Dissociation can be described as being totally disconnected from the present moment. It is one of our brain’s subconscious coping mechanisms for dealing with or avoiding negative thoughts or a traumatic situation.
While more than half of the people experience an event of dissociation once in their life, only 2% of them actually get diagnosed with what psychologists call dissociative disorder.
How Does Dissociation Anxiety Occur?
Dissociation is normally triggered in response to a disturbing life event that is faced while experiencing assault or abuse. Due to this reason, dissociation is commonly associated with severe trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition, dissociation can also be experienced by individuals suffering from anxiety-related disorders.
Normally, dissociation triggered in response to panic or extreme stress is recognized but associated with other causative factors such as certain health issues. There is no specific diagnosis of dissociation anxiety. However, dissociation can occur as a symptom associated with various anxiety disorders.
Following are the major anxiety disorders that are related to dissociation:
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Specific phobias
All in all, dissociation can interfere with the treatment of all types of psychological disorders and make it hard for the individual to live in the present moment. It also has a grave effect on the healthy trauma processing and coping mechanisms of the brain. Due to this reason, it is crucial to address the various dissociation disorder through treatment and learn healthy ways to cope.
Why does Dissociation Anxiety Occur?
Causes of Dissociation Disorders
It has been proven that one can psychologically disconnect from the present moment if one goes through something extremely traumatic; this phenomenon is known as peritraumatic dissociation. Psychologists believe that this is one of the brain’s coping mechanisms to protect us from the full impact of a traumatic experience. Peritraumatic dissociation can be triggered by the following:
- Childhood abuse
- Sexual or physical assault
- Road accidents
- Capture or torture
- Natural disasters
If you have repeatedly experienced traumatic experiences during your lifetime, you are likely to suffer from extreme forms of dissociation termed dissociative disorders. You may forget things, completely leave your normal consciousness, make fake scenarios in your mind and live in them.
It is likely to lose your identity or sense of reality if you consume excessive alcohol or take illicit drugs. Research has revealed that people who regularly take psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin commonly report losing their sense of self.
The process of dissociation normally involves a disconnection between your consciousness, identity, memory, and thoughts. Following is a list of some of the major symptoms experienced as a result of dissociation:
- Feeling physically or emotionally numb
- Highly altered perceptions
- A distorted sense of time
- Feelings of yourself being absent or unreal
- Losing the sense of reality
- Feeling as if the world around you is dull and grey
How to Deal with Dissociation Anxiety?
Treatment of Dissociation Anxiety
Although the treatment of dissociative disorders varies depending upon the type of disorder one has, it generally includes medication and psychotherapy.
Dissociative disorders are primarily treated through psychotherapy. This type of therapy, also known as counseling, talk therapy, or psychosocial therapy, involves talking about your condition and its issues with a psychiatrist. It would help if you looked for a therapist who has specialized training or is experienced in dealing with individuals with a history of trauma.
Therapists work with individuals suffering from dissociation anxiety to help them figure out the cause of their condition and learn new ways of coping with traumatic situations. As time goes by, the therapist helps the person talk more about the trauma they experienced.
Following are some of the major types of psychotherapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: It is designed to help people identify and change negative behaviors and thoughts.
- Hypnotherapy: People find it easier to process and explore their memories when they are in a relaxed state of mind. One should only practice this with a mental health professional certified in hypnosis and trained in PTSD and dissociative disorder.
2. Phasic trauma treatment
The main objective of this treatment is to help stop self-destructive behavior or suicidal thoughts in patients suffering from dissociation anxiety. Once this is done, the psychotherapist slowly helps the individual process the traumatic memories and re-integrate their identities.
3. Family treatment
Individuals may also find it helpful to get support from a partner, spouse, friend, or someone else they’re close to.
4. Dialectical behavioral therapy
This type of psychotherapy can help one learn the skills required to control their negative emotions and stop harmful activities. It is commonly used to treat borderline personality disorder.
5. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
It uses visual exercises and techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy and visual exercises to help the patient work through the traumatic memories of severely troubling life events. It can help stop flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms of PTSD.
Since dissociation disorders interfere with the efficacy of treatment, therapists can advise their patients to practice the following things to help them snap out of a period of dissociation:
- Eat something sour or sweet to snap into the moment.
- Make eye contact.
- Get up and roam around for a bit.
- Name five things you hear, feel, and see.
- Inhale a particular scent for groundings, such as mint or lavender.
- Recall what you were doing or talking about when you spaced out.
- Keep in mind how using spacing out is a harmful coping strategy.
6. Add-on Medication
Although there are no specific medications to treat anxiety-related dissociative disorders, the doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants to help manage the psychological symptoms associated with dissociative disorders. The doctor may also prescribe antipsychotics if the patient has schizophrenia.
Following are some of the measures that you can adopt to prevent dissociation related to anxiety:
- Get adequate sleep each night
- Take some time out to exercise each day
- Practice grounding techniques
- Reduce daily triggers and learn how to manage stress in an effective manner