Everyone can relate to the idea of “spacing out.” One minute, you’re present and engaged. Then you suddenly realize your mind has drifted for a few seconds or even minutes. In typical scenarios, this is normal and nothing to worry about. However, if you find yourself using similar tactics to disconnect from mental or physical pain, you could be struggling with dissociation.

Many of us have some familiartity with chronic dissociation in what is perhaps one of it’s most severe expressions. This occurs when the dissociative reactions begins early in life, becomes chronic and is left unchecked. it could escalate into conditions like dissociative identity disorder (DID), or other formal dissociative disorders.

When chronically relied upon, dissociation is a dysfunctional automatic coping mechanism that creates emotional numbness, and/or disconnection as a form of temporary protection. Its presence indicates a possibility that you’re struggling with the outcomes of complex post-traumatic syndrome (C-PTSD).

Common Symptoms of Dissociation

  • Feeling Numb and Disconnected: you have a noticable lack of emotion
  • Depersonalization: These out-of-body experiences can range from intense detachment to being unable to recognize your own body parts.
  • Derealization: Everything feels as if you’re in a dream or some kind of elaborate fake world. You can see that things are happening, but they appear like scenes in a movie.
  • Identity Confusion: So much of our daily life grows from what we know about ourselves. Identity confusion causes a shift in this awareness and can lead you to engage in entirely new ways of thinking and behaving.
  • Identity Alteration: More so than a form of confusion, identity alteration leaves you bouncing back and forth between the “real” you and a new “different” you.
  • Amnesia: Dissociative amnesia takes place when your brain tries to make you selectively forget disturbing or traumatic memories.
  • Somatoform Dissociation: These can include issues like motor control, pain syndromes and fatigue, G.I. problems etc.

All the above can be triggered in a person with C-PTSD.

What Is C-PTSD?

man in therapyWhile PTSD is usually associated with a singular traumatic event, C-PTSD arises from repeated, chronic experiences. These experiences might include abuse, neglect, trafficking, and so much more. When a person feels like there’s no end and no escape in sight, this can change how they view themselves and the world. In cases when complex trauma occurs during childhood, the survivor can grow up with a compromised personality structure.

To fill in the gaps between self-identity and weakened development, dissociation may feel like it fits the bill. A complex trauma survivor often learns to morph into different versions of themselves in an attempt to feel safe. Even after the danger is no longer present, they remain unable to trust in others. Thus, dissociation continues.

Dissociative Disorders and C-PTSD

Althought it begins as a survival mechanism, unless discarded, will serve to keep the survivor’s identity in a fragmented state. Fundamental elements like identity, perception, memories, and awareness can be taken for granted by most folks.

For someone affected by C-PTSD, these elements become amorphous and confusing. One can understand how it might feel easier and safer to disconnect. In a dissociative state, the pain and distress feel more tolerable. It’s an understandable by counterproductive choice. What someone in this state needs most is the guidance of a trauma-informed mental health professional.

Treating Dissociative States in C-PTSD

No two people experience C-PTSD or DID in the same way. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. That said, it is crucial to begin helping the person begin working toward the resolution of the complex trauma.

Survivors (especially children) learn to see the world from a place of high alert. They live as if stuck in the fight-or-flight response. The presence of high amounts of stress hormones hampers their ability to make long-term rational decisions. So, they try to acclimate to being in crisis mode. An experienced therapist will bear this in mind while also working to ease the role of dissociation.

Within the safe space of a therapy room, survivors can reconnect their memory fragments and their identity fragments to piece together a healthy, cohesive awareness. They can learn to thrive again. Reach out to learn more about trauma therapy.