Dissociation & Dissociative Disorders

Most of us are prone to daydreaming on occasion, but if you have a mental health issue known as dissociation, this is a break in how your mind handles certain information. Dissociation is a sense of disconnect from everything, including your thoughts, feelings, surroundings, and memories, and can have a great effect on your perception. What do we need to know about it?

What Are the Symptoms of Dissociative Disorders?

If you have dissociation, you may forget things, you may believe the physical world is not real, or you are not real. You may notice changes in how you feel, and these could include some of the following:

  • Feeling little to no pain. 
  • Feeling like you are a different person. 
  • Having an out-of-body experience. 
  • Feeling light-headed or like your heart is pounding. 

There are other symptoms that you can get, including: 

  • Hearing voices in your head. 
  • Becoming absorbed in a fantasy world that feels real. 
  • Having vivid flashbacks that feel real. 
  • An altered sense of time. 
  • Tunnel vision. 
  • Becoming immobile. 

Symptoms can go away by themselves, which may take hours, days, or weeks, but if dissociation is occurring because of a mental health disorder, such as schizophrenia or it arises from a troubling experience, treatment may be necessary.

Types of Dissociative Disorders

There are three types of dissociative disorders: 

Dissociative Identity Disorder

This is associated with traumatic events, overwhelming experiences, or abuse that occurs during childhood and was originally referred to as multiple personality disorder. 

Symptoms of dissociative identity could include: 

  • Having two or more personalities or identities. 
  • Ongoing gaps in memory about personal information or everyday events. 

Dissociative Amnesia

This involves not being able to recall information about themselves, which is different from being forgetful. This amnesia is usually related to stressful or traumatic events and could fall under one of the three areas: 

  • Localized – where the individual cannot remember any event or a period of time. 
  • Selective – where they are unable to remember specific events within a period of time. 
  • Generalized – which is a complete loss of life history or identity, although this is rare.

Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder

This involves ongoing or recurring experiences of one or both of the following:

  • Depersonalization – involves detachment from one’s mind, self, or body, where people may feel outside their bodies and are watching events happening to them.
  • Derealization – where people may feel that things and people around them are not real.

The Causes of Dissociation

Many people develop dissociative disorders as a way of coping with a certain level of trauma. Many people begin the symptoms of dissociation in childhood, which could stem from emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, or an unpredictable home environment. 

Dissociative disorders can also arise from extreme stress, for example, the stress of natural disasters or war. Children are still forming their identity during childhood, which means they are more able to “step outside” of themselves and observe trauma as if it is happening to someone else. Therefore, they can easily step out of the real world when they are experiencing stressful situations throughout their lives.

Dissociation and Addiction

Individuals with dissociative disorders may turn to substances as a way to escape from their trauma. For those people who are well-versed in dissociating themselves from reality, substances can form a part of the coping strategies. If the disorder does not provide adequate relief to the environment, this can easily spiral into addiction and addictive behavior. Most individuals with a dissociative disorder are more likely to have a relationship with substances and depend upon them. Substance abuse can intensify the symptoms of certain mental health disorders. People experiencing dissociative disorders can find that prolonged substance use can make them feel more disconnected from their experiences. As dissociative symptoms can develop as a way to avoid unpleasant emotions and memories, using substances can lead to a vicious cycle where the dissociative symptoms worsen so people use more substances to cope. Studies have shown that people with higher levels of dissociation report expectations that the substances will be able to manage their psychiatric symptoms.

The Types of Treatment for Dissociative Disorders

Treatment for dissociative disorders can depend on the individual. Treatments can cover a number of practices, including the following: 

Stress Management

Stress and anxiety stemming from a traumatic experience can force someone to start dissociating themselves from the world around them. Having a solid approach to managing stress and anxiety can give them the building blocks to dealing with stressful situations in the real world. 


A variety of psychotherapy practices, such as counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy, can benefit an individual with dissociative disorders as a way to come to terms with a traumatic experience.

Treatment for Other Disorders

Somebody with a dissociative disorder may also have co-occurring mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression. A combination of treatments for other disorders such as anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants can help to alleviate the symptoms of stress or depression which can improve the symptoms of the dissociative disorder. 


This can help an individual with a dissociative disorder uncover repressed memories. While it can be viewed as a controversial form of treatment, hypnosis in a safe and controlled environment allows the individual going under hypnosis to have complete control over the process. Hypnosis, in a medical sense, is not where someone is being “put under,” as it were.

A Safe and Supportive Environment

Professionals will try to get the individual to feel safe and relaxed which can help to trigger memory recall in some people with dissociative disorders, therefore, starting to uncover the root cause. A combination of methods to deal with the stress of these memories can slowly bring a person away from using dissociation as a mental crutch.

Dissociation is a mental process that many may be able to move past. However, some people will develop a dissociative disorder that requires treatment. If you are concerned that you or a loved one may have a dissociative disorder, seeking professional help, such as through providers like Peaks Recovery can get you the help that you need.