Always ‘Zoning Out’? : Dissociative Disorder Explained.


zoning out

Zone Out A Lot?

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.

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




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’ (e.g. 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 (e.g. the washing up) but having no recollection of doing it

– attacks of panic and anxiety

– insomnia

Although most people experience some of these symptoms some of the time (which would NOT be considered pathological), THE MORE OF THE ABOVE SYMPTOMS A PERSON HAS, AND THE MORE SEVERE THEY ARE, THE MORE LIKELY IT IS THAT THAT PERSON IS SUFFERING FROM DISSOCIATIVE DISORDER ; symptoms of dissociation can be viewed as lying on a spectrum ranging from mild to severe.




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.


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.’


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 and ‘act out‘, much as if we were a still a child or adolescent having a tantrum.


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.








emotional abuse   brain damage caused by childhood trauma

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


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About David Hosier MSc

Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of Survivor of severe childhood trauma.

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