Ideas for Dealing With Dissociative Symptoms – What Helps Me and What Doesn’t


Dissociative Symptoms are something I am continually struggling with. For me they most frequently include

  • emotionally disengaging from situations – I am present and notice what’s going on, can talk or do something, but I have no emotional response other than “whatever” about anything. Or, if it’s more extreme, I feel not even “whatever”, but absolutely numb, like a robot just reacting mechanically when prompted in the way it’s been programmed to. When the disengagement is more extreme, I still kind of notice what’s going on, but my talking or other reactions slow down or stop altogether.
  • staring off into space – I am losing track of whatever I am doing and just stare. Sometimes it’s conscious and I know I’m doing it, but can’t look away from that invisible point or I don’t want to stop staring. Other times I’m not aware of doing it while I’m doing it, kind of like you are not usually aware of being asleep while you are asleep.
  • feeling disconnected from myself – I stop being convinced that my body really belongs to me, that I am really me, that this is my voice I am hearing, or that it is even me doing the speaking.
  • daydreaming – I am away in my mind, entertaining thoughts of whatever. It’s similar to the staring. Sometimes I am aware that I am daydreaming but can not or do not want to stop it, other times I am unaware that it’s happening.
  • partially disconnecting with the world around me – I am notorious for temporarily losing my senses, like genuinely not hearing someone when they talk to me, not seeing something I should be seeing, etc. It happens especially often when I get only one single sensory cue. For example I will be more likely to hear what my mom says if I can see her talking to me, too. But if she’s outside my field of vision and hearing is the only source of telling that something is even going on, I often don’t hear anything.
  • forgetting things right after they happened – I am equally notorious for this one. It happens all the time that my mom tells me I that I had just answered her, but I have no memory of having said anything or what we were even talking about. Or that I look down at my hands holding something and I have no idea I ever picked that up or why I did and what I wanted to do with it. Often I find myself in some place around the house and have no idea why I went there. For example mom sends me to get the mail and tell her okay, and then I suddenly find myself at the door and have no idea why I am at the door, if it was for a certain reason, or how I even got there and certainly no memory of having talked about getting the mail.
  • blank spells – I lose entire chunks of memory at once. I have blank spells for most of my childhood abuse, but also perfectly ordinary seeming things. For example I just discovered that I have next to no memory of the day I went hiking in the mountains with my family last summer. Nothing obviously bad happened, mom says I seemed to have enjoyed the trip, there are pictures of smiling me in hiking clothes on the mountain, but while I have a vague sense that yes, it could have happened, I lost the memory.

Dealing with those dissociative symptoms is an ongoing challenge. That’s why I thought I’d make a collection of my thoughts regarding what I find helpful and what doesn’t help me at all. Here goes. I’ll do the unhelpful ones first – they’re easier. 😉

 What I find UNHELPFUL in dealing with dissociation: DissociationN

  •  others trying to get me to “snap out of it” – I have had people touching me, shaking me, speaking loudly or even yelling at me and I found all of that extremely disturbing. Imagine someone letting a police siren blare right into your ear to rouse you from sleep. It stresses me, and feels like catastrophe is about to strike. So it’s a big bad fucking idea.
  • others becoming scared by it – I suppose it can look creepy, especially when I get an empty stare or my reactions slow down or stop altogether. I have had people get really nervous about it, unable to stand watching me be like this, and the more scared fuss they make, the more it feels safe to stay the heck away.
  • others getting mad and acting like I do it on purpose – I can’t count the times when people have been upset with me over not having heard something, forgetting things or not giving them the reaction they desire. I can’t count the times I have been told to “get my act together” and stop acting dumb/silly/whatever. It’s not helpful. I often have no control over it and getting mad at me for something I can’t control is stupid. How would you feel if someone got repeatedly mad at you because your hair is too short for their liking? I can understand that it’s annoying to deal with me dissociating, but getting mad at me for it, for something I can’t just change, is not going to help.
  • punishing me for dissociating – I have had people tell me “tough shit” or “forget it” when I had no memory of something that had happened, probably thinking that if they didn’t indulge in enlightening me or something I’d pay better attention next time. Not working. Again, it’s not something I do on purpose.
  • getting left alone with good advice – A lot of the time I was taught a technique (counting things, naming x number of things I could perceive with my various senses, giving my senses strong input…)  and then told to use it and that’s it. But it’s not that easy. Having a tool is good, but being left alone with operating it is a bit much.
  • making me stay in distressing situations – often I dissociate more severely in response to something stressful. I have had my share of people thinking I should “brave it”, thinking it would desensitize me and help me see that the situation is not threatening or something, but instead of doing that it only reinforces that staying dissociated is needed in order to stay safe.
  • beating myself up over dissociating – I used to get angry at myself or disappointed or discouraged over dissociating. Suffice it to say that that’s not helpful at all.

What I find HELPFUL in dealing with dissociation:DissociationY

  • present, calm and no-fuss reactions – dissociation might have become a habitual reaction and can happen without any obvious current outside stress, but it is a stress reaction nonetheless. The calmer and safer my environment, the easier it is to get out of it.
  • patience and understanding – I know it’s annoying when I dissociate in inconvenient moments, when others need to tell me the same things again because I didn’t hear it the first time(s) around, when I can’t remember something that just happened or when I become absent in situations where you’d rather I stay present. It’s annoying for me, too, and I am working on dissociating less frequently. It’s helpful when I meet patience and the understanding that this is a hard task.
  • being made aware in a respectful way – I am often not aware I am dissociating, and getting asked “honey, are you listening to me?” or “Are your feelings there?” can help. In the same way it helps if someone notifies me of dissociative behavior. A simple: “You are staring into space. Are you okay?” or “Can you look at me, so I can see if you are registering what we talk about?” can make a difference.
  • gentle orientation – when I am more severely out of touch with the world and try to come back, I often have trouble getting my facts straight. What reality do I go back to? In my case there’s often a certain insecurity about where I am, how old I am, who I am with etc. In those cases getting casually told and affirmed of what reality I am seeing and returning back to helps.
  • help with applying helpful strategies – I can do the counting or naming sensory input or giving myself strong sensory input, but I can’t always do it on my own. Gentle prompts – if some situation stressed me into dissociation, I need to get away from that situation. I need to feel physically safe and emotionally safe.
  • engaging activities – sometimes the most helpful thing my mom does is engaging me in something fun, something energetic or something that is likely to elicit a positive emotional response. Music works well. When I am having a longer period of time when I repeatedly slip away from the here and now, she’ll often put on music for us to dance to, or suggest a game of playing tag, or anything else that helps me be more involved with what’s actually going on.
  • reassurance that someone wants me back – this one is very simple, but really helpful for me. My mom keeps on telling me that she wants me there with her, all of me. That she wants to have me back. I struggle with feeling wanted, so this makes a big difference, even when I can’t immediately react to it in the situation.
  • learning to read the internal signs – nobody can help me do that one, because it’s only about me using the cues I get from the outside to take notice of what’s going on inside when I am starting to dissociate, so that I get better at telling that it’s happening.
  • wanting to remain present – this one is also something I can only do on my own, obviously, but it’s very helpful. Actively fighting dissociation when I notice it, actively wanting to remain present, actively wanting to remain in touch with what I feel and being motivated to keep on working towards remaining present is one of THE most helpful things for me.
  • actively creating safety – this is an important and very effective one for me. Noticing what’s going on and wanting to remain present are good and well, but I need to feel safe in the situation I want to remain present in as well. For me creating safety often means to seek out mom. Or it means to talk to her about something that is bothering me. Or it means to remove something that is bothering me. And of course looking for ways out of situations that are more than I can take.
  • becoming aware of and actively trying to hold on to feelings and to expand what I can take – this ties in a lot with safety. The safer I feel, the more I can consciously try to stay connected with what I am feeling and to tolerate the presence of the feeling.
  • keeping calm, being patient and tolerant of failure – this is the one I struggle most with. In trying I will obviously slip up and fail a lot and if I am not tolerant of that and of setbacks, I will not be getting anywhere. That one is so easy to write down and so hard to do. But I’m still trying, so I guess I’m still good.

Phew, long post, and that’s all for now. For all of you who are struggling with dissociation, I’ll be happy to hear what you find helpful or unhelpful for yourself!


21 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. prideinmadness
    Dec 05, 2012 @ 13:57:39

    I’m dissociating a lot right now so when I get home from my counselling I’m going to go over your helpful list better 🙂 Thanks!

    • Lola
      Dec 05, 2012 @ 14:24:56

      Sorry to hear you’re also dissociating a lot. While in some situations it can be a much-needed blessing, in many others it’s not. If you want to, you can let me know if you find the list helpful or not once you’re back home and got a better look. Also, if you have more suggestions, I’ll be happy to hear them. 🙂

      • prideinmadness
        Dec 05, 2012 @ 16:46:14

        Engaging activities and knowing that someone wants me back are probably the two I could really use right now. I’m trying really hard not to be content with ignoring my issues.

  2. gypsy116
    Dec 06, 2012 @ 00:54:29

    This is a pretty good list 🙂 For me safety is big thing, and also for other people to realize that dissociation isnt just scary for to watch, it can be really scary to experience. Whenever it gets bad for me, I have a really hard time coming back. I have a really hard time figuring out whats real and whats not, and thats really scary 😦

    • Lola
      Dec 06, 2012 @ 16:41:20

      Thank you, Gypsy! 🙂 I can relate to what you mean about finding dissociation scary and having a hard time coming back and knowing what’s real. What really helps me with coming back and telling what’s real and what’s not is having someone orient me and finding helpful cues. For example I have a necklace – an army dog tag actually – that says my name, my age, where I live and and who I belong to. I wear it always and I find it helpful and reassuring to be able to pull it out under my shirt, see that the tag is there and that it reads the right things.

      What helps you with coming back when you have a hard time? (Cause I find that incredibly difficult still, coming back on my own.)

      • gypsy116
        Dec 06, 2012 @ 20:44:29

        If its only mild dissociation, I can usually find my way back on my own, after I realize that Ive dissociated, but when its bad I havent found anything that really helps me. Luckily mu husband has become aware whats happening when its happening and is really good about trying to talk me back to reality, even if it takes a few hours. I get lost in a really scary place, and even something like your necklace wouldnt help. I get stuck in how do I know that anything is real, so seeing, I wouldnt believe it was real, or wouldnt know how to trust if it was. I dont think Im making a whole lot of sense, but its definitely something that I still need to figure out.

    • Lola
      Dec 07, 2012 @ 07:27:32

      I’m the same – I can come back when the dissociation is only mild and I notice, but if it’s more severe, I’m stuck. Great that your husband has gotten good at talking you back to reality, and has the patience to keep doing it even when it takes long. My mom is really helpful in this regard as well.

      Oh, and I think you do make sense about how do you know anything is real. I don’t get this creepy feeling of unreality at all anymore at the moment, but I got really bad spells of unreality feelings some weeks after I had started family care and moved in with my family. I walked around the house for days on end, feeling like everything’s not really there, I’m not really talking to anyone, like everything around me might drop away any minute as if it was just made of cardboard, things were even looking and feeling 2D and cardboardish and weirdly contorted and I felt like I was seeing sound rather than hearing it. Like you “see” sound rather than hearing it in a comic strip where you see “wham” and then only add sound in your mind. (I realize it sounds totally nuts, written down like that, but that’s the best way to describe it. It was creepy.) I’m afraid I don’t really know what helped to make it go away. I suppose that could mean that several things contributed, but I can’t really pinpoint it. I remember that getting engaged used to get me out of it for some time while it lasted, because when engaged I stopped thinking about unreality or not, but I don’t think that’s what made it go away for good. Difficult.

      • gypsy116
        Dec 07, 2012 @ 20:21:06

        Yeah, it is. Im glad that you dont go to that place anymore. Im glad too that its rare that I do. Usually only if something really stressful is going on.

  3. wellcallmecrazy
    Dec 06, 2012 @ 02:37:22

    This is one of the best posts I have EVER read on dealing with DID!!!!! Straightforward, practical, much needed guide for everyone who is touched by dissociative disorder. This information should be available to every therapist, social worker, counselor, doctor…..heck, everybody.

    Wow! Wow! Wow!

    Can you tell how much I love this post? Keep on going.

    • Lola
      Dec 06, 2012 @ 16:43:27

      Aww, thanks so much! I really don’t know what to say. I’m humbled you like my post so much. Thank you! Just saying what works for me, really. I’m very glad you like it! 🙂 ❤

  4. Trackback: The Do’s And Dont’s Of Dealing With DID « WELL CALL ME CRAZY
  5. mightyplans
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 14:40:32

    incredibly insightful. and very helpful. 🙂 hope you are “well” 🙂 feel better soon.

  6. Marsha
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 18:07:35

    I’m a therapist working with kids with trauma. This is a wonderful page. Thank you for sharing.

    • Lola
      Dec 21, 2012 @ 21:14:14

      Hi, Marsha! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave me such a kind comment. I’m glad you like my page. All the best to you and much good energy and strength for working with traumatized kids! A really important job and good therapists can make a real difference.

  7. nobodysreadingme
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 10:58:34

    Me again.
    We touched on this yesterday. When I dissociate, the chances are nobody will notice. I function well, I can carry on a conversation, I can eat a meal (when I feel like it) do all the everyday things.
    But it’s not me doing them. It’s my double. I’m just watching from the outside.
    Even when I’m doing it I know it’s not logical. I can’t be watching myself, because then who’s doing the talking, eating, even laughing?

    • Lola
      Jan 11, 2013 @ 09:50:53

      Hey there! Sorry I was so silent yesterday. Stuff just got a bit too much and I had to draw back from computer, internet and all a bit.

      Anyway, about dissociation, yeah, the strange thing to be watching oneself while also being the one who’s technically doing all those things, it doesn’t make sense, yet that’s totally how it seems. I always figure that maybe it’s different parts of the brain becoming disconnected from each other, so that the part with the awareness, for example, has no active access to the part that’s responsible for doing the behavior in the situations anymore, so that it ends up seeming like it’s not the part with the awareness (which is probably the part that we usually consider to be ‘me’) that is involved in anything of what we’re doing. But I don’t know, that’s just as random a guess as any, I suppose.

      Do you know what you dissociate in response to? For me it’s usually emotional distress of some kind, but sometimes I can’t find any trigger at all.

      • nobodysreadingme
        Jan 11, 2013 @ 09:59:49

        Nice to have you back. I saw you’d pulled back yesterday, but I’d already posted this comment.
        Dissociate sometimes when I’m simply tired. When depression strikes. Sometimes it just happens.
        Hope you are feeling calmer and a bit restored.

        • Lola
          Jan 11, 2013 @ 10:02:46

          Oh, yeah, tiredness can do me in, too, in this regard.

          And I’m feeling a little bit better today, thank you. Yesterday I was real exhausted, and I’m not as exhausted today even though I slept less. Only the headache is still around. But I managed to type a post and that’s a good sign. It’s just a bad time of the month for me (haha, and not in the woman-issues sort of way).

          • nobodysreadingme
            Jan 11, 2013 @ 10:06:42

            I’ll check your new post as soon as I finish with the deluge of Comments I had today.
            Shouldn’t complain. They’re all nice. A new reader berated me for making her laugh so much her Diet Coke came down her nose

            • Lola
              Jan 11, 2013 @ 10:10:39

              Haha! Poor new reader! 🙂

              And good that the comments are all nice. I kind of get overwhelmed by too many sometimes, but even so, I guess I can’t complain either, because they’re kind I enjoy them, too.

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