Dissociation is getting the better of me again. I will try and put my experience into words.
Dissociation is experienced as a sort of disconnect or detachment from reality that can manifest in a number of ways. Ways I often describe it, based on my on experience, include:
- “Out of it”
- “In a daze”
- “My brain isn’t working”
There are different types and levels of dissociation although they can also overlap and change over time. For example, sometimes I dissociate so badly in therapy that I literally cannot see, talk or move – and may go into a panic attack – and need the help of my therapist to bring me back to reality. For me, this is at the rarer end of the spectrum occurring far less often. The more frequent experiences I have of dissociation are what I refer to as a consistent but more “low-level” dissociation. This less intense (although definitely more enduring) form of dissociation is mostly unnoticeable to others, so I can maintain my functional façade despite feeling simultaneously detached from reality. This can be a good thing because at least I am able to manage life in the objective sense, however it can also be extremely challenging – because it makes the stark contrast between my subjective reality versus others’ perceptions of me even more pronounced.
The two main types of dissociation I struggle with are depersonalisation and derealisation.
Derealisation is a feeling that the external world is unreal. Common experiences I have of this are:
- Disrupted and distorted visuals – objects appear to change size, my eyes cannot focus, specific objects appear “trippy” especially nature, colours are either muted or intensified, objects zoom in and out, my vision is blurry or foggy.
- Altered perceptions of sound – sounds are muffled, I can hear words but cannot process what is being said, my brain zooms into one specific sound, or many sounds mush together into a pulsating cacophony of noises which I struggle to discern between.
- Objects, places or people become more unrecognisable than they usually are – for example I can be with one of my closest friends and find that their face looks distorted or unfamiliar, and scare myself because I cannot relate to them despite our relationship.
- The external world feels beyond my reach, often shrouded by a dense fog or separated from me by an impenetrable albeit invisible shield.
- Life feels like a movie and I am just a character in it; nothing around me is really real, nothing truly exists.
Depersonalisation occurs when the individual feels a sense of detachment from their self as opposed to the external world, for example:
- A sense that my body does not belong to me, that I am just eyes or a head with no tangible physical presence.
- Feeling very light or very heavy, like I am floating, like I am underwater, like I am drifting through life watching it go by but not actually a part of it.
- Feeling like a ghost, a zombie, ‘dead but alive’.
- Being unable to differentiate between my physical body and the physical edge or surface of the ground I am walking on or the seat I am sitting on, etc.
- Being unable to recognise myself in the mirror emotionally despite knowing rationally that I am looking at a reflection of myself – feeling a sense of detachment from my physical self and as though the face/ body I am looking at does not belong to me or is not my own.
- Being unable to feel sensations or know where in my body different sensations are occurring. Or the sensations I feel become muted or unfamiliar – like they are happening to someone else, not me. Or one limb, for example, can feel foreign and like it doesn’t belong to the rest of my body.
- I can hear myself speaking and communicating but do not recognise my voice as my own and do not feel as though the words have been produced by my own brain.
- Actions and thought processes are not in sync, my brain and my body are misaligned and there is a delay in communication between the two.
Some consequences of the dissociation include:
- Paranoia, because I cannot work out what is real and what is not. This extends to the interpersonal relationships in my life: In being unable to relate to people or the external world, I cannot make sense of where I stand in interactions, how I relate to others or how they relate to me.
- There is a chronic hyper-vigilance alongside the utter disconnect; even though the two are seemingly incompatible, that is exactly what it feels like to be me – I am a walking catch 22.
- Identity disturbance and confusion. I just do not know who I am, nor if I am at all.
- Heightened anxiety as a result of the lack of groundedness, which then serves to exascerbate the dissociation, further perpetuating the cycle.
- Urges to self-harm, just so that I can feel something tangibly, to show me that I am alive and real.
- Social avoidance behaviours, because interacting with people feels exhausting, forced, confusing and overall excruciating. The dissociation feels so obvious to me that I am sure everyone else must be able to see it as well, and have all sorts of judgments about me. Also it just scares me shitless – feeling so trippy and detached – being out in the big unfamiliar world.
- It impacts my relationships hugely. All the connections in my life feel strained, because connecting requires such effort. I cannot connect enough to have a romantic relationship, nor do I foresee myself ever having children if I cannot connect in the way a child needs.
- Suicidality. I feel utterly helpless and hopeless, and question the point in being alive in I feel so very dead inside.
I am sitting on a train having such intrusive thoughts about what the point in life is when “I don’t really exist”, and questioning what is truly real both in my surroundings and within myself. There is so much beauty around me, but it is so far out of my reach and I am unable to access it within my current state and connect to it on an emotional level. It is the most frustrating thing to feel so very far away from a world that I am so desperate to feel a part of.