Julie Miller's Mental Health Blog

Dissociation #3

Posted on: March 12, 2010

Why do some people dissociate?

Dissociation is a defense.  It does something for you.  It protects you, keeps you from being overwhelmed, just like denial, minimizing, intellectualizing, rationalizing, etc.  These things are also a defense, and keep you from getting overwhelmed.  They also eventually out-live their usefulness if you are stuck in them, just like dissociation.

Once these defenses become habitual,  however, you lose the power of choice.  The defense becomes automatic, a subconscious decision made by your central nervous system (CNS).

When you are very young, there aren’t you don’t have a lot of resources, skills, experiences that can help you a difficult situation without getting overwhelmed.  A small child has limited ability to understand why Daddy is yelling, or Mommy is crying.  The child may become very frightened, and because of things going on in the house (substance abuse, depression, abuse, etc.), no one can be present for the child to help protect and soothe him or her.

Hence, the child must find a way to soothe and protect themselves.  The CNS automatically shuts down some of the “lights” in the brain if the system becomes overwhelmed.  It’s a lot easier for a child to get overwhelmed than an adult, given that a child does not have all the resources, experiences, and skills of an adult.  Sometimes it doesn’t take much for a child to get overwhelmed, and if no caretaker is available to help comfort & soothe, dissociation often functions to comfort & soothe.

I’ve spoken to many clients who say they can’t remember a time when they didn’t dissociate.  They needed it as a child for protection, and the dissociation has continued into adulthood.

Because dissociation is on a continuum, recovery from it varies according to severity.  We’ll talk about that next time.

Typically, although not always, dissociation is

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