Looking back, I am beginning to think I’ve lived pretty much the past 50+ years in various forms of dissociation. It’s amazing really, how the body and brain work so that I was able to grow up and accomplish all that I did while often being disconnected to my feelings and without a deep awareness of self. This means that I’ve merely existed, lived mostly in survival mode and not really thrived – all due to childhood experiences. And…. that no longer matters, really. What matters is today and how I can live life authentically now, being in the present and being able to enjoy life’s precious moments without being disconnected, worrying about the future or living in the past.
“Dissociative disorders usually develop as a way to cope with trauma. The disorders most often form in children subjected to long-term physical, sexual or emotional abuse or, less often, a home environment that’s frightening or highly unpredictable. The stress of war or natural disasters also can bring on dissociative disorders. Personal identity is still forming during childhood. A child is more able than an adult to step outside of himself or herself and observe trauma as though it’s happening to a different person. A child who learns to dissociate to endure a traumatic experience may use this coping mechanism in response to stressful situations throughout life”. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dissociative-disorders/symptoms-causes/syc-20355215
Dissociation manifests itself in various ways. It becomes a life-saving strategy. What I have experienced is also called Derealization or Depersonalization. It is a sense of detachment or being outside yourself — observing your actions, feelings, thoughts and self from a distance as though watching a movie (depersonalization). Other people and things around you may feel detached and foggy or dreamlike, time may be slowed down or sped up, and the world may seem unreal (derealization). You may experience depersonalization, derealization or both. Symptoms may last only a few moments or come and go over many years.
It is a common symptom of C-PTSD. Dissociation is part of the Freeze trauma response. For a child to endure horrific treatment so she doesn’t feel the pain, physical or emotional, she will numb out, pretend it didn’t happen or separate herself from the reality and see herself in the 3rd person. There was too much sensory information.
It has taken me a long time to even be aware when I am in dissociative brain. Now after learning some mindfulness techniques, I can sense when I am not fully present. I no longer panic nor get upset. I acknowledge it and if I can, go about my day. If you’d like to learn the skills to become more present so you can enjoy life more fully, please reach out and let’s chat.
Lisa B Hilton, CTRC, of Hilton Coaching & Consulting, is a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach and supports adult survivors of childhood traumas and neglect. Her focus is walking with the client in their healing journey supporting the transformation of travesty into triumph.