Imagine if you could teleport and time travel! You want to be in another room? Bam, you’re there before you’ve even finished the thought. You’re in a boring lecture? Fast forward to the evening. Sounds cool, right?
Okay, now let’s imagine you can only go forward in time and you can’t actually control your brand new powers of teleportation and time travel. One moment it’s five o’clock on Monday and you’re at the cinema, the next it’s eleven o’clock on Wednesday morning and you are, for some reason, listening to NSync on repeat and according to your internet history, have been for three hours. You have no idea where you’ve been over the last few days, when you’ve slept, if you’ve eaten, who you’ve spoken to, or what you’ve been doing. Plus you’ve wasted fifteen quid on a film you’re going to have to go see again because you can’t remember any of it.
That’s what dissociation is like for me, most of the time.
I also experience other types, such as derealisation which is where your surroundings don’t seem real – for me this means that colours seem way too saturated and noises sound like I’m hearing them underwater, or I might believe that the clouds are not real and are actually somehow faking it – or depersonalisation, where I feel like my body is not my own. For me this is comparable to when you hear your own voice played back on a recording and it sounds wrong, except it isn’t a recording and it’s not just my voice, my reflection looks wrong and my limbs have somehow been replaced by replicas which are not quite right but I’m not sure how.
Everyone dissociates sometimes – have you ever been on the way home and then suddenly realised you’re at your door with no memory of the journey? Or maybe you’ve been making breakfast and suddenly realised you’re pouring orange juice on your cereal? You’ve dissociated! For most people, dissociation is the brain switching off for a little bit while it does something familiar and repetitive, such as going home on your usual route, or making breakfast, and it gives a signal to regain situational awareness when that task is over or if something changes in the routine. It becomes a problem when it happens frequently or for long periods of time, and especially when your brain doesn’t give you a signal to re-enter the land of the living.
For some people, dissociation has an obvious trigger – a certain thing which reminds them of a trauma or something which they’re not able to process yet because it involves a lot of complex emotions, and it’s the brain’s way of shoving that memory or emotion into a closet for later. For me, I have no discernible triggers other than it’s more likely to happen when I’m tired, but it’s not guaranteed to happen, and I can still dissociate when I’m not tired.
So yeah, recently I’ve been dissociating a lot (the first type) and from what I can tell I don’t actually do much differently from my typical self, which is a relief – some people can take on new identities when they dissociate, or become more impulsive and do things they normally wouldn’t. I appear to act fairly normally because Jon has told me that it’s sometimes hard to tell when I’m dissociating. So far, the signs we’ve worked out are:
- Zoning out – I might seem much tireder than usual, or sit staring into space and not really doing anything
- Being quieter than usual – I might not respond verbally to questions, or only respond with hums or single-syllable answers, or I might stop talking in the middle of a sentence
- Confusion – I find it hard to stay on track or I jump between unrelated topics without any warning. If I’m asked questions, I can’t answer them and I become upset
- Memory problems – asking the same question or saying the same thing over and over, not being able to remember what I was talking about or what someone asked me, not being able to remember what I was doing earlier
If you find that I am doing this, you can try to get me to come back to myself sooner by asking me to name all the colours in the room, or everything I can hear, or get me to tense and relax muscle groups (eg “Can you tense your arms and then relax them?”), or if I’m definitely tired get me to take a nap, although this doesn’t always work. If it doesn’t, don’t worry too much – just please try not to ask me complex questions or rely on me to remember something you’ve said because I’ll get confused or not remember the conversation at all. Also, obviously, if you notice that I am about to do something unsafe please stop me!
So yeah, this is just a heads up that this is a thing that happens to me, but it’s been happening to me more often than normal and for longer periods than normal recently. It’s how you can spot the signs of when it’s happening to me, and what you can try to do to help out if you think I am dissociating if you feel comfortable. Feel free to ask me any questions about this if you want to know more about my experiences or if you dissociate and know of any good ways to record potential triggers or regain situational awareness more quickly, please let me know!