What does dissociation feel like? For me, it feels like paralysis, falling asleep, sinking into a deep bath, and emptiness, but it is different for everybody. It’s a strange mix of comforting and traumatizing. Some people feel literally detached from their bodies, taking on a different perspective. Others lose themselves in fantasy worlds and pretend. Still others develop multiple identities. Read on to answer the question: what does dissociation feel like?
What is Dissociation?
Dissociation is a psychological symptom where you become detached from reality. It usually occurs in PTSD as a response to triggers that remind the person of the initial trauma.
Dissociation is the freeze response on steroids. It’s what occurs when your mind thinks you are too weak to fight the stressor and too slow to get away. It is the embodiment of helplessness, and it is terrifying.
What Does Dissociation Feel Like?
Whenever I get upset, and I mean even minimally upset, but especially when faced with major stressors like many of the ones we’ve been dealing with this year, this is what I experience. It feels like a lot more than depression, and honestly… it’s scary when it happens.
The tears come first, along with a desire to stop them from flowing. I feel weak. I feel helpless. I feel hopeless. My brain gets stuck on a certain thing — maybe it’s a single thought, a phrase I wish I could make my mouth say aloud — but usually it’s the sound of the fireplace or the washing machine running, the brightness of a single light and the strange shadow it’s casting on the back of the couch, the knot in a grain of wood.
If my eyes are open, they unfocus and glaze over as I stare at a single spot, the image filling all of my mental capacity. My body feels numb and slightly cold – but not uncomfortable. I don’t feel separate from my body, but I don’t really care about it either. The only place I seem to exist is in the very front of my brain, right behind and above my eyes. I feel the buzzing of my brain in this spot, the chemicals rushing around my body.
I feel the calm settle in, but it’s an irrational calm, the calm that doesn’t care what happens next because I have no control over it.
If I close my eyes, it’s a lot like that space between awake and asleep. My mind is blank. If someone asks me questions when I am like this, I am rarely able to respond. If I do manage to speak, the thoughts are jumbled and unfocused. I leave sentences unfinished. Words hang in the air as my glazed eyes search for the rest of the thought. My breathing is slow and shallow. I feel like I can’t move my body, though if I really pay attention, I can. When I freeze like this, I usually end up in an uncomfortable position, but it takes me quite awhile to even recognize that I’m uncomfortable because I’m stuck in the emptiness of my own brain.
What Dissociation Means For Me
I’ve experienced dissociation to a lesser extent most of my life, but now I’m fighting to keep my mind together more and more frequently. It’s scary to feel like you’ve lost control of your own brain — especially when knowledge and learning have always been at the center of your identity.
It’s hard to admit that I am struggling right now, but I have to believe that I can turn my struggle to benefit someone else. Writing helps me work through the depression and figure things out in my mind so I’m going to be posting more regularly.
I hope that you’ll take the time to read and share what I write if it resonates.
If I can help one person feel less shame about their mental illness or feel less alone in the midst of a trial, then maybe the pain is worth it.
If you experience dissociation, I’d love it if you shared your experience as a comment so readers can get a better picture of varied nature of dissociation.
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