s the only way to deal. LOL! In the past when bad things have been done TO me, it was a mental removal. When my body can move, it’s GONE!

  4. 07/25/2011 5:40 am

    What a wonderful post – I am here from Monday madness. I often do this during therapy but never really knew what it was I was doing or what it was called. TFS!!


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