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Why do we dissociate and how do we learn to unfreeze

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Why do we dissociate and how do we learn to unfreeze

We’ve all felt overwhelmed at times, and in the face of overwhelming emotions, it can feel like the only way to cope is to dissociate. Dissociation is a mental health defence mechanism that allows us to freeze our reaction to painful or traumatic events and, in some cases, even detach from reality entirely. But while dissociating may offer a temporary reprieve from intense emotions, it can also lead to long-term struggles with anxiety, depression, and more. In this article, we look at why we dissociate and how we can learn to unfreeze ourselves so that we can move forward in life.

What is dissociation?

Dissociation is a mental process where a person disconnects from their thoughts, feelings, memories, or sense of self. It’s a defence mechanism that helps people cope with overwhelming trauma or stress. Dissociation can happen in different ways:

– Depersonalization: feeling like you’re outside of your body or like you’re watching yourself from a distance

– Derealization: feeling like the world around you isn’t real

– Amnesia: forgetting certain memories or periods of time

– Identity alteration: taking on a different persona or identity to cope with the trauma

Dissociative disorders are characterized by chronic dissociation that interferes with everyday life. People with dissociative disorders often have trouble functioning in work, school, and personal relationships. They may also experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Why do we dissociate?

Dissociation is a mental process of detaching oneself from reality. It can be a coping mechanism to deal with overwhelming experiences or trauma. It can also be a symptom of mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder, and dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder). Dissociation can manifest itself in different ways, including depersonalization (feeling detached from one’s body or thoughts), derealization (feeling like the world around you is not real), and dissociative amnesia (inability to remember aspects of your life).

The different types of dissociation

There are three different types of dissociation: derealization, depersonalization, and dissociative amnesia. Derealization is when you feel like the world around you is not real. Depersonalization is when you feel like you are not real. Dissociative amnesia is when you can’t remember who you are or what has happened to you.

What causes dissociation?

There are many different causes of dissociation, but most of them can be boiled down to three main categories: psychological trauma, stress, and anxiety.

Psychological trauma is probably the most common cause of dissociation. It can be anything from childhood abuse or neglect to a major life event like a car accident or natural disaster. Trauma causes our brains to go into survival mode and shut down non-essential functions like memories and emotions in order to focus on staying alive. This can lead to dissociative disorders like PTSD or DID (formerly known as multiple personality disorder).

Stress and anxiety are also major contributors to dissociation. When we’re stressed out, our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode and release stress hormones like cortisol. These hormones can interfere with our ability to think clearly and process memories properly, which can lead to dissociation. Anxiety can also cause us to dissociate in an attempt to escape from whatever is causing us distress.

How does dissociation affect our breathing and body?

When we dissociate, our body moves into a freeze state, and we often hold our breath and get stuck on an inhale and breathe through our mouth. This slight shift in daily breathing habits can keep the nervous system, body and mind stuck in a state of dissociation. 

How does dissociation affect our lives?

Dissociation is a mental process where one disconnects from their thoughts, feelings, memories, or sense of self. It’s a coping mechanism that helps us to deal with difficult or overwhelming situations. When dissociation occurs, it can affect our lives in many ways.

For example, if you dissociate from your emotions, you may have trouble forming attachments to others and experience problems with intimacy. If you dissociate from your memories, you may have difficulty functioning in daily life or struggle to create new memories. And if you dissociate from your sense of self, you may feel disconnected from your body and the world around you.

While dissociation can be helpful in the short term, it can also lead to long-term problems if it becomes a chronic coping mechanism. If you find yourself frequently dissociating, it’s essential to seek help from a health professional who can help you learn healthy coping skills.

How do we learn to unfreeze?

There are many ways to learn to unfreeze from dissociation. Some people may find that they can do it on their own, while others may need the help of a therapist or other professional.

One of the most common ways to learn to unfreeze is through therapy. Therapists can help you understand what dissociation is and how it affects you. They can also teach you coping and stress-management skills like breathing to help you deal with the triggers that cause dissociation and create safety in your body.

If you want to try to unfreeze on your own, there are some things you can do to get started. First, it’s important to become more aware of your dissociative symptoms. Pay attention to when they happen and what might be triggering them. Once you have a better understanding of your dissociation, you can start working on finding ways to cope with it.

There are many resources available to help you learn more about dissociation and how to unfreeze from it. Books, articles, online forums, and support groups can all help provide information and support.

How to heal from dissociation

Dissociation is a mental process that allows us to disconnect from our surroundings and tune out or shut down certain aspects of our consciousness. It’s a survival mechanism that helps us cope with overwhelming situations, numbing us to physical and emotional pain. When dissociation becomes chronic, it can start to interfere with our daily lives. If you’re struggling with dissociation, know that you’re not alone and there are steps you can take to begin healing. 

The first step is acknowledging that you’re dissociating. Once you’re aware that you’re disconnected from your body and surroundings, you can start to bring yourself back into the present moment. This may be difficult at first, but there are some helpful techniques you can use, such as: 

-Focusing on your breath: Take a few deep breaths and focus on the sensation of air moving in and out of your lungs. 

-Grounding yourself: Pick an object in the room and really focus on its details—the colour, texture, shape, etc. Or try focusing on the sensations in your body—the feel of your clothes against your skin, the room’s temperature, etc. 

-Using positive affirmations: Repeat phrases like “I am safe” or “I am present” to help centre yourself in the moment. 

It is also helpful to talk to a therapist who can help you work through the issues that may be causing your dissociation. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you identify and manage the thoughts and behaviours associated with dissociation. Other forms of therapy, including Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) and mindfulness-based approaches, can also help treat dissociation.

Finally, it’s important to practice self-care and take time for yourself to relax and unwind. Exercise, yoga, journaling, art therapy, music therapy or leisure time in nature are good ways to reduce stress and promote relaxation.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is important to understand why we dissociate, how we can learn to unfreeze, and how to use tools such as mindfulness and self-soothing techniques. Dissociation can be a valuable tool for managing distress and regulating emotions, but it needs to be monitored so that it does not become a habit. Understanding these concepts will help you build resilience when facing difficult situations or challenging emotions. With practice, you’ll find yourself better equipped to deal with life’s ups and downs without resorting to extreme measures of escape or control.

If you are interested in learning more about how you unfreeze and reset to calm join one of my Mind-Body courses courses and coaching.

Are You Ready for a Transformation? 

Burnout, overwhelm, and the complexities of everyday life can take a toll on us. My journey began with a desire to blend the science of stress with practical, everyday tools. Through this, I’ve crafted a path to guide others, just like you, through transformative healing and personal growth.

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Emma Ferris

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2 Responses

  1. Thank you Emma, very well explained and helpful. Found this website when looking for tips how to get out of freeze more and dissociation and it was a gentle and clear reminder on how I can help myself in this situation.

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