As I write this blog I sit at my computer chewing on pieces of ice trying to “ground myself” nothing seems real. What is torturing me is called “dissociation” or DID “Dissociative Identity Disorder” …it is a symptom of having Complex PTSD. I have been through at least 6 major trauma’s over the course of my lifetime starting at age 4.
‘Dissociation: An adaptive defense in response to a high stress or trauma characterized by memory loss and a sense of disconnection from one’s self or surroundings’
I remember the first time I experienced dissociation, I was 4 years old going through a traumatic sexual assault. I felt myself float out of my body and was above my tiny body witnessing myself being attacked. It was like watching a movie..Nothing seemed real. From that day I have had problem trying to FEEL. I will go days, weeks and even month stuck in dissociation. I go for therapy every week but doing EMDR is always delayed because I can’t stay focused and present in the room which would cause EMDR to be ineffective. I try grounding techniques which help keep one in the present. I feel captive to my own brain and I am trying to live my life as best as I can. There are times when I was thankful I couldn’t feel..Like childbirth for example. With my youngest I had an elective c-section, my child ended up in NICU. While most Mom’s were still in bed resting from their surgeries I was on a hike across the hospital to see my son on NO painkillers because I couldn’t even feel anything from being dissociated.
What is the difference between PTSD and Complex PTSD?
Symptoms and signs of dissociative disorders include:
- Significant memory loss of specific times, people and events
- Out-of-body experiences, such as feeling as though you are watching a movie of yourself
- Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide
- A sense of detachment from your emotions, or emotional numbness
- A lack of a sense of self-identity
The symptoms of dissociative disorders depend on the type of disorder that has been diagnosed. There are three types of dissociative disorders defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM):
- Dissociative Amnesia. The main symptom is difficulty remembering important information about one’s self. Dissociative amnesia may surround a particular event, such as combat or abuse, or more rarely, information about identity and life history. The onset for an amnesic episode is usually sudden, and an episode can last minutes, hours, days, or, rarely, months or years. There is no average for age onset or percentage, and a person may experience multiple episodes throughout her life.
Depersonalization disorder. This disorder involves ongoing feelings of detachment from actions, feelings, thoughts and sensations as if they are watching a movie (depersonalization). Sometimes other people and things may feel like people and things in the world around them are unreal (derealization). A person may experience depersonalization, derealization or both. Symptoms can last just a matter of moments or return at times over the years. The average onset age is 16, although depersonalization episodes can start anywhere from early to mid childhood. Less than 20% of people with this disorder start experiencing episodes after the age of 20.
- Dissociative identity disorder. Formerly known as multiple personality disorder, this disorder is characterized by alternating between multiple identities. A person may feel like one or more voices are trying to take control in their head. Often these identities may have unique names, characteristics, mannerisms and voices. People with DID will experience gaps in memory of every day events, personal information and trauma. Onset for the full disorder at can happen at any age, but it is more likely to occur in people who have experienced severe, ongoing trauma before the age of 5. Women are more likely to be diagnosed, as they more frequently present with acute dissociative symptoms. Men are more likely to deny symptoms and trauma histories, and commonly exhibit more violent behavior, rather than amnesia or fugue states. This can lead to elevated false negative diagnosis. – https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Dissociative-Disorders
There are times when being disconnected scares me, like driving for example. I will start to have a panic attack because I know I am in a car driving but can’t register that it is ME doing it. Don’t worry, I don’t drive very often and when I do I am usually alone. The causes of dissociation typically include trauma, often from prolonged trauma, such as abuse, in childhood. The stress of war or natural disasters may also cause dissociation. Dissociation is more common in children, which is why this particular behavior is often developed in childhood. But can be carried on through adulthood I am exhibit A. Dissociation is a universal reaction to overwhelming trauma and recent research with indicates that the manifestations of dissociation are very similar world wide.
My therapist has told me that when you dissociate that the “switch” in your brain for fight or flight gets “stuck”. It’s like a “false alarm” for an emergency. Even though the fight or flight response is automatic, it isn’t always accurate. In fact most of the time when the fight or flight response is triggered it is a false alarm – there is no threat to survival. The part of the brain the initiates the automatic part of the fight or flight response, the amygdala, can’t distinguish between a real threat and a perceived threat.
The treatment for dissociation is usually: EMDR, Hypnosis, Grounding techniques and/or medication. I am currently working on treatment for DID with medication and therapy. I have never really discussed my DID symptoms out of embarrassment, but I came clean 2 weeks ago and I am working healing in that aspect of my Complex PTSD. If you have symptoms of DID I assure you are NOT alone…I am right there with ya!