By Gillian Mulder
Have you ever scrolled through social media or even read a book and felt like your mind was drifting elsewhere? Perhaps you were in an uncomfortable, stressful, or boring situation, where you zoned out and watched the world around you go on, but you yourself weren’t interacting with it in real-time? That's dissociation, and everyone’s done it at least once.
Of course, it is a spectrum. Examples of mild, common dissociation include daydreaming, highway hypnosis, or “getting lost” in a book or movie, all of which involve “losing touch” with your awareness of your immediate surroundings.
Then, there is more severe dissociation, where it occurs during or after a traumatic event. Dissociation is a break in how your mind handles information. It’s a way for your brain to process what’s happening around you as a way to protect yourself. This specific dissociation is called peritraumatic dissociation. Experts believe that it’s a method used to keep you from feeling or experiencing the full effect(s) of a traumatic situation. Other common symptoms of dissociation are:
Some of you reading this might be like, “Why is this bad? It protects you from the severity of traumatic situations.” And to those people I say, while dissociation helps you to live another day, it’s also the mental health equivalent of sweeping your trauma under the rug. Dissociation doesn’t heal these psychological scars in the long term and can also be a symptom of larger disorders called dissociative disorders. It can also affect your daily life, and it’s important to first realize that you are dissociating so that later on, you can think about why, and you can heal and grow.
Of course, like most things, there are ways to manage dissociation and dissociative states.
If you feel yourself dissociating, here are some things you can do to bring yourself into the moment:
1. Engage your senses.
Squeeze an ice cube in your hand. Pay attention to how your feet feel pressing on the floor. Name five things you can see right now. Scream! Shake your head like an etch-a-sketch! Do anything, as long as it’s physical.
2. Pay close attention to your breathing.
Slowly breathe in your nose. Feel the sensation of the cool air as it moves into your nostrils. Then, follow the air as it enters your nose and spreads to the back of your throat. Next, slowly breathe out. Feel the contrast of the warm air and the sensation as it leaves your nostrils. Again, the sensory input keeps you connected to your body and your surroundings.
3. Choose an object to keep you in the present.
This could truly be anything, like a photo, piece of jewelry, or any other small keepsake. Build an association between it and the present—every time you see it or touch it, remind yourself that you are in the moment. Then, when you need it, you can reach for it, like an anchor.
(Please note, I am not a professional in any way, and my only knowledge of dissociation is from these articles and experiencing it myself.)
Goldberg M.D., Joseph. Web MD, WebMD, LLC., 26 August 2019,
https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/dissociation-overview#3. Accessed 11 January 2021.
Wang M.D., Philip. “What are Dissociative Disorders?” Psychiatry.org, August 2018,
https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/dissociative-disorders/what-are-dissociative-disorders. Accessed 11 January 2021.
Wu M.D., Jade. “How to Manage Dissociating.” psychologytoday.com, 5 November 2020,
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-savvy-psychologist/202011/how-manage-dissociating. Accessed 11 January 2021.