Dissociation and Personality Disorders
How dissociation shows up in the world
What could dissociation look like?
a sense of estrangement form one’s own body, thoughts and feelings
two or more distinct and relatively enduring “identities” (i.e. dissociative personality states) are experienced as controlling someone’s behaviour, accompanied by significant memory impairment. (This was formerly known as “multiple personality disorder”.)
Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder is not always seen as a dissociative disorder, however, at Sauna Therapy we treat borderline from the same trauma lens as DID and dissociation.
How do I stay in my body?
We aim to always normalise and validate dissociative behaviour; to explain it is “a normal response to abnormal situations”. We aim to clarify: people don’t choose to dissociate. It is an automatic, unconscious, involuntary response. We might say something like: “It is your mind & body trying to protect you from the fear and horror and pain of harmful, dangerous or intensely painful events.” We link this to the client’s history of trauma, abuse, neglect, etc. We help him to see how dissociation helped him to survive these difficult events.
Having validated and normalised dissociation, and explained its main purpose, we can go on to explore:
a) In the past it was helpful to dissociate; it protected you from the horror/terror/ pain/hurt of whatever was happening in your life. This helped you to survive. This was your nervous system protecting you!
b) In the present, dissociation still helps you to escape painful thoughts and feelings, emotions and memories. But what does it cost you? Is it making your life richer in the long term, or poorer?
Symptoms of Dissociation
Dissociation is being disconnected from the here and now. Everyone occasionally has times of daydreaming or mind wandering, which is normal. Sometimes dissociation is a way of coping by avoiding negative thoughts or feelings related to memories of traumatic events. When people are dissociating they disconnect from their surroundings, which can stop the trauma memories and lower fear, anxiety and shame. Dissociation can happen during the trauma or later on when thinking about or being reminded of the trauma. When dissociation is connected to trauma memories or reminders, it is considered an avoidance coping strategy
I Did not mean to trigger you
What are the Triggers?
Triggers are sensory stimuli connected with a person’s trauma, and dissociation is an overload response. Even years after the traumatic event or circumstances have ceased, certain sights, sounds, smells, touches, and even tastes can set off, or trigger, a cascade of unwanted memories and feelings. When they do, the survivor might react with an adrenalin-charged fight-flight-or-freeze response or by dissociating.
Dissociation separates a person emotionally from the trauma and, sometimes, from the current setting. Triggers initiate an emotion reflex Though triggers can be generalized, as in the case of a loud noise, they may involve specific qualities, such as a particular song or the scent of aftershave.
These are some common triggers:
A sense of being ignored, Aggressive behavior Angry facial expressions Anniversaries Bright lights Colors Completing forms Crowds Darkness Disorder/chaos Impatient authorities Lack of choices or options Long waits for services Lost privileges Loud or abrupt noises Not being believed Odors Requests to repeat one’s story Signs and images Small spaces Songs Tone of voice