What is Dissociation?

What is Dissociation?

Dissociation occurs when you are in a traumatic situation where you physically or emotionally overwhelmed to the extent that you can no longer remain present in the moment and another part of your mind takes over. This part of your mind (often called an ‘alter’ or ‘part’) endures the trauma on your behalf, acting and behaving just as you would, so to all observers you are still present but in reality you are not. When the alter deems the trauma is over and it is safe for you to return to full awareness, it will recede and you return to full consciousness with no memory of the trauma.

It happens to everyone at some stage in their lives. The younger you are, the more easily it is for you to be overwhelmed and dissociate. Almost everyone forms many alters before the age of two. That last statement may surprise you, but it is true.

Some indicators that you are likely to have dissociated are the following: your parents may tell you about the car accident you were involved in when you were two years old, or the time you fell off your tricycle and hurt your neck when you were three and half but you don’t remember. At six, you almost drowned, or you were extremely distraught and upset when the family moved to another city, and you didn’t want to leave your friends. The family might even have photos of these events, but you simply don’t remember. You flick through the family photo album, you see yourself in the pictures but you just can’t relate or put the photo in a context that jogs your memory. You feel strangely detached. Perhaps there were later traumatic memories, and you remember parts of the memory but not the whole memory. You meet together with friends and they relate portions of the event that you have no memory of. You smile and nod, as though you remember, but the reality is you don’t.

Each of those ‘lost’ memories has been recorded by your mind, held by the alter. The problem is that you can’t get access to it. In many cases, those memories hold important clues or keys for physical, mental and emotional problems you are struggling with today. Lost memories are not limited to those observed by our family but forgotten by us. These memories include traumatic events experienced without other family members’ knowledge. It could be trauma in the playground at school, through bullying, and now you find it difficult to recall much of what happened when you were at school. It could even be as dramatic as a serious sexual assault that happened when your parents, or those who loved and cared for you, weren’t around. They don’t know it happened, you don’t know it happened, but it happened.

You are coping with the residue of that event in your life right now. It could be that you are having difficulty truly relaxing when making love to your spouse and you don’t really know why. After all, as far as you are concerned, you had a safe and relatively uneventful upbringing so you don’t know why you have to ‘think through’ intimacy in the bedroom. You wish it could be more spontaneous, like it is for some of your friends. To read a list of symptoms that may indicate dissociative sexual abuse, click here. To read many examples and to understand more about dissociation, purchase our e book or paperback “Dissociation: The Forgotten Factor in Healing”