Dissociation: The act of disconnecting or separating or the state of being disconnected. In psychology, dissociation is any of a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment to physical and emotional experience. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality (wikipedia.org).
It can hit like a wave of dream-like underwhelming yet overwhelming uncertainty. Concepts such as Who, What, Where etc. are simply unfathomable depending on the type of dissociative state you experience.
My own experience has mainly been with derealisation (feeling as though your surroundings are not real and/or obscure), depersonalisation (feeling as though you are not real, you are disconnected from your physical being or generally dreamy/floaty feelings) and dissociative amnesia (having chunks of your life without memory about what happened and/or about yourself).
Throughout my life I have experienced feeling ‘not real’ and, before I knew that this was a legitimate symptom of a disorder, it could be a lot more frightening than it is for me at 22 years old.
I recall one week in particular that depersonalisation hit me hard; I was on my way to the bus stop to go to sixth form one morning and felt a strong sense of confusion. I was questioning whether I was real/awake/alive as I seemed to float alongside myself on the short walk to the bus stop. All week I had a tough time concentrating on pretty much anything and absorbing any form of content or depth of thought was impossible. It can be extremely frustrating as you attempt to digest information and nothing sticks or is totally inconceivable from the start. Luckily, my episodes are usually brief and have never persisted longer than about a week but there are many reports of sufferers feeling trapped in this state long term.
A lot of the time, when experiencing a dissociative episode, my mind will fill with thoughts of what possible scenarios could have lead me to becoming an entity rather than the person I know myself as – bare with me!
I find myself thinking that a ‘logical’ consequence of feeling so bizarre is that I have died and am now continuing my life as though I were still living. This is something I struggle with and need to remind myself is just a thought *using those all important DBT skills* and that this feeling will soon fade. Grounding techniques are also a saving grace when the floaty feelings hit, such as turning your attention to your physical surroundings and using your senses to place yourself within them i.e. sound, smell, touch etc.
If you or anyone you know is distressed by these thoughts and feelings, remember that it is not reality and to stay focussed on your inner self and the things closest to you. Ask questions like ‘what can I feel in direct contact to me?’ How do my clothes feel against my skin? Feel the pressure from the ball of your foot to your toes with each step as you walk. Sip a flavoursome drink like orange juice. Count the seconds as you deeply inhale and exhale. Stay calm. If you are worried for your own or someone else’s safety/wellbeing always seek professional support.