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Is possible! The process is very individual. What keeps one person well may not work, or may even make another person worse. Self awareness is very important, learning what triggers dissociation and what reduces it. It may be necessary to try many different grounding techniques to develop a personal collection that helps. Creativity can be a very important part of this process. Self expression can increase self awareness, self acceptance, and a sense of being connected to yourself. Creativity can also help to find unique individual answers for difficult issues around dissociation. Personal losses can be substituted or given recognition, for example creating a shrine to commemorate a lost loved one can help to ground someone experiencing dissociation. Someone who is triggered due to memories associated with a particular location can try changing how it feels, for example, repainting the bathroom and putting books and a CD player in there. Doing things that are personally meaningful and emotionally moving can help to reduce the experience of dissociation and restore a sense of being connected. The more individual the approach to managing dissociation, the more likely it is to work. Sometimes dissociation is being driven by other issues such as chronic depression. In these situations, working on both the dissociation and the things that are causing it can be the most productive approach.
It may also help to be aware that certain things can generate dissociation in almost anyone, such as sleep deprivation, lack of food, severe social isolation, sensory deprivation, and some repetitive trance inducing experiences such as rhythmic drumming. Dissociation can become a cycle where for example, due to dissociation a person does not feel hungry and forgets to eat, and the lack of food increases their dissociation, which further disconnects them from awareness of their bodies’ needs. For some people, dissociation can be an early warning sign of increasing stress. For example, some people find that dissociation often increases before a psychotic episode develops. This can be very useful to be aware of to help you adjust and prevent a crisis. Because dissociation disconnects you, it can be a challenge to become aware of how much you are affected by it. It can also be stressful to realize how much you are dissociating, which may make you become more dissociative to protect yourself from that awareness. Learning how to manage dissociation is a process, take it gently. Dissociation is very common and usually very responsive to the right approaches such as doing things that increase your sense of safety.
Dissociation is very common and can present in many different ways. Sometimes people are not aware that their experiences are dissociative. Lack of information can make it difficult to talk about these confusing experiences. Dissociation can be a symptom of a number of different mental illnesses, such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder. There is also a category of disorders called Dissociative Disorders where dissociation is the main problem.
Find more information and resources about dissociation and multiplicity at www.dissociationlink.blogspot.com.au
Brochure written by Sarah K Reece
What is dissociation?
Dissociation is the dis-association of things that are normally connected. It’s easiest to think of in terms of being unplugged in some way. On a simple level, most people dissociate some of the time. An example is highway hypnosis where you may drive home thinking about other things, and arrive at your house without really remembering the trip. Daydreaming or getting ‘lost’ in a good book are also examples of dissociation that for most people are positive. These experiences are common and not mental illness. Some people experience dissociation that is severe, lasts a long time, or is distressing. This is where dissociation can become a problem. Dissociation is not psychosis - it is a disconnection from some aspect of the world, but does not involve hallucinations or delusions. Dissociation can occur in any aspect of a person’s life. Where the dissociation occurs determines which symptoms they experience. For example, dissociation in the area of memory can cause amnesia. It’s important to check that these experiences are not being caused by physical problems such as uncontrolled diabetes, nervous system issues, etc.
Emotional changes - dissociation can disconnect a person from their feelings. If you have ever had someone confide a terrible personal experience to you, with a strange detached calm and no distress, that person may be experiencing dissociation. The facts of the event and the feelings associated with it have become disconnected. Sometimes people feel more than one emotion at the same time in a way that can be confusing, such as happiness and anger. Memory - blackouts or losing time can be very confusing and upsetting. Someone can ‘come to’ and not remember how they have spent the day or what they were just doing. Amnesia can also prevent people remembering important memories or facts such as their own address. Body - someone in a dissociative episode may lose their connection to their body and their ability to feel sensations such as pain, heat, cold, and hunger. They may not be able to feel their feet touching the floor. Their sense of sight and hearing may dim or be lost altogether. They may feel detached from their own body as if they are watching it instead of inside it. Time - dissociation can alter the sense of time passing, it may seem to be going very fast or very slow. If you have ever been in an accident of some kind where time seemed to pass very slowly you may have experienced this. Environment - this means that a person is aware of the world around them but it seems very unreal, like being in a dream. This is often part of losing connections to the body, for example, a loss of depth and distance perception can make the world seem surreal. Identity - when dissociation occurs in the area of identity, people describe feeling split, fractured, sometimes hearing voices or feeling at war with themselves.
How to manage it
For a person dealing with severe dissociation, safety is the first priority. It is very important to adapt to the risks by not trying to do things such as drive while in a severe dissociative state. Some everyday activities such as cooking or walking near traffic may need to be avoided for a time. Many people make use of phone reminders and to do lists to help them keep track of where they are and what they are doing. Dissociation can be rooted in trauma or grief. Where this is the case, it’s important to spend some time working through those experiences. Finding a balance between expressing and honoring the events of the past and being able to connect with the present can reduce dissociation. Dissociation can occur when a person feels that the world is an unsafe place to be connected with. Restoring a sense of safety and control can reduce symptoms. Grounding techniques describe a broad range of different strategies people find helpful in reducing dissociation. Most people already use some techniques, but may not have realized how important they can be in maintaining their mental health. There are two general categories - things that are calming, and things that are intense. Calming approaches seek to reduce stress; they may take the form of breathing exercises, gentle walks, writing in a journal, or spending time with a pet. People who dissociate may use damaging strategies that calm them, such as comfort eating or abusing alcohol. Intense experiences are about reaching through the dissociation; they may involve strong tastes such as eating lemons, cold showers, a long run, punching a pillow, or loud music. Harmful forms of intense grounding techniques include self harm, addictions, and risk taking.
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