Originally published on Sept. 30, 2016.
So what is it like living with Dissociation as a result of childhood sexual abuse? That’s a pretty loaded question and can be a very personal experience rooted in such deep trauma that even thinking about it can cause flashbacks and anxiety.
Back when I first learned from my therapist that I Dissociate, I had to ask her what in the world that even was. I’d never heard the term before. As it turned out, speaking with a therapist and diving deep into all that Dissociation entails, opened up a whole new world of understanding about myself.
The definition of Dissociation is as follows : Dissociation is a mental process that causes a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memory and sense of identity. Dissociation seems to fall on a continuum of severity. Mild dissociation would be like daydreaming, getting “lost” in a book, or when you are driving down a familiar stretch of road and realize that you do not remember the last several miles. A severe and more chronic form of dissociation is seen in the disorder Dissociative Identity Disorder, once called Multiple Personality Disorder, and other Dissociative Disorders.
Countless people Dissociate now and then, as referenced above it can happen just about any time. Those milder forms such as when you read or are driving, are quite common. However, the more traumatic forms, once of which I have, DDNOS, can be very scary at times and also very frustrating to deal with.
DDNOS is defined as: A dissociate disorder NOS (Not Otherwise Specified) is a disorder that includes a dissociative symptom (i.e., a disruption in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity, or perception of the environment) that does not meet the criteria for any specific Dissociative Disorder.
Basically with DDNOS, you exhibit one or more different types of Dissociative Disorders but not to the point of being narrowed to one specifically.
I’ll expand a bit on how it affects me personally.
My mind is always going at 100 mph and in 10 different directions. It never just shuts down or takes a day off unless I’m sleeping. Even then, the dreams I have quite often assure me that even at rest my mind more than capable of over thinking and analyzing.
I learned that when my abuse happened, it actually Dissociated during the events as they transpired. To me that seemed to weird but from what I’ve learned it’s actually quite common. The brain is amazing in so many ways, one of which is its ability to protect us from what it knows we can’t handle emotionally. Even as much as I want to understand what happened to me, which I’ll get into more in a bit, I’m glad that my brain was able to protect me at the time. After all I was only 5-10 years old when the neighbor down the street began molesting me after grooming me for quite some time, actually convincing me that this was cool and fun and our special secret! Still gives me chills (in a bad way) to think about it.
The most common ways that I Dissociate on a daily basis are the typical “zoning out” for example when I’m sitting at my desk at work or at home. My mind will wander to something completely unrelated to the task at hand. Or I’ll notice something out of the corner of my eye and just stare at it for a few minutes and I snap back to the here and now and be like, “what was I just doing?”. I do it when I’m writing too. Even as I write this I’ve had to go back and fix several repeated sentences and grammatical errors because I get on a roll and start rattling off thoughts and don’t realize I’ve repeated myself multiple times.
I also do it when I’m reading. I will sometimes have to re-read the same paragraph or page more than once to get it to sink in. Even then when I’m re-reading it, I have to seriously focus on what I’m doing or I’ll get stuck on the same stupid page repeatedly. It’s quite frustrating especially when I’m reading so many self-help type books to educate myself about my past and current conditions. Trying to retain all that knowledge is unbelievably frustrating because it takes forever to fully sink in, and sometimes some of it still doesn’t. Thank goodness for bookmarks and highlights on my Kindle!
Flashbacks and Dissociation, that’s a big one for me. Probably the biggest one. I’ve learned through therapy that I not only experience flashbacks, but I Dissociate during them too. The flashbacks started after an epic 2-hour therapy session that caused me to finally open up about my past. I told my therapist that I wanted to connect with and feel my past trauma so I could learn from it and use that as healing tactic.
I guess you could say it kind of backfired on me in some ways. I wanted to have an epic release in her office in the form of crying or anger, but my brain was having none of it. Instead I left there frustrated that I couldn’t connect with my past at that moment and consequently ended up with my first flashback the next morning.
Back to the topic at hand, I Dissociate within a Dissociative event. Talk about frustrating and mind blowing. My mind took me away during the abuse when I was a kid, and now when I have a flashback I can only connect with it so much before my mind takes it away again. I get only bits and pieces in each episode and they last for typically a few minutes to as long as 10 minutes. I get visions of the abuse, the rooms it happened in, the events themselves, and during that time I’m almost frozen or “stuck”.
Then just like that, they are over and within a few minutes I can go about my day and usually be ok. It’s very odd since so often flashbacks can take a person out of commission for hours, days, or even weeks at a time.
Even as traumatic as having a flashback is, I still want to connect with and learn from them, but mind takes me away during each one because it also took me away when I was abused so long ago. Imagine trying to connect with something you never really connected with in the first place. For an over thinker and analyzer like me, it’s unbelievably frustrating.
So that’s a little bit about what Dissociation means to me in my daily life. For me, it’s therapeutic to work through all of this and better understand how I can help myself, and help others.
This post was originally a guest blog post for another site, but I’m also posting it here by reader request, due to some issues with accessing that link after their site upgrade.