Dissociation – two sides of the same coin

What is dissociation? Here’s a multi-part series on the basics.

So, what is dissociation?

Dissociation is a much debated and difficult to articulate concept that alludes being pinned down by one succinct definition. This altered state of being can be experienced by most people as a typical part of their day-to-day lives. Many of us will be familiar with the experience of driving on autopilot and getting to your destination safely. This is a normal and non-disruptive procedural dissociative state. The brain functions guiding you in this state function beyond your conscious attention, you are present yet absent.

Another example of dissociation can also be seen in everyday hypnotic states. When watching a film or a television programme you find yourself emotionally moved by what you are viewing despite no real impact being made to your life or well-being.

Unfortunately, dissociation has a more disruptive, darker side. Commonly experienced as a significant disconnection between conscious attention, awareness and ones understanding of reality. Dissociation is often likened to seeing oneself floating, separate from oneself, or as living life in third person. This may be experienced as ongoing feelings of unreality of one’s self or surroundings (derealisation/depersonalisation) seen as part of PTSD, Bipolar disorders (BP), personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder (BPD).

These often have a basis in anxiety or trauma which often mitigate the levels of dissociation experienced. Contrastingly, dissociation can be caused by deep rooted identity manifestations such that seen in Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and the DSM-5-unrecognised variations Otherwise Specified Dissociative Disorder (OSDD) variants A & B. This is not an exhaustive list of disorders and dissociative experiences, but an overview of dissociation in the context of mental disorders.

Due to this complexity, dissociation is an increasingly hard to categorize phenomena. For more on this, look no further than part 2.

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