Dissociation can be a mild daily experience — like daydreaming. For others, it is the symptom of a diagnosable mental health disorder (trauma-related, substance abuse, and more). In either scenario, it’s been described as an “out of body” experience. You may feel as if your mind has glitched when it comes to processing information. But the good new is that there are grounding techniques for dissociation that can help.
Dissociation temporally disconnects you from the world you live in. It is out of your control but its symptoms typically resolve on their own. Even though they’re temporary, dissociation symptoms can impact your ability to function normally. Fortunately, it can be managed through grounding techniques.
Some Common Symptoms of Dissociation
- Detachment (to the point of not feeling physical or emotional pain)
- Memory gaps
- Not being sure where you are or how you got there
- Hearing voices inside your head
- Time feels altered and distorted
- The sense that the physical world is not real
- The sense that you are not real
Obviously, these symptoms can be disorienting and even dangerous at times. A major step toward managing this situation is to learn how to grout yourself.
Grounding Techniques to Help You Deal with Dissociation
The most fundamental tactic is the use of an anchoring phrase. Prepare in advance a phrase you say (outwardly or inwardly) that will place you back into the moment. Have it include your name, age, and location where you live. Add in specifics as they fit, e.g. where you are, what you’re doing, what time it is, and so on. To follow are more tips that will help return you to the present.
- Give yourself relatively mundane tasks to accomplish. For example:
- Perform some basic math
- Create mental lists in broad categories like birds or sports teams or colors
- Look at something in your line of sight before looking away and challenging yourself to recall what you just saw
- Recite song lyrics or movie lines or a poem
Engage Your Senses
- Eat something spicy or sour
- Eat or drink anything but take your time to deeply experience its taste
- Put your hands in cold water or touch something very cold
- Close your eyes and focus on all the scents, smells, and aromas you notice
- Specifically savor a scent you enjoy (cologne, perfume, food, etc.)
- Listen to music, sing along, play air guitar, try to hear something you never noticed before
- Touch your bare feet onto the ground
- Touch something that comforts you (perhaps it’s a pet!)
- Create and carry around a sensory kit that contains items you can feel, touch, smell, etc.
Involve Your Body
- Move your body
- Take a walk
- Exercise, dance, stretch, etc.
- Practice deep breathing
- Seek out a hug (even if it’s from your pet!)
- Create a list of calming affirmations you can say to yourself, e.g. “you’re doing your best”
- Visualize a place that makes you feel safe and grounded
- Think of someone you love, imagine their smile, hear their voice
- Create a plan in your head to spend quality time with the person you’re thinking about
- Whenever possible, find a safe space where you can ride out the dissociation as calmly as possible
Treat the Underlying Causes
Even with grounding techniques, dissociation can be quite an obstacle. Even when you’ve learned how to soothe yourself, you still have to deal with the root cause. Typically, this effort will involve the guidance of a specialized trauma treatment professional. It’s important to find a mental health care provider who has received advanced training in treating dissociation. Most therapists don’t have that.
Talking to an experienced trauma therapist is a powerful step toward understanding what’s happening. From there, approaches and solutions can be found.