Dissociative Disorder & Trauma - - Symptoms and causes

Dissociative disorder indicated by difficulties with memory, identity, emotion, perception, behavior, and belief in the self. All aspects of mental functioning could be affected by dissociative symptoms. Dissociation is the breakdown of a person’s sense of self, memories, feelings, behaviors, and thoughts. Everybody has gone through a similar procedure, therefore it’s natural for some time. Daydreaming, road hypnosis, or “getting lost” in a book or movie are all instances of mild, everyday dissociation that include “losing touch” with awareness of one’s immediate surroundings.

Dissociation may enable a person to endure a terrible experience that might otherwise be too tough to bear, such as being the victim of an accident, disaster, or crime. In these circumstances, a person may mentally run away from the dread, hurt, and terror by dissociating the recollection of the scene, the circumstances, or the sensations associated with the strong incident. According to many catastrophe and accident survivors, this could make it challenging to recall specifics of the incident later on.

Is dissociation a symptom of trauma?

Dissociative disorders and trauma have a strong relationship that is significant in both directions. This link becomes particularly strong when it comes to childhood abuse and/or neglect. Long-term trauma is regarded to be the primary contributor to dissociative disorders, with dissociation acting as a coping mechanism that enables people to separate themselves from a trauma that might be intolerable.

These are some typical signs of dissociative disorders:

  • Having trouble recalling details about persons, places, or events.
  • The sensation of being physically disconnected from one’s body.
  • a lack of emotion.
  • lack of self-awareness.
  • Dissociation’s negative effects include difficulties in relationships, job loss, anxiety, sadness, and suicidal thoughts.

How does trauma cause dissociation?

It is necessary to examine neurobiology to comprehend how trauma creates dissociation. The body’s ‘fight or flight’ response to stress is undoubtedly already familiar to you. This is the body’s natural defense system for protecting us in avoiding harm. For whatever reason, when we feel threatened or in danger, the body releases specific hormones that get us ready to either stay and fight or run away. It is a physiological reaction that occurs automatically and gives the body a boost of energy and increased attentiveness. A few examples of physiological changes are an increase in breathing rate, an increase in heart rate to supply more oxygen to the blood, an increase in peripheral vision, etc. However, sometimes it’s impossible for someone to flee or fight. In such cases, the body experiences freezing. Your body creates hormones to help you become emotionally detached from the circumstance. Thinking processes stop. Dissociation is the state of being numb and lost. It serves as an innate survival strategy. The body may sometimes become too active or exaggerated after a traumatic occurrence.

What kind of trauma can cause dissociation?

Dissociation can result from any type of trauma. The majority of people experience it as a result of a terrible occurrence over which they have no control. This might be a one-time incident, a continuing trauma (like war), or abuse. Dissociation enables a person to separate from their reality and the agony and pain that they are suffering. Dissociation is a possible result of any trauma. This could include any traumatic event, including assault, abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual), war, disasters, military conflict, kidnapping, painful medical treatments, and cruelty.

Situations that can be traumatic include:

  • Prolonged sexual, mental, or physical abuse.
  • An accident.
  • A natural disaster.
  • any battle. 
  • Being a crime victim.

What does trauma dissociation look like?

Trauma dissociation can appear in a variety of ways, and each person will experience it differently. Typical warning signs and symptoms of trauma-related dissociation include the following:

  • Dissociative amnesia: They can have jumbled recollections or trouble remembering crucial things.
  • Depersonalization: Depersonalization is the sensation of being cut off from one’s body or self.
  • Derealization: It is the state in which people start to feel as though their surroundings are twisted, unreal, or lacking in reality.
  • Dissociative identity states: These conditions occur when a person has multiple personalities or identities coexisting within them.
  • Identity confusion: People may experience problems with self-awareness and finding a consistent identity.
  • Emotional numbing: Dissociation may leave a person with a reduced capacity for emotion or with a sense of emotional detachment.
  • Re-experiencing and flashbacks: Dissociation from trauma might be accompanied by intrusive memories, flashbacks, or intense sensory memories of the incident. 
  • Time perception: It may be distorted, making it appear to be moving more quickly, slower, or in pieces. 
  • Sensory dissociation: People may experience numbness, tingling, or a loss of sensation in certain body areas. 

Is dissociation a mental health problem?

Yes, dissociation is a mental health issue that can indicate an underlying mental health condition. Dissociation frequently occurs in conjunction with trauma-related disorders such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Acute Stress Disorder, and Dissociative Disorders. Disruptions or disturbances in the identity, memory, consciousness, and perception functions all of which are typically integrated are a symptom of dissociative disorders.

Dissociation can also be a sign of other mental health issues, such as borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, depressive disorders, and anxiety disorders. It can also be a reaction to extreme stress, or traumatic events, or as a means of coping with intense emotions.

How do you fix dissociation from trauma?

It has not been investigated how well therapies for dissociative disorders work. Instead of research, treatment options are focused on case studies. In general, a course of treatment could last for years. Options include are:

  • Safe surroundings: In some dissociation disorder sufferers, creating a sense of security and relaxation is sufficient to promote memory recall.
  • Psychiatric medications: like barbiturates such as Adderall or Ativan.
  • Psychoeducation: Psychoeducation can also help people feel like their experiences are normal and understood.
  • Hypnosis: Although this method of treating dissociative disorders is regarded as controversial, hypnosis may help to recall memories that have been suppressed.
  • Trauma-focused treatment: Therapies with a focus on traumatic experiences, such as EMDR or TF-CBT (Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy).
  • Treatment for other disorders: Usually, an individual with a dissociative disorder can experience additional mental health issues including sadness or anxiety. The symptoms of dissociative disorder may be treated with antidepressants or anti-anxiety medicines like Xanax, klonopin or valium.
  • Body-oriented treatments: Body-oriented techniques, such as Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SMP) or Somatic Experiencing (SE), place a strong emphasis on movement and body sensations to help clients release traumatic memories that have been kept inside.
  • Social support and co-regulation: Making connections with people who can understand, validate, and support people can make people feel more at home and less alone.

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