Sometimes when I write or speak about mental health I can get too weed and fail to properly explain some of the terms or definitions of some of the words I use. Language is extremely important to me when we talk about mental health, and a clear definition of what certain terms mean (as well as their context) can be helpful in the long run when talking about mental health. That being said, I’ve decided to break down some of these terms that might be more helpful to understand, and the first term I break down is dissociation.
What is dissociation?
At a basic level, dissociation is a concept that affects the way your brain processes information. It is a separation between the many things that go on in a person’s brain, including thoughts, feelings, memories, and emotions. Per, very good,
Dissociation is a separation between a person’s memories, feelings, behaviors, perceptions, and / or a person’s sense of self. This separation is automatic and is completely beyond the control of the person. It is often described as an “out of body” experience.
So what does that mean exactly? Well, like most other mental health areas, there is a spectrum for how often dissociation occurs and how severe it can be. In the mildest sense, dissociation is like daydreaming or other times of the day when your thoughts wander. Greater dissociation affects the way people function, which is why it can be a symptom of mental disorders, and long, recurring episodes of dissociation could also be associated with dissociative disorders.
What does dissociation look like?
While the term dissociation may seem unfamiliar, there are several other words that people use who are associated with, or have symptoms of, dissociation. For example, depersonalization (the feeling of being disconnected from your body or thoughts) is a common symptom of dissociation and is often discussed. Derealization, identity change, and amnesia are some other symptoms of dissociation, all of which have to do with feeling disconnected from yourself or the world around you.
Another important thing to know about dissociation is that it can occur as an aspect of other mental illnesses, including anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more. While dissociation can occur in someone with depression and anxiety, it would be different from dissociative disorders, which are long-lasting and recurring dissociative episodes.
What are dissociative disorders?
People who live with certain mental illnesses may experience dissociation from time to time, but dissociation disorders are also something to be aware of when it comes to dissociation. Dissociative disorders are often discussed when the dissociation occurs repeatedly or when episodes last for a long time, and there are three common types of dissociative disorders.
- Dissociative Identity Disorder
- Dissociative amnesia
- Depersonalization / derealization disorder
You can check out all three on the American Psychiatric Association’s website (link here!), But the main point here is that dissociation is a wide spectrum that can range from harmless to harmful – just like many other mental illnesses.
What to Remember
At its core, dissociation is a separation between a person’s memories, feelings, perceptions, and behaviors, and that separation can affect the way we see the world. However, there are many other words / terms that people use to describe aspects of dissociation and one way to recognize and support people who experience this is to name and understand dissociation for what it is what it means. Just like other mental health terms, living with them can get a little less scary when we can name and define our struggles.
Now to my readers! How much did you know about dissociation before reading this post? Do you agree that people often refer to dissociation but use different words? Let me know in the comments!