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What Does Dissociation Feel Like?

Imagine seeing thousands of colored pixels like a malfunctioning television screen about two feet in front of your eyes

You go to the eye specialist and he can find nothing wrong with your vision. Yet, this occurs over and over especially when you are anxious or upset. As you process your early childhood traumas you come to understand that the television you watched was both soothing and trance-inducing.

You dissociated from the real world and connected to the screen as if it were another person. Even where the screen went to a test pattern or the images turn to “snow” that TV set was the most reliable thing in your world. In fact, it was the only thing you could count on since your parents were so wrapped up in their drug habit.

Imagine seeing yourself your own body from another vantage point

A coal miner who is trying to stabilize the roof of the mine was suddenly surprised when the ceiling of the mine chamber collapsed on him.

In a split second, he felt that he was at the top of the chamber looking down on his body covered in rubble. His first thought was “Wow, I bet that hurts!” After he was rescued and treated for his broken bones he began walking as part of his physical therapy.

He had the feeling that someone was walking behind him. He tried to catch that guy but never could until he processed his trauma. It turned out this was a phantom body he was experiencing.

A young woman was chronically out of her body after she had been pistol-whipped by her ex-boyfriend and held captive for 24 hours. For seven long years, she had the sense that her body and her consciousness were separated.

She drew a picture that showed what it was like to have her physical body in front of her consciousness, tethered by a cord. She then added another depiction of her consciousness even farther away from her actual body to represent being under extreme stress.

In a hypnosis session, she had a spontaneous reversal of the out-of-body experience when the therapist helped her merge the actual and the imagined bodies.

A middle-aged man had a cerebral aneurysm (a brain bleed) for which he needed brain surgery. The surgery was successful but he suffered transient symptoms of an organic personality disorder with rage attacks and persistent memory problems.

Most distressing of all, he experienced himself as a phantom hovering above and behind his body. However, his intelligence was unchanged and somehow he was able to function. He even returned to his job as a psychotherapist. He constantly felt out of his body but kept it a secret.

He struggled for another four years before seeking help. His therapy began with a hypnotic reconstruction of the surgery. He watch the operation as a hidden observer in the operating room when the scene shifted to his postoperative hospital room. He visualized two of himself side-by-side in the bed.

The therapist guided him to look at a specific object, first from the eyes of one body and then the other, ultimately merging the two together. When he reoriented himself to the present he described feeling like he was now in his body. He was himself again.

Imagine looking in the mirror and couldn’t recognize yourself

What if you had a conviction that you were of another gender with blond hair and blue eyes when you are actually a brunette with brown eyes.

One woman told me of the extreme distress she experienced one day when she saw a hand reaching in front of her to grab a knife from the kitchen drawer. She reached for the knife and then was aware that it was her own hand.

The two hands battled for control of the knife. I had a suspicion that she was describing a dissociative episode so I asked: “Who I am talking to?” The reply came in a voice an octave lower than her normal voice and said: “Wouldn’t you like to know!”

What is dissociation?

Dissociation can take different forms such as a state of feeling disconnected from one’s surroundings, or, as laypeople may call it, “being zoned out” or “spacey.” Dissociation can range from getting lost in a daydream to a more severe detachment from physical and emotional awareness. According to the American Psychiatric Association, it is “a disruption in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity, or perception of the environment.”

Our ITR therapists see that most dissociation comes from experiencing the Instinctual Trauma Response so we consider it a brain-based process. We teach people to use grounding techniques and to practice the ones that work best to bring a person back to the here-and-now so the therapy session can continue. It is common for people that have experienced multiple traumas.

What is Trauma?

During ordinary, day-to-day events, both sides of our brain process and store what we experience. However, when you have a life-threatening experience or you witness another person in such circumstances, your verbal brain can be overwhelmed and your executive function (the ability to think your way out of the trauma) fails. You can no longer organize your experience in a logical way. The parts of the brain that deal with survival take over. If you cannot fight or flee the situation you will go into the freeze. This is when the Instinctual Trauma Response™ (ITR) occurs.

Going into the ITR™ affects your memory for the trauma. You may feel that the fragmented memory is “stuck” in the non-verbal parts of the brain, where there are no words and no sense of time. We call these fragments “mental shrapnel.” These bits and pieces of the trauma then become triggers that intrude into your life at unexpected times. The result can be bewildering and can change how an individual views him/herself, others, and the world at large.

Not everyone who has a trauma will develop PTSD. However, when trauma symptoms interfere with living life to its fullest, we have the help you need in a time-limited program focused just on you.

ITR™ Explained

Anyone now 32 years or older who had major surgery as a baby is at risk for chronic posttraumatic illness because the surgery was probably done without anesthesia, which was the custom in most hospitals prior to 1987. Abdominal surgery for pyloric stenosis and chest surgery for congenital heart problems were the most common forms. Anyone now 32 years or older who had major surgery as a baby is at risk for chronic posttraumatic illness because the surgery was probably done without anesthesia, which was the custom in most hospitals prior to 1987. Abdominal surgery for pyloric stenosis and chest surgery for congenital heart problems were the most common forms

The Silent Scream

Anyone now 32 years or older who had major surgery as a baby is at risk for chronic posttraumatic illness because the surgery was probably done without anesthesia, which was the custom in most hospitals prior to 1987. Abdominal surgery for pyloric stenosis and chest surgery for congenital heart problems were the most common forms. Anyone now 32 years or older who had major surgery as a baby is at risk for chronic posttraumatic illness because the surgery was probably done without anesthesia, which was the custom in most hospitals prior to 1987. Abdominal surgery for pyloric stenosis and chest surgery for congenital heart problems were the most common forms

Infant Surgery Without Anesthesia

Anyone now 32 years or older who had major surgery as a baby is at risk for chronic posttraumatic illness because the surgery was probably done without anesthesia, which was the custom in most hospitals prior to 1987. Abdominal surgery for pyloric stenosis and chest surgery for congenital heart problems were the most common forms. Anyone now 32 years or older who had major surgery as a baby is at risk for chronic posttraumatic illness because the surgery was probably done without anesthesia, which was the custom in most hospitals prior to 1987. Abdominal surgery for pyloric stenosis and chest surgery for congenital heart problems were the most common forms

On the ACE Study

Anyone now 32 years or older who had major surgery as a baby is at risk for chronic posttraumatic illness because the surgery was probably done without anesthesia, which was the custom in most hospitals prior to 1987. Abdominal surgery for pyloric stenosis and chest surgery for congenital heart problems were the most common forms. Anyone now 32 years or older who had major surgery as a baby is at risk for chronic posttraumatic illness because the surgery was probably done without anesthesia, which was the custom in most hospitals prior to 1987. Abdominal surgery for pyloric stenosis and chest surgery for congenital heart problems were the most common forms

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is caused by either experiencing or witnessing a terrifying, life-threatening event. The resulting symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, dissociation, internal voices, depression, severe panic or anxiety, and phobias as well as intrusive thoughts about the event.

Some experts prefer to think of PTSD as an “injury” rather than a disorder because the symptoms are caused by an outside force or experience that changes the way the brain organizes information.

What are the symptoms of PTSD? (not a complete list)
Persistent, invasive, or intrusive symptoms
Intrusive, invasive, involuntary distressing memories of the events
Nightmares
Dissociative episodes (flashbacks) during which the individual feels the trauma is happening again
Internal voices, strong thoughts, or command hallucinations
Prolonged emotional distress when faced with triggers of the trauma
Physiological reactions to reminders of the event

Avoidance symptoms
Phobias for people, places, activities, conversations, objects, and situations that may lead to disconcerting thoughts, feelings, or memories of the trauma
Efforts made to avoid anything that bring back distressing memories, feelings, or thoughts of the event
Inability to recall aspects of the trauma

Arousal symptoms:
Irritability
Angry outbursts without apparent provocation
Recklessness
Self-destructive behavior
Difficulty concentrating
Hyper-vigilance
Exaggerated startle response or panic
Sleep problems

Negative mood symptoms:
Negative beliefs about oneself, others, the future, or the world
Distorted thoughts about the trauma that lead to assigning blame for the event to themselves or another person
Constant negative or irritable mood
Inability to feel pleasure
Feeling disconnected from others
Inability to feel positive emotions

What are the effects of PTSD?
The effects of PTSD influence every area of a person’s life. The longer that PTSD goes untreated, the more the problems escalate. This list shows the wide variety of difficulties related to PTSD (in addition to the specific symptoms elsewhere on our site):
Internal voices, command hallucinations
Eating disorders
Paranoia
Difficulty in regulating emotions
Inability to maintain stable relationships
Depression
Difficulty in feeling emotions
Guilt
Substance abuse
Social phobia
Difficulty in maintaining a job
Agoraphobia
Suicidal thoughts or actual suicide attempts

What co-occurring disorders often are diagnosed with PTSD?
As many as 80% of people with PTSD are also diagnosed with at least one other disorder. The most common are:
Major depression
Dysthymia
Bipolar disorders
Anxiety disorders
Adjustment disorders
Substance use disorders
Personality disorders

Many symptoms of these disorders are eliminated by processing trauma. Call us at 833-487-8437 to set up a phone consultation. We know we can help you.