What Is Dissociation and How to Cope if You’re Struggling

Most people experience dissociation at some point during their lives. Most of the time, these episodes are relatively harmless. 

Sometimes, dissociation can be disturbing and disruptive, particularly if you aren’t sure how to manage it. Let’s get into what you need to know!

What Is Dissociation?

In its most basic sense, dissociation refers to a temporary break in reality. You may feel a sense of disconnection from your body, thoughts, or feelings during this experience. You might also undergo disturbances with time, location, and your own identity.

Common dissociation symptoms include:

  • Feeling as if you are a different person.
  • Experiencing yourself as “outside” of yourself.
  • Feeling a sense of floating or out-of-body lightness.
  • Experiencing complete numbness.
  • Feeling like the world around you isn’t real. 
  • Feeling like your mind is going blank.

In more extreme cases, dissociation can include:

  • Hearing voices (known as auditory hallucinations).
  • Becoming very stiff or immobile.
  • Experiencing heightened flashbacks. 
  • Temporary amnesia (memory loss).

Everyone’s symptoms will look different. In mild cases, the symptoms disappear on their own. They tend to be fleeting- the episodes are short with a defined endpoint. 

However, in other cases, symptoms can last much longer. If you’re struggling with a dissociative disorder, you may experience some symptoms persistently. 

What Are Dissociative Disorders?

There are a few different kinds of dissociative disorders. Keep in mind they tend to be rare. Research shows that about 2% of the US population experiences them, although women are more likely to be affected than men. 

Dissociative Amnesia

This refers to being unable to remember certain details related to a specific event. It may include having inconsistent or fuzzy memories or no memory of the experience at all. 

Dissociative fugue may also occur with this condition. This happens when someone loses memories of their past and leaves their familiar environment. They may take on a new identity, but they can’t recall how they got there.

Dissociative Identity Disorder

Formerly known as multiple personality disorder, this condition refers to having two or more defined personalities within the same person. The individual does not realize that other personalities exist.

Depersonalization Derealization Disorder

This condition refers to a consistent sense of detachment from your own body or thoughts. At times, people may not recognize who they are or what they look like.

What Are the Main Dissociation Causes? 

Significant research suggests that trauma is one of the main predictors of dissociation. Many experts believe that dissociation serves as a coping mechanism to avoid feeling the intense emotions related to traumatic memories. Even children can learn how to dissociate from a young age- it helps protect them from the pain associated with their current reality. 

Additionally, mood-altering drugs may trigger dissociation episodes. If you’re abusing drugs and experiencing a disconnect from reality, it’s important to consider seeking help.

Finally, dissociation is associated with many other mental health conditions, including:

How Can You Cope With Dissociation?

Fortunately, you can learn to manage your dissociation. Choosing to work on these symptoms is an essential part of your overall self-care. Let’s get into some of the best coping strategies. 


It’s important to learn to recognize behavioral patterns. Certain people, places, or situations may be more likely to trigger dissociation. Writing these down can help you develop more insight into what’s going on.

Grounding Exercises

Staying in the present moment can bring you back into reality. Grounding exercises include any conscious, deliberate activity designed to raise awareness of what’s happening in the here-and-now. 

You can start practicing grounding exercises by taking several deep breaths. You might also want to consider scanning your five senses.

Positive Mantras & Affirmations

It can help to have a positive statement you can remind yourself of if you’re slipping into a dissociative state. Some examples include:

  • I am safe right here.
  • I can be present.
  • I am choosing to be in the here-and-now.
  • This will pass soon.

Remaining Objective

This is also another grounding exercise that can help shift you back into the present moment. Rather than focusing on your feelings or thoughts, try to consider the facts. 

Where are you right now? What is the date today? What is the temperature outside? Who did you see today? What did you eat for breakfast? Answering these simple questions can gently steer you back to reality.

Final Thoughts

If you’re struggling with dissociation, you’re not alone. Most people experience this symptom from time to time. But if your dissociation is interfering with your relationships, work, or overall well-being, you might want to consider reaching out for support. Therapy can help you learn more about your triggers. It can also help you learn new ways to cope with your stress.

At Willow Counseling, we are here to encourage your growth and recovery. Contact us today to get started. 

Willow Counseling, PLLC – Nashville, TN

Willow Counseling, PLLC exists to provide quality trauma-informed mental health counseling to the Nashville community, recognizing the interconnectedness of our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. We work together to alleviate symptoms, learn better coping skills, relieve burdens, remove the pain of trauma, and so much more. However, our greatest desire is for you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again and to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.


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