Dissociation

Becomong more embodied

I can say form my personal experience that dissociation is one of the most troublesome of conditions. Until I learned how to be more embodied, I suffered from moderate dissociation for the first 30 or so years of my life. So when I treat people who are struggling with dissociation, I recognise many of the symptoms they describe.

Dissociation may be physiological/physical, psychological, "energetic" or even spiritual. Or any combination of two or more of these. Dissociation is one of the best demonstrations that the body and mind, the senses and the sense of self, the physiology and the state of consciousness - are a deeply intermeshed continuum.

Mental, sensory and psychological Dissociative symptoms

I have listed a selection of dissociative symptoms below. The type of symptom is not necessarily a good indicator of how easy treatment might be, and is more indicative of how your body is organising itself internally. Although there are several possible pathways, dissociation essentially takes us a small way towards hibernation. Very very few people experience all of these symptoms.

  • General numbness - physical and/or emotional - interspersed with times of strong difficult emotions such as panic or isolation or feeling unable to cope (Autistic spectrum disorders are one way this manifests)
  • The mind goes blank - not quiet, but blank
  • The world looks alien - depersonalisation, "looking through a glass darkly"
  • Dizziness, disorientation, swimmy light headedness, difficulty being aware of the feet or lower legs
  • Occasional loss of hearing, speech goes slow and blurbly
  • Muscles feel weak (even if they are in reality strong), floppy, lack of energy, heaviness, tending to ME/CFS and depression
  • Flaccid muscles, tending to hypermobility
  • Body dysmorphia - feeling bigger or smaller than you actually are. May also include out of body experiences.
  • Hypersensitivity to sounds, foods, pollutants or other irritants - sometimes may feel like having no skin. Psychic hypersensitivity to other people's moods
  • Loss of coordination - may include conditions such as dyspraxia and Tourettes
  • Sleepwalking, sleep paralysis, narcolepsy and other sleep disorders
  • Lost periods of time, finding yourself in places or clothes you don't recognise
  • The most severe symptoms tend towards schizophrenia and dissociative identity. These may be relatively stable, or they may severely disrupt everyday life and require high quality psychological intervention.
Dissociation cannot be changed by willpower alone

Dissociation is a side effect of "trauma" - but as described elsewhere on this website, trauma is not necessarily caused by an obvious massive event (like being in an explosion or war zone or major car crash). A surprisingly large number of people suffer from a trauma-like condition even though they have not experienced a traumatic event. The dissociated part of the response is the body's attempt to survive by turning inwards and shutting off the lights. This is run by a very primitive part of our neurology - you might say that it has the evolutionary state of a jellyfish! This means that it is very powerful, and runs a lot of the physiology and sensory system, and cannot normally be accessed through the cognitive brain (frontal cortex) or language centres (temporal lobes/hypothalamus).

Physical and physiological Dissociative symptoms

There are primitive and powerful parts of our senses that could be compared to a personal bodyguard. The bodyguard does not understand context, and so apparently everyday and harmless changes in the environment can trigger an alarm response. The next stage in this response is that the animal body thinks that it is about to be eaten by a lion, and it dissociates. i.e. the body is flooded with natural opiates so that you would not feel yourself being eaten. For most people this would cause a very mild loss of awareness and slight emotional or mental numbness that would normally be unremarkable, to the point of almost being inperceptible. In more extreme situations it can cause many other odd physical symptoms in varying degrees of severity, including.

  • hypermobility and systemic or local loss of tendon strength
  • a vast range of immune-deficient and auto-immune conditions
  • migraines and headaches
  • very poor physical healing of injuries and operations
  • peripheral neuropathies and loss of circulation (e.g. Raynauds disease)
  • constipation and other digestive tract disturbances
  • muscular spasm and various so-called postural issues and pain in the spine and neck
  • systemic conditions such as fibrimyalgia and Parkinsons

I have developed and tested a range of techniques over the years which can reduce or even eliminate dissociative symptoms. The exact techniques used and how long treatment may take is so individually variable that it is almost impossible to give general guidance. I suggest that you consider coming for about six sessions - by then, simple dissociations will have reduced, and it should be clear what scale of treatment might be necessary to achieve the changes you want.

Dissociation workshops Workshops on dissociation for professionals are available in Norwich, October 2017

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