What can Dissociation in daily life look like? (part one)
We previously came across dissociation in our discussion about anxiety, and how it is an unconscious coping mechanism used by the mind to deal with overwhelm. It is characterized by a sense of detachment from oneself or the environment and can manifest in various ways in our daily lives. Dissociation is usually an implicit, uncontrolled response to overwhelm that might be conscious or subconscious. This might be in response to an upsetting or triggering event/thought/emotion, or as a coping mechanism from daily stressors. They key differences would lie in it’s severity, frequency, intensity, how disruptive it is, how long it takes to feel connected to yourself again, and other accompanying emotions or patterns. Today, lets take a quick look at some instances of dissociation that we might encounter in our day-to-day lives. It is important to note that if these coping mechanisms are used often and cause distress or disrupt your daily life, it is essential to speak to a mental healthcare professional as is not only distressing, but might be accompanied by other overwhelming patterns.
Perhaps the most common form of dissociation, emotional numbness is the process of detaching from one’s own emotions, and either being unaware of them or as if you are observing them from afar. It’s almost like having an event happen, and instead of feeling the associated emotions, it goes into a box and stored away before we’ve had time to look at the contents. For example, after a breakup, an individual, let’s say Jamie, might claim to be fine and actually feel fine, as they are unconsciously attempting to not think about it and have busied themselves with meeting friends, pursuing new relationships and hobbies, etc. They might not have the skills or knowledge to deal with the depth and vastness a breakup can bring, and mentally detach from the pain. In essence, the emotion is numbed out, and unfortunately this is for positive emotions too.
Another common form is dissociation is zoning out. We see this in the form of daydreaming or being on autopilot. It might happen when bored, but also if a situation is subliminally triggering (upsetting to us as it reminds us of a past hurt, but the connection is made rapidly, without conscious thought). We disengage from the situation and distract ourselves with another train of thoughts. On rejoining the conversation, it might feel like the volume has been turned back on and everything feels vivid and in touch again. For example, Jamie might visit a few friends and another one of them is going through a breakup as well. Around them, Jamie might find themselves thinking about their next meal, their day, etc, or anything really, that doesn’t let them think about their own breakup and how they, too, are in the same pain that they see their friend in.
Zoning out can also look like:
- Losing time – not knowing where time has gone. E.g.: daydreaming during a meeting and not knowing when it ended.
- Memory gaps – for the time lost, we have no reliable memory of how the time was spent. After a distressing phone call, we can’t remember what we did for the rest of the day.
- Being on autopilot – doing actions we do regularly while our mind wanders. E.g., driving somewhere and not remembering the journey
- Spacing out in conversations, and not knowing what’s being talked about
- Difficulty concentrating – Focusing on tasks becomes challenging, with your mind drifting away frequently. E.g., while studying, your attention wavers as your thoughts keep wandering to unrelated topics.
In conclusion, it’s evident that dissociation isn’t a black-and-white concept but a multi-dimensional experience that varies in intensity and context. Recognizing the signs of dissociation and its potential links to trauma and other emotional states is essential for mental health. If you find yourself frequently dissociating, remember that professional support is available to guide you through understanding and managing these experiences. please book a free 15-minute consultation with us at The Trauma Healing Center. We provide virtual as well as in person therapy, accessible for those in Mississauga, Toronto, Brampton, and Oakville.