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What is Dissociation? Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment


It is very natural to daydream sometimes now or again; in fact, it happens to most individuals. However, for some who suffer from a mental illness known as “dissociation,” the reasons for their seeming detachment from reality are often much more nuanced.

When your mind becomes dissociated, it stops processing information normally. Disconnection from yourself, your emotions, your past, and your environment is a real possibility. Both your sense of self and the way you see time may be impacted.

Most of the time, the signs and symptoms disappear with time. Days, weeks, or even hours might pass. However, if you find that your dissociation is triggered by a traumatic event or a mental illness such as schizophrenia, it may be necessary to seek professional help.

What Are Symptoms of Dissociation?

Some people have amnesia or blank spots in their memories when dissociation is present. You can start to doubt your own reality or the reality of the physical world.

Alterations to your emotional state could also manifest as:

  • Enjoy a transcendental experience
  • On sometimes, you may feel as if someone else entirely
  • Feel dizzy or as if your heart is racing
  • Experience emotional detachment or numbness
  • Have little to no discomfort

Other possible signs include:

  • Feel time differently
  • Forget the path you took to get there
  • Keep your focus narrow
  • Feel the presence of inner voices
  • Experience vivid, lifelike flashbacks
  • Stop moving
  • Lose yourself in a fantastical universe that seems genuine

Causes of Dissociation


If anything very terrible were to happen to you, you may mentally separate from the here and now. Peritraumatic dissociation describes this. This is a defense mechanism your mind employs to shield you from the traumatic event’s full effect, according to experts.

Some of the factors that might trigger peritraumatic dissociation include:

  • Acts of sexual or bodily violence
  • Abuse in childhood
  • Combat
  • Arrest or shackling
  • Road traffic incidents
  • Events caused by Mother Nature

Experiencing traumatic events repeatedly may lead to dissociative disorders, which are characterized by extreme dissociation. You could lose touch with reality, get temporarily disoriented, or even assume a new identity entirely in your head.


If you ever find yourself lost in thought, you may be experiencing a kind of “auto-hypnotic state.” You could find that your physical awareness has diminished. You might enter a more profound dissociative state with other forms of hypnosis. For pain, anxiety, addictive habits, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a qualified expert may recommend therapeutic hypnosis.

Certain drugs

Drunkenness and drug use may cause you to lose touch with reality and your sense of self. Psychedelic users, according to studies, can experience a transient dissociation from reality when they consume substances like LSD and psilocybin.


Meditation, like daydreaming, may cause you to lose track of time and place. According to some seasoned meditators, there are mindfulness meditation techniques that cause them to forget about themselves and their bodies.

Related Mental Health Conditions

Dissociation from certain mental health conditions may be present in you. In addition to PTSD and schizophrenia, dissociation is associated with:

Warning Signs

It is possible to experience dissociation without realizing it. For example, if you suffer from dissociative disorder, you could conceal or rationalize your symptoms.

Some common warning indicators that you or someone you care about should be aware of are:

  • Extreme shifts in our mood
  • Problems retaining certain information
  • Neglecting to remember previous actions or words
  • Modified identities are characterized by changes in behavior or ability.
  • Anxiety, depression, or even a panic attack
  • Suicidal or self-harming thoughts
  • Drug misuse
  • Ineffective therapies or hospitalizations related to mental health issues

Children with a dissociation disorder may:

  • Feel somewhat outside
  • Keep staring out the window.
  • Keep a secret circle of imaginary buddies
  • Leave out what they’ve really said or done
  • Suffer from Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Diagnosis of Dissociation

During your visit, your doctor will check your vitals and inquire about any history of illness, both mental and physical. Please inform them if you are in the process of taking any prescription or illegal substances. If they suspect that a medical issue is to blame for your dissociation, they may take a blood sample or do additional tests to rule it out. To rule out certain seizure diseases, which may sometimes induce dissociation, they may also prescribe an electroencephalogram (EEG), a painless test that analyzes brain waves.

A referral to a mental health expert may then be made by your primary care physician. A psychiatric social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist may be able to help you. Any traumatic experiences you may have had in the past may be of interest to them.

Additional tests may be performed, such as:

  • Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES)
  • Structured Clinical Interview for Dissociation

Treatment for Dissociation

Although there is currently no cure for dissociation, some people have found relief with a combination of medicine and therapy. The severity and origin of your symptoms will determine how your doctor treats you.

We may prescribe the following medications to you:


You may be able to identify what’s triggering your dissociation with this form of therapy. The objective is to alleviate or at least control your symptoms.

Some examples of psychotherapies are:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapyThe goal is to assist you in recognizing and altering unhelpful ways of thinking and behaving.
  • Hypnotherapy: When you’re at ease, you could discover that your memories are simpler to uncover and analyze. This should only be done by a hypnotist with expertise in dissociative disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Phasic trauma treatment: Stopping suicidal thoughts or self-destructive conduct is the primary goal of this therapy. Your psychotherapist will next guide you step-by-step as you go through any painful memories and, if required, reintegrate your identities..
  • Family treatment: Having someone you care about there for you, like a spouse or partner, may be a huge benefit.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy: You could find that it teaches you how to manage your emotions and put a halt to destructive habits. Borderline personality disorder is often treated in this way.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: For the purpose of processing traumatic memories, it incorporates visual exercises and strategies from cognitive behavioral therapy. It has the potential to alleviate PTSD symptoms such as nightmares and flashbacks.

Add-on medication

If you’re having trouble sleeping or dealing with worry, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as antidepressants or a mood stabilizer. You could need an antipsychotic medication if you suffer from schizophrenia.

A Note from Known_Psychology

One of the most common ways that people with C-PTSD and related conditions engage in dissociation, is to dissociate their thoughts from their own thoughts, experience their identity as more of a collection of body parts that they are monitoring green screen, out of frame, and from the other side of a time delay, have consciousness, and store and/or recall memories.

Known_Psychology aims to bring back to light, and those resources that we provide to those who face or know the faces of these challenges. Dissociation and the ability to other ourselves can be triggered by trauma, or used as a coping mechanism, but the differences in manifestations is incredibly important in managing and healing. We want to be able to provide a complete piece, where we explore the root causes and symptoms that comes with it, for individuals to better understand what and how they are dealing with it. Come with us as we explore psychology further and create a community of increased awareness and empathy.


Richard J. Loewenstein, senior psychiatrist; medical director, The Trauma Disorders Program, Sheppard Pratt Health System; clinical professor of psychiatry, University of Maryland Medical School.

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