What is Dissociation?
Dissociation is a word that is used to describe a disconnection between things that are usually associated with each other. In psychology and also in deliverance, we use the term to indicate some degree of distancing, disruption, separation, or disconnection, in ones emotions, perceptions, or memories. Dissociation can manifest itself in many different ways. Almost everyone experiences some degree of dissociation from time to time. For example, passing by your exit on the highway and not realizing it until you are down the road, or that “blanked out” or “spaced out” feeling that we all experience occasionally. These are very mild, very common forms of dissociation.
When dissociation interferes with our emotional health or our ability to function effectively in life, then there is something that needs to be addressed; something is causing the dissociation. The more serious forms of dissociation will manifest in a variety of ways. For example, someone may think about an event that was very upsetting or traumatic, yet have no emotional feelings about it. Clinically, this is called emotional numbing, a common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dissociation often affects a person in the form of sudden thoughts, feelings, or actions, that seem to come out of nowhere. For example, a person may feel overwhelmed by an emotion that does not seem to make sense at the time. Like suddenly feeling extreme sadness or anger, without any apparent reason. Then perhaps later the sadness or the anger will leave just as suddenly, in much the same way that it came. Dissociation has also been described as a person finding themselves acting in certain ways that they would not normally act, but being unable to stop themselves, feeling as if they are somehow being compelled to do it.
What Causes Dissociation?
Dissociation is most commonly caused by trauma, such as repeated physical or sexual abuse; although it can also occur when there has been severe verbal, mental, or emotional abuse, even neglect. The first split (or emotional separation) generally occurs in early childhood, usually before the age of eight or nine. Consider a small child of three or four years old. If that child is being sexually abused, molested, or incested, what can they do? They can’t stop it, they are too small. They can’t fight back, they are not strong enough. They can’t run away, they are too young; where would they go? They just have to take it. So they run on the inside. They create a place inside to stuff all the pain, the fear, and the trauma; they learn to compartmentalize the pain. It reduces the overwhelming distress caused by the traumatic incident, and allows the child to go on, to cope, to survive.
If there is a tremendous amount of ongoing abuse and trauma, dissociation can become the child’s primary means of coping with difficult or painful situations. They can even begin to automatically disconnect from situations that are perceived as dangerous or threatening, without taking the time to find out if they are actually in any real danger. Sometimes this pattern will continue into adulthood; but while dissociation works well for children, this method of coping usually begins to break down in adults, leaving them with a chaotic mass of jumbled emotions and negative feelings. They don’t know what happened and they don’t know what to do about it. That is usually the point when they come to us for help.
By Cynthia Yarbrough