Dissociation is a stress or trauma response. It can be a reaction to overwhelming anxiety, despair, disappointment, anger, pain, or other discomfort that may be present in your life. Dissociation is commonly described as a “mind-body” disconnection. It can also be understood as a disconnection from reality, from your emotions, from the present, where you may lose touch with what is happening to you or around you. Some individuals struggle with dissociating on a regular basis and feel like they have lapses of time that are lost in the day where they aren’t sure what is happening.
Dissociation can occur while you are doing nothing (such as staring into space) but can also occur during certain activities such as scrolling online, watching tv, listening to music, drinking alcohol, using drugs, driving, or even eating. Some people will engage in activities or behaviors that they regret while being dissociated; others simply feel like they just lose time during these episodes.
It is possible to live in a disconnected or dissociated state without realizing it. If you aren’t sure if this is you, you can ask yourself the following questions:
- I frequently get lost in my thoughts or will have times that I will think about nothing for long periods of time
- I easily lose track of time from having ruminating thoughts or thoughts about nothing
- I will participate in impulsive or reckless activities without pre-planning it, and wonder if it was really me making that decision
- I have a hard time listing or being aware of my emotions when prompted
- I feel generally disconnected from myself and don’t know what it means to be mindful
- My thoughts will easily take me to dark places that can lead me to feel hopeless, helpless, or suicidal
- I am generally unaffected by emotions and am able to push through stress without giving it much thought
- Most of the time I spend alone is on a screen of some sort
- I mainly connect with loved ones/friends through social media or phone rather than in person
This is not an extensive list but can expose some level of disconnection or dissociation in your life.
Dissociation is very treatable and is primarily managed through lifestyle tools. Here is a list of tips that may help:
- Mindfulness Tools
Engaging in daily activities that help support your awareness of your surroundings helps your brain become accustomed to staying present, rather than getting lost in another reality or time. Mindfulness tools can vary and everyone has different ways to practice these. Here are a few options you can practice
- Engaging the 5 senses
Doing regular check-ins with what you can taste, touch, feel, smell, and see are practical ways to engage your brain. Some people like doing the 5-4-3-2-1 skill which includes: find five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste at any given moment.
- Walking barefoot outside
Barefoot walking helps with mind-body connection. We recommend 15 minutes 1-2x per day to jumpstart your nervous system.
- Emotional Check-ins
Emotional check-ins with yourself help you regularly take an inventory of what emotions you may be experiencing. It’s important to practice this without judgment. Mindfulness is not about fixing what you are experiencing, but rather about being aware of it neutrally. This means what when anger, shame, fear, other hopelessness come up for you, abstain from making judgments about it. The goal is to learn about yourself and stay curious. Yes, it’s important to cope with your overwhelming emotions, but you must first gain awareness of what they are. This takes practice. Feeling wheels can be helpful to identify your emotions. Check-ins twice per day (upon waking and before bed) is a good way for you to get started!
- Limit screen time
Screens such as phones, computers, tablets, tv, etc encourage a passive state of consciousness and cause your brain to disengage. For many individuals, spending many hours per day on their screen is a primary cause of their disconnection/dissociation in the first place. Replacing this time with other creative hobbies, social outlets, exercise, etc is very helpful to support your brain’s ability to reconnect with self and others.
- Talk to a loved one
Social connection is very helpful for staying present. Spending time with others face-to-face helps you learn to practice empathy, active listening, holding eye contact, and helps you consider others outside of yourself. Humans were made for community and connection - it is a basic need. Isolation and extensive time alone only increase risk of dissociation.
- Stay sober
Mood or mind-altering substances only further disconnection from self. They are frequently turned to as a way to escape discomfort (such as grief, pain, shame, anxiety, restlessness, fatigue, etc). Other times, individuals will use a substance to “feel something” or create joy in their life. Either way, this is a form of avoidance of something that is bothering you.
Learning what emotional needs you have that drive you to use is a helpful way for you to fill that void in healthier ways is 1 way to help you stay sober. Sobriety helps your mind stay clearer, help with your impulses, and help you stay in touch with your needs/limits (which is healthy!)
Movement helps you be more aware of your body and your needs. Moving your physical body engages your mind to stay aware of your form, your surroundings, and how your body feels in general. Even if negative feelings come up, this is helpful - such as cramps, fatigue, short of breath, or soreness. Being aware of these things is healthy for your mind-body connection. We recommend at least 15-30 minutes per day in your routine.
Bottom line: You deserve to be paid attention to. And you won’t feel truly known until you start paying attention to yourself - your needs, emotions, your limits, strengths, etc. Life is worth staying present when you are not at war with yourself. It’s amazing to see the change when you commit to yourself in your habits and routines. You can do this!