Dissociation Continuum

 

All of us have the useful talent of dissociating. For many of us dissociation is a helpful tool to give us a break. There are times we need to tune out the interruptions. We can focus on one thing and tune out the noise in the environment. That’s handy for those of us who live in busy cities. We all do this to one degree or another.

As we move along the continuum there are people who lose themselves in their work. People who play professional music often describe getting lost in the music. You’ll also hear someone in love talking about being with their loved one and ime passing without realizing it.

Ordinary daydreaming is another form of every day dissociation. Ever have those moments when you think you did something but you don’t remember for sure? That happened to me one day when I was out for a long ride on my bicycle. At one point in the trail there’s an overpass over a major highway. I’ve ridden this trail many times, but this one day I found myself wondering? Had I gone over that highway?

I was trying to orient to where I was on the trail. My thoughts had been lost going over all kinds of things from what I wanted to write or this website to some reflections on some clients. When the trail ended at it’s usual place I realized, duh!, I had crossed the highway.

Where was my mind? Obviously I was so focused on what was processing inside myself that I was less aware of what was going on outside. I had “retracted the field of consciousness” to a narrow window (absorbed in my thoughts) and was only aware of that not my external environment.

This is what we would consider normal kinds of dissociation. In fact, there are times when it’s helpful to cultivate this kind of “time out.” What we want to do is have the choice to have an internal “time out.” It’s when we don’t have any conscious control over what happens that we feel out of control.

At the other end of the continuum are the those who have become skilled at separating themselves off from internal or external stimuli – so skillful in fact that they don’t remember at all they have anything to do with it would be those who live on the more other end of the continuum.

The mind has ingenious strategies for supporting and saving people from suffering. This ability to separate off is really a fantastic way that the person was able to keep safe in a terrible situation. Honoring the incredible ways the mind and the person(!)are ability to separate off in this fantastic way is essential for healing trauma.

Return to Treatment for PTSD

 

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