Dissociation is a common struggle faced by many people living with Borderline Personality Disorder and other mental illnesses. Dissociation is an umbrella term given to a wide range of symptoms that are defined by a feeling of disconnection, either from oneself or from the world.
Feeling low levels of these symptoms from time to time may be considered “normal”. For example, the average person might experience feelings of being on autopilot whilst driving a car every so often, or they might find themselves a little spacey due to fatigue or stress once in a while.
However, if the symptoms are regular and recurring, and significantly affect someone’s functioning and wellbeing, dissociative symptoms may be indicative of an underling problem.
These symptoms manifest in a number of ways and to different degrees depending on the person and situation. Dissociative symptoms exist on a spectrum, and because of the uniqueness of each person’s experiences, and the internal nature of them, it can be hard to get across exactly what it feels like. For me, the experience is so experiential that it putting it into words does not do it justice. In order to understand what dissociation feels like, it’s something you really have to have experienced for yourself.
For me, dissociation manifests in a number of ways. Here are a few of the dissociative symptoms I struggle with:
- Depersonalisation – I don’t feel real, my limbs don’t feel part of my body, I feel like a zombie, like I’m not really alive, like my brain and body aren’t in sync.
- Derealisation – the world doesn’t feel real, I can’t connect to it, there is a glass wall or fog stopping me from accessing life, the world looks trippy.
- Sensory distortions – mostly visual, auditory or tactile. I can feel like I am tripping when it is especially intense. Time also distorts.
- Memory loss/ blanks – impaired concentration, losing track of my day, common places feel unfamiliar, it’s hard to recognise my surroundings, being unable to recall an event or journey.
- Physical impairment – e.g. slow motion, slurred speech, impaired movements, blurry vision.
- Panic – when triggered by trauma based cues, I might go into a panic attack, unable to control my body, uncontrollable shaking, hyperventilating and a feeling of being possessed, like my body is no longer my own.
People often learn to dissociate as children when the world is too much to handle. If a kid is being abused (emotionally or otherwise), or dealing with other trauma, disconnecting often works as a way to cope. However, in the present, the function no longer serves. Symptoms of dissociation linger because it is a learnt response, but they often interfere with the person’s life. Something that was once protective is now also life-impairing. Unfortunately, dissociation isn’t something that simply goes away. It is unlikely to lift fully until the underlying reasons for it (usually trauma) are addressed.
I continue to live my life in a fog and it makes me feel less than human most of the time. I hope that embarking on trauma work in therapy will help me with my dissociation. I hope it will enable me to live my life more fully, more safely, and more grounded in the present.
For more about my experiences with dissociation, depersonalisation and derealisation, click this link here.