Experiencing Dissociation

Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c)2017  Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry

A few years ago while living in the Philadelphia area, I volunteered to organize a funeral dinner. Stresses surrounding that occasion had mounted. Personal crises at home and a generalized social anxiety added to the pressure. I was worried and afraid about several areas of life and doing my best to thrive regardless how I felt.

Standing in the dining room archway of the grieving family, I looked out over a crowded living room filled with strangers. Gathering courage to appear confident, I announced that pop was available in the kitchen. Instantly the house was full of laughter. People in front, behind, and around me were looking my way with amusement. You see, in eastern Pennsylvania, soft drinks are called soda. I had inadvertently provided a measure of much needed comic relief.

The last thing I remember clearly is walking into that living room.

It was scary. The few people I knew became unrecognizable, the setting foreign. Suddenly I was in a strange land, didn’t know why I was there, or if I could get out. Wanting to go home, there was no recall where that would be. I’ve no idea how I ended up back in the kitchen (probably looking for an escape).

One fuzzy memory is of a brief conversation. An acquaintance approached to say her husband calls sodas pop sometimes and she always corrects him. I thought I must be in Ohio (my home state), and this stranger must be new to Ohio if she thinks only her husband uses the word pop.

It lasted awhile.  From the start I was calling out to God silently. “Help me, I feel lost, I’m scared”.  Slowly, like a fog rolling away,  facts like where I was and what I was doing there, returned.  Faces regrouped into known and unknown.

This was dissociation, a distancing from reality. I knew my name and general identity, although details may have escaped me momentarily. The situation around me is what completely blurred.  This has happened before.  For me, dissociation appears to be triggered by panic, and as I take steps to calm down, eventually things around me become clear again.

Dissociation is a common means of taking an emotional vacation, a rest. It is similar to having our minds wander when we are bored. We can return from that daydream and actually not remember what we did while daydreaming.  Typical for many of us is driving and reaching the destination having little memory of the ride.

Yet not all dissociative experiences are like the others.  No one has told me I have a dissociative disorder, and I do not think so either. Separateness from one’s surroundings is called derealization. While it is a form of dissociation, it is always important to remember that observation of clusters of symptoms, their intensity, duration, and level of distress they cause are all part of  diagnosing a disorder.

In the case of  Dissociative Disorders, symptoms are more severe and repetitive. A person can watch real life as if outside his own body.  A man or woman may feel distinctly separate from self,  and/or lose periods of time.  What used to be called multiple personalities is one of the five dissociative disorders.  

Depression, anxiety, and other forms of illness often accompany a dissociative disorder. Because of this and other factors, dissociative issues are often misdiagnosed and untreated.  An easy ten minute read covering a complete list of symptoms and dissociative disorders can be found here.  

There is much more to understand. If dissociation is an invasive part of your experience, seek professional counsel and ask for a specialized diagnostic interview.

Today’s Helpful Word

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?   My help comes from the Lord,  the Maker of heaven and earth.”

NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.


picture by XYMONAU on rgbstock.com

Submit a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.