Dissociation, a topic that has fascinated me as much as it’s frustrated me ever since the first time I ever learned what in the world it even was. For all of the research I’ve done on this topic, it never ceases to amaze me how the brain takes over during trauma to remove us from being fully present in order to protect us. Of course, long after the trauma has ended, the effects can still linger on.
I can remember sitting in a therapists office years ago, when I first came to terms with the fact that I was a survivor of trauma. She caught me staring out into space, while looking right at her. She noticed when I would tune out during a conversation that was particularly troubling for me to have. Even when the topic wasn’t anything particularly difficult to discuss, the ease with which I transitioned out of being fully present to “never never land” was a clear sign of Dissociation.
She asked me, “how often do you do that?”, and I was like…”do what?”
“Tune out, your mind wandering”, she says. I’m like, “pretty often I think”, I replied.
Have you ever heard of the term, “dissociation?” she questions? “Nope, what the hell is that and how do I get rid of it?”
I can smile a bit now as I recall learning what dissociation was, using humor and sarcasm as a defense mechanism while I processed what I had learned about myself and how I dealt with my past trauma. For that matter, how it affected me now, decades later.
I’ve written many blog posts dissociation here on Surviving My Past, and several guest bloggers have also covered it as well. It’s something that so many trauma survivors struggle with well after the abuse has ended. You can also check out a previous podcast I did about living with dissociation in daily life.
If you aren’t very familiar with this topic – Dissociative disorders are characterized by an involuntary escape from reality characterized by a disconnection between thoughts, identity, consciousness and memory. People from all age groups and racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds can experience a dissociative disorder.
It’s estimated that 2% of people experience dissociative disorders, with women being more likely than men to be diagnosed. Almost half of adults in the United States experience at least one depersonalization/derealization episode in their lives, with only 2% meeting the full criteria for chronic episodes.
The symptoms of a dissociative disorder usually first develop as a response to a traumatic event, such as abuse or military combat, to keep those memories under control. Stressful situations can worsen symptoms and cause problems with functioning in everyday activities. However, the symptoms a person experiences will depend on the type of dissociative disorder that a person has.*
Some time ago I reached to guest blogger and friend, Erin Fado, to see if she wouldn’t mind coming on to do a podcast and share her experience of living with dissociation and dissociative identity disorder.
Erin has written extensively on SMP and on her own blog, You Will Bear Witness, about her experiences of being a survivor of trauma and now living with dissociative disorders. She uses her experiences to help validate others and encourage survivors to keep fighting; to never give up on themselves.
Erin joins us from Australia, where she is now medically retired after working as a Professor of Sociology and lecturer at the University of Wollongong in Sidney. She lives with her husband in the countryside, and undergoes extensive EMDR therapy to help with her DID.
Some of the topics that Erin and I discuss on this episode of the Beyond Your Past Podcast:
- What is dissociation?
- Do you usually go to the past, present of future:?
- How long does it tend to last for?
- Is it usually triggered by something?
- How does dissociation impact your everyday life?
- Have you found treatments/solutions useful?
As you listen to Erin share what living with DID is like, how dissociation affects her daily life, and how much EMDR has helped her when so many other therapy techniques did not, you’ll get a true sense of just what severe dissociation can be like to live with. However, you’ll also see how she refuses to give up and is willing to share about her life even though many struggles are still very difficult to deal with on a daily basis.
It’s important to remember that EMDR can be very effective for working through many types of trauma, and needs to be administered by a trained professional who understands your specific needs.
Thank you Erin for coming on to the podcast with me, for sharing so openly to help others, and for your fighting spirit that refuses to give up.
I encourage you to check out Erin’s blog, You Will Bear Witness, where as she writes regularly about her life and other mental health topics. You can also find her on The Mighty, and on Twitter @YouBearWitness.
-Matthew Pappas, CLC
The information contained in this post should be considered as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment, or any type of mental healthy counseling or treatment.