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Overcoming Feelings Of Dissociation

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What Is Dissociation?

I have already discussed the phenomenon of dissociation in the article : Always Zoning Out? Dissociation Explained to recap very briefly, dissociation is a biopychological process that operates as a defense mechanism to prevent disturbing thoughts/memories/experiences from penetrating consciousness due to the unbearable burden of stress they would bring about were this mechanism not in place.

In so doing, dissociation can function to protect us from potentially highly potent emotions such as helplessness, fear and shame.

What Does Being In A State Of Dissociation Feel Like?

Feelings of dissociation can be seen as lying on a continuum : relatively mild dissociation involves feeling mentally ‘hazy’,’foggy’ ‘ numb’ and somehow ‘not fully present’ nor fully engaged with reality ; at the other end of the continuum, dissociation can involve complete loss of conscious memory of a highly traumatizing event / series of events / periods of one’s life (I describe my own experiences of dissociation in the article linked to above).

Depersonalization And Derealization :

Two important types of dissociation are :
a) DEPERSONALIZATION : this state involves cutting off from one’s own thoughts and feelings so that they do not feel like one’s own but those of somebody else. Individuals in this state can feel like an ‘observer of themselves’, as if they were watching themselves on a film screen.

b) DEREALIZATION : as the word implies, this refers to a feeling of ‘unreality’ – as if what is going on around one is unreal, surreal or dreamlike even when it is, objectively, ordinary and quotidian.

Overcoming Feelings Of Dissociation :

According to Dr Harold Kushner, author of Healing Dissociation, in order to overcome feelings of dissociation / dissociative disorders it is necessary to :

– gradually, as part of a therapeutic process, to come to terms with, and accept, the reality of one’s traumatic childhood experiences (as opposed to being in denial about this, repressing it or suppressing it)

– firmly recognize the traumatic experiences are now over and in the past

– firmly recognize that because the traumatic experiences are over and in the past, how one feels, behaves, thinks and acts no longer has to be constricted by these experiences – one is free to start making fresh choices and take on a new, more positive approach to life

– come to an acceptance that injustice, pain and suffering are inevitable parts of life and that what is of greatest importance is how one responds adapts to this inescapable fact.

– find meaning in one’s experiences of suffering, such as how it has developed one as a person and how it can lead to posttraumatic growth.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Do You Have Depersonalization Disorder? The Symptoms.

 

We have already seen that the experience of severe trauma can lead to us reacting (although it is a reaction created by unconscious processes, not a reaction we deliberately choose, of course) by developing a psychological defense mechanism known as depersonalization , which produces in us a sense of ‘unreality’ – as if we are living in a kind of dream world and are strangely detached and disconnected from the real world.

Essentially, it is our mind’s way of protecting us from fully experiencing a reality which has become intolerably psychological painful. However, this ‘protection’ comes at a very heavy price; indeed, I know, from my own personal experience, that the condition of depersonalization itself is very distressing.

In this article, I want to take a detailed look at the main symptoms of this disorder.

 

The Symptoms Of Depersonalization Disorder:

– the world seems lifeless and colourless. All experiences leave you feeling flat. There is no excitement or pleasure (an inability to experience pleasure is sometimes referred to by psychologists as anhedonia).

– you feel like a ‘detached observer’ of your own life, almost as good if someone else is playing the part of you in a movie that you are watching; you feel you are just going through the motions of living, like a robot or an automaton.

– you have lost the feelings of affection that you once had for your friends and family

– you may laugh and cry but you have ceased to feel the emotions that normally accompany such behaviours

– your head feels empty and devoid of thought and when you speak you feel you don’t know where the words have come from, as if your speech is automated

– your memories don’t feel like your own, as if you never experienced the events that are held in your memory

– you no longer feel fear in connection with things that once would have frightened you, just a numbness

– you are unable to visualize (eg the faces of your friends or family)

– you sometimes feel the need to touch your body in order to confirm you really are a present, physical, existing entity

– you sometimes have the feeling that your hands and/or feet are bigger/smaller than they really are (this is sometimes known as body dysmorphia).

– your body feels as if it is floating

– your body doesn’t feel like your own

– you feel as if you are ‘outside’ of your body

 

It is not necessary to suffer from all of the above symptoms to be suffering from depersonalization. However, the more symptoms one has, the more intense the symptoms are and the longer they persist the more likely it is that one has the condition.

For more information, including information about possible treatments for depersonalization, click here.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

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Depersonalization: How Trauma Can Leave Us Feeling ‘Unreal.’

 

One of the (myriad) symptoms of my illness can, perhaps, be best conveyed by the following example : I would look at a beautiful view, such as the sun setting on the horizon of the sea near where I live, but feel nothing. Whilst most people would feel their spirits lifted, glad to be alive, even joyful, I would just experience an emotional deadness and sense of emptiness. In fact, if anything, I would feel even worse than normal – as my inability to feel anything positive would remind me of how utterly devoid of meaning or anything vaguely approaching fulfillment my life had become.

In such situations I would sometimes try to will myself to feel at least a flicker of positive emotion, but it was impossible. It was as if the part of my brain which experiences pleasure had been excised from it by a malevolent and demonic neuro-surgeon.

Similarly, I always preferred rainy days to sunny ones because at least on rainy days there is not so much pressure on one to feel and behave cheerfully.

In short, I was suffering from a condition known as depersonalization.

 

 

What Is Depersonalization?

Whilst many people have not heard of the condition of depersonalization, and even many mental health professionals know little about it, depersonalization is, in fact, the third most common mental health condition after depression and anxiety (and people who suffer from depersonalization often suffer from depression and anxiety simultaneously).

It involves one’s sense of self becoming greatly diminished so that the concept of one’s individuality can be lost, leaving a feeling of uncertainty regarding who one actually is.

It also involves a sense of derealization. The world itself feels unreal, purposeless and meaningless. Many sufferers say it is like being in a constant dream state. In my own case, I felt that I was looking at the world through a metre thick, grey tinted, opaque glass. I was outside of things. Disconnected.

Sufferers, too, often describe feeling like an automaton or robot, simply going through the motions in life, but utterly unable to engage with the world emotionally.  Life seems pointless and absurd. The sufferer feels detached from the immediacy of the day-to-day world.

Often, too, as can be inferred from the above, people with the condition feel a profound sense of existential crisis, preoccupied with the meaning (or lack thereof) of existence. They are tormentingly aware of their condition and of the paucity of their experience of the world.

If early childhood, for some, is a magical and joyful time, this condition is its antithesis. One is cast out of Eden to inhabit, if not physical Hell, its psychological equivalent.

Other symptoms include feeling separate from one’s body. Some, too, report that everyday objects can start to seem strange, alien and ethereal.

Meeting people who used to lift our spirits now leave us feeling cold. Even people we considered ourselves to have loved. They can now bring no joy. No comfort. No consolation. It is too late.

Sufferers may be able to laugh and cry, but do not feel the emotions that normally accompany these acts. The world seems flat and two dimensional, as if experienced through a cold and dispiriting fog. One is numb, the emotions shut down. Some report feeling like a zombie – the living dead. Many feel they are going insane.

Causes of the condition are not fully understood, but often it follows severe trauma and protracted exposure to intense stress. As such, it can be seen as the mind detaching itself from reality when the reality can no longer be endured. However, the price of this protective mechanism is a heavy one indeed.

For treatment options, please click on this link.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Copyright 2015 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Always ‘Zoning Out’? : Dissociative Disorder Explained.

 

zoning out

Always ‘zoning out?’

Those of us who experienced significant childhood trauma are at a far greater risk of developing the psychiatric condition known as DISSOCIATIVE DISORDER in adulthood than are the rest of the population. Indeed, I myself have personal experience of this condition, in the form of ‘zoning out’ at my first school, which I will briefly refer to shortly.

Unfortunately, however, it often goes unidentified as it can, not infrequently, be misdiagnosed (most commonly as depression).

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Not least because the professionals often make mistakes regarding the diagnosis of this condition, it does, of course, go without saying that we can’t diagnose ourselves in relation to dissociative disorder; however, we may gain an insight into whether or not we might be affected by it by asking ourselves if we’ve experienced the following symptoms:

– often ‘zoning out’ (eg in the middle of a conversation, suddenly realizing one hasn’t taken in what has been said)

– night terrors/nightmares

– prone to flying into intense rages

– memory problems

– distressing, intrusive thoughts and memories

– inability to remember large chunks of childhood (this is one of the symptoms I have. For example, I can remember ALMOST NOTHING of the first eight years of my life)

– difficulty making decisions

– feelings of being ‘separate’ and ‘distinct’ from own physical body – this can feel as if one is watching oneself as if one were in a movie

– feelings of being emotionally cut off from the world, as if looking out at the world from behind a thick, dark pane of glass (again, I have suffered severely from this. In such a state, one could look at, for example, a beautiful and stunning view yet feel nothing in response to it). This most distressing frame of mind is sometimes referred to as DEREALIZATION; this is because the world can feel ‘unreal.’

– a feeling that part of oneself has ‘shut down’ or is ‘cut off’ and inaccessible

– a proneness to mood swings

– a tendency to escape into a fantasy world

– an unusually extreme tendency to enter an intense fantasy world as a child,shutting out the real world (in relation to this symptom, as a child, teachers at my prep school thought I had gone deaf as I was so immersed in my own world I did not hear or respond to my own name. This went on, I am told, for several months,although I do not remember this period in my life -see above)

– realizing one has completed a particular task (eg the washing up) but having no recollection of doing it

– attacks of panic and anxiety

– insomnia


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DEFENSE MECHANISM :

Symptoms such as ‘zoning out’ operate as a psychological defense mechanism so that memories of past trauma do not interfere too much with day-to-day functioning.

However, sometimes the symptoms which serve to keep memories of trauma at bay break down and symptoms such as panic, anxiety and distressing, intrusive thoughts can engulf and overwhelm one.

POOR INTEGRATION OF DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF PERSONALITY :

Individuals suffering from dissociative disorder have personalities within which the ‘different aspects of self’ are poorly integrated and can act relatively independently of one another. We may, for example, act like ‘two different people’: full of rage one day, and reasonable and tolerant the next, rather like ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.’

dissociative_disorder

In such a scenario, the part of us which is full of rage may represent the part of us which is still mentally enmeshed with our childhood trauma, causing us to regress (click here to read my article about this) and ‘act out’, much as if we were a still a child or adolescent having a tantrum.

POSSIBLE TREATMENTS :

Individuals with dissociation disorder are sometimes prescribed medication in order to help with control and management of symptoms. Also, psychotherapy is often necessary to resolve the original trauma; one such type of psychotherapy is known as EYE MOVEMENT DESENSITIZATION AND REPROCESSING, or EMDR, to use its abbreviation (click here to read my article on this). However, please keep in mind the following DISCLAIMER: Always consult an appropriately qualified professional when considering the most suitable forms of treatment and therapy for psychological conditions.

 

 

 

EBOOKS :

 

emotional abuse   brain damage caused by childhood trauma

Above eBooks now available for immediate download from Amazon. CLICK HERE.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 


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