For people with trauma, escape is a welcome friend. So dissociation, depersonalisation and daydreaming, become the brains way of protecting them. They are real and potentially life saving necessities. But, sometimes, the threshold for reasonable escape is socially unacceptable or harmful and therefore effects life negatively.
Some of you may ask, ‘what are these things?’ Or perhaps you chime ‘but we all daydream!’ Well allow me to explain a little.
What are they?
Dissociation has subtypes; some include:
Amnesia; memory loss or confusion about whether things actually occurred or not.
Depersonalisation; out of body experience or feeling that the body is unreal or disappearing.
Derealisation; when the world seems unreal or objects change from their normal dimensions.
Identity confusion; feeling uncertain about who you are as a person or through literal identity.
Identity alteration; meaning a shift in roles, behaviors or gender (not limited too) that is sometimes noticeable.
These are the more common states mental health professionals will talk about. But less know of other another type; maladaptive daydreaming. Maladaptive daydreaming, in a totally unrelated coincidence, known as MADD, is excessive daydreaming. Often the dreamer will lose hours of their time dreaming and are able to create varying worlds.
Not all MADD people are abuse or trauma survivors.
You can see why any one of these things could be a potential problem in a persons life. Especially if they can’t consciously link them to any trauma; that makes acceptance harder to grasp.
Not being able to identify yourself to medical staff or walking into oncoming traffic, are just a few potentially fatal issues a person will face with these symptoms.
Any kind of dissociation is a normal response to trauma; you should never feel ashamed or make anyone else feel ashamed of adopting these issues because they did so to escape the unbearable circumstances life gave them. It is surviving!
Not everyone with trauma will have dissociative symptoms. Many who do will have developed them during childhood. A vast number of sufferers were neglected or endured extensive physical and sexual abuse as a child and often for lengthy periods. Everyone has a different story to tell and there is no right way to experience dissociation.
Things seemingly move or slow down
Things seem dream like
Feeling like you are watching yourself through a camera, as if in a movie
Not being able to physically feel your body
Your body may feel like it is not yours
Objects appear brighter, longer etc
Muttering under the breath or pulling expressions while MADD
Being unable to sleep because you can’t shut off the daydream
Missing chunks of time
Finding yourself in places and having no idea why
Seizure like activity
These are just a short list. No doubt any individual with these traits would give you another list.
We have now established: what these things are, the symptoms and how these coping mechanisms develop and help a trauma survivor. So how do they interfere with everyday life?
I have endured every aspect of dissociative states. I can identify my first MADD around age six and my first identity alteration around age nine and the others appear to have come alongside the development of my Functional Neurological Disorder in 2016; at least on a conscious level.
Looking back I can now pinpoint why these things developed in those childhood years.
I was always looked upon favourably for my creative imagination and so I guess nobody noticed it as an issue. They were happy I was quiet.
By age six, I had already spent those years being physically punished by my father, always out the acceptable level, watched him mentally and physically abuse my mother and been sexually assaulted multiple times by people outside the family. I was adapting to my harsh reality.
The later years can only be linked to my adult inability to cope with reality. I have suffered untold hell for the first 26 years of my life. I suppressed many childhood incidents, wiped off adult incidents and powered through. I am now paying the price of holding all those nightmares inside my body as opposed to speaking up.
Is it to late for me? I really don’t know. The prognosis shuts out like a telescope the longer it is left unattended, as with any issue, but part of me wants to keep daydreaming my days away. I like my other worlds, where I have no mental illness, trauma or responsibility and I can vent my frustration and pains away without burdening anyone else. I need that world because I have lived there 26 years; it’s my home.
Nothing makes me feel happier and safer than putting my earphones in on long car journeys or walk (not that I can take walks so much now) and falling into another reality where anything is possible. Something that has caused my family major offense on holidays and led to me being punished as a result. However I could certainly do without the mirror freak outs when I see someone else's face behind my own.
I could do away with the dissociative seizures that have broken my bones, bruised my knees and humiliated me time and time again.
I would love to ‘attach’ to the skin I am in, instead of watching my hands dissolve away into space, while I scream down the phone, in terror, to my confused mother and I could definitely do without the infuriating inability to write my ‘daydreams’ down. I have a million unpaged best sellers and no ability to tell them without falling into the rabbit hole; literally.
The prognosis is variable depending on a variety of factors including lifestyle and brain neuroplasticity.
Talk therapies, EMDR and antianxiety drugs, may lessen or help heal the issues.
Grounding is a common technique used to prevent a dissociative state. It can halt an anxiety attack or prevent a dissociative seizure but it takes repeated practice and I am yet to be successful with it. I have included a common grounding technique at the bottom of this article.
Recovery from trauma and bi-related products, is a lengthily process that not everyone is capable of making or even wanting to make. Alternate states may be the only way some sufferers can cope with their circumstances and so should not be ridiculed or punished.
Society has been unkind to those with mental illness for centuries, failing to realize that we, society, are often the cause. Take Freud for example; many women institutionalized for ‘hysteria’ and having their uterus to blame for their wretched and inconvenient madness, while failing to acknowledge many of them were likely assault survivors.
The best way to stem such cruel social views or misinformed people, professional and otherwise, is to keep speaking up! Raise awareness, to not hide under the bed and never be ashamed to say ‘this is part of my life.’ Anyone who doesn't want to hear the truth, may well not be that different from the patient who’s mind is escaping elsewhere...
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