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Dissociation is one way the mind copes with too much stress, such as during a traumatic event. The word dissociation can be used in different ways but it usually describes an experience where you feel disconnected in some way from the world around you or from yourself.

Dissociation is a perfectly normal response which can happen to any individual, during normal or traumatic events.

Normal Dissociation?  In the majority of instances, dissociation can be considered normal or non-problematic. Some examples are:

  • A child or an adult can become absorbed in an activity and then unaware of what is happening around them, e.g., whilst playing computer games or reading a book.
  • A child might construct a ‘make believe’ scenario, but knows the difference between what they have woven into their make-believe scenario and what is real e.g., teddy tea party.
  • A child can block out something unpleasant (for example aspects of breaking a leg during a sports event), without it affecting their overall functioning.
  • A female can give birth to a child and then ‘park’ aspects of the painful birth without it affecting their overall functioning.
  • Someone driving their car can almost miss an exit point because they have been ‘elsewhere’ in their head, and once ‘back in the driving seat’ be unable to recover what the ‘elsewhere’ thoughts were (a very common scenario).

The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation have comprehensive information on this topic.

The Long-Term Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse: Counseling Implications Some survivors may have dissociated to protect themselves from experiencing the sexual abuse. As adults they may still use this coping mechanism when they feel unsafe or threatened (King, 2009).

Dissociation for survivors of childhood sexual abuse may include feelings of confusion, disorientation, nightmares, flashbacks and difficulty experiencing feelings. Denial and repression of sexual abuse is believed by some to be a long-term effect of childhood sexual abuse. Symptoms may include experiencing amnesia concerning parts of their childhood, negating the effects and impact of sexual abuse and feeling that they should forget about the abuse (Ratican, 1992).

Understanding Dissociative Disorders

The following document by the mental health organisation MIND explains what dissociative disorders are, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. It includes tips for helping yourself and guidance for friends and family.