Dissociation & Multiplicity

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    What is Dissociation? Dissociation ranges from mild dissociation like day dreaming, "zoning out," and seeming to be in a fog, to self-hypnotizing yourself to having different identities in your own head. Everyone experiences dissociation. It is a normal part of our experience. Trauma survivors tend to rely on dissociation as a defense mechanism more than other people. In fact it is a crucial survival mechanism that protects you during a crisis and after. It helps you stay on task and be able to function. Without the ability to dissociate, you would feel the full extent of trauma as it happens and afterwards, which could be completely devastating for you. The ability to dissociate is a critical part of people's survival. Dissociation, day dreaming, effects and therapy of dissociation in Los Angeles, California

    You may also dissociate more when you are tired or bored. Think about times when you have been in a boring meeting or a class with a teacher who talks with a monotone voice and doesn't use ways to engage your interest. What do you do? Maybe you start to doodle, you day dream about something that is more interesting or you think about a problem that is on your mind. Dissociation gives you an ability to do more than one thing at a time. While you may be half hearing what is happening in the boring class or meeting, your mind is wandering off somewhere else.

    Dissociation is a wonderful aspect of creativity and imagination. Think about the time when you are able to be the most creative. Sometimes creative folks need to enter into the "twilight zone" of dissociative states to really get their imagination going. Therapy is often best done in dissociative type states. When working with teens, I often encourage them to use a distraction while dealing with difficult issues to help them examine their feelings. It can be very helpful! In fact, the sandtray work I do encourages people to enter into a dissociated state in order to work through conflicts and difficult feelings that may not otherwise come out in therapy. As a therapist, I encourage healthy dissociation.

    But too much of a good thing isn't healthy, and sometimes, the ability to dissociate from emotions is harmful to you. If you live in a fog most of the time, things around you feel surreal. Its almost like you are walking through a movie but it isn't actually a movie. You don't feel present and connected to what is going on around you. This feeling in fact can be very distressing for some people. For others, people try to induce this feeling through the use of drugs and alcohol, to avoid their feelings.

    Think about the level of dissociation it takes to remain in a dangerous situation. Lets say that you are in a war. You have been captured by the enemy and put into a prison. The enemy soldiers are not very nice to you. Perhaps they don't feed you properly, keep you in isolation for long periods of time and assault you. In order to survive being held captive, it is important for you to be able to enter a type of dissociative state to cope with the abuse you endure. But, there can come a point when you dissociate so much that you don't take your opportunities to escape when you have the chance, a common phenomenon that occurs in many captive situations of all types.

Dissociation, day dreaming, effects and therapy of dissociation in Los Angeles, California    Think of a more common captivity situation, like child abuse or domestic violence. Victims of abuse are in a captive state. They dissociate to cope with being abused. Dissociation during sexual abuse is a classic example. Many people who have been sexually abused as children report leaving their bodies and watching the abuse from above themselves. This is a more extreme form of dissociation than simple daydreaming. This is the mind's ability to cope with horror at its best. Instead of having to be emotionally experiencing sexual abuse, the mind helps your soul escape. Your experience of being is not in your body, but on the ceiling somewhere.

    So, in general, there are varying levels of dissociation:

  • Everyday Dissociation we all experience that is healthy in general

    • day dreaming

    • spacing out

    • fantasy

  • Traumatic Dissociation that comes from trauma and is not integrated

    • numbness

    • deadened emotions

    • leaving one's body

  • Severe Traumatic Dissociation comes from major trauma and is not integrated

    • derealization - constant experience of dissociation

    • forming separate identities or self-states

      • fully formed identities

      • partially formed identities with specific roles

      • emotion states that are fragments

    In its most extreme form, dissociation can actually cause various self-identities within one person. This happens to children who endure horrifying abuse. It takes severe torture of a child to create this state. Instead of leaving one's body, an entire separate identity is created to handle the abuse the child has to endure. It isn't uncommon for children who develop different self-states to form several personalities to take on various roles. The more personality states created, the more abuse has occurred. This form of dissociation only happens in childhood, when children are most vulnerable, and endures through adulthood unless therapy is sought out. Therapy can help teens and adults with multiple identities to either learn to manage the fractured pieces of themselves more effectively and improve their overall quality of life, or to integrate the fractures into one sense of self. This is a choice that people with different identities have to make in their lives.

    For dissociation that interferes in your quality of life, therapy is extremely helpful. Traumatic dissociation happens when you are overwhelmed by a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events. It is self-protective. The problem is that in order to put the past to rest, the painful feelings of the past trauma have to be expressed and dealt with, integrated into your sense of self, and a new sense of the integrated trauma needs to be internalized. Therapy is the most effective way to work through trauma. Therapy helps trauma and abuse survivors integrate traumatic material, improve your sense of well-being, help manage difficult emotions that arise when unintegrated trauma gets triggered, and helps prevent past trauma from interfering in your present life.

    I do work with people who have dissociative problems as a trauma specialist. I do individualized care for people with dissociative problems and work with dissociation from a client's stated goals and needs, not from the "textbook" form of treatment. However, it is important to know that for clients with self-abuse problems and aggressive problems, I do require safety contracts from the beginning of treatment for your safety, my safety and the safety of others. I believe that if you come to therapy, you are looking for other ways of coping, not through self-harm, suicide attempts and aggressive acting out against others. If you are ready to do this work, I am ready to work with you!

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