Dissociation, which is a detachment from reality in some sense, affects quite a few people –- mostly those who are more sensitive, or have suffered some sort of trauma in their lives. It is our brain’s way of helping us out (for once) and being like, “I got you on this; let’s block that out.”
Because your brain isn’t the all-time best at things, it doesn’t always differentiate really well between what it should usefully detach from moments of severe stress where you may not be able to cope, and moments it needn’t detach from, like a novel yet fun situation. Within dissociation, we can experience depersonalisation, which is the feeling of not being in your own body -– almost as if you are watching your life go by, and derealisation, which is the feeling that the world around you is not real.
I have suffered with daily dissociation for about six years now. The dissociation exists because of a childhood trauma that wasn't dealt with. In general, I dissociate most when I am depressed or there is conflict or when I bring my true emotions to the forefront (especially in therapy). Some days it is worse than others for no reason, though.
In the beginning, when I didn’t know what I was going through, I would often remark that I felt like I was “here but not here, you know?” to which many would respond with generic phrases like “Totally, that happened to me one time” or “Try not to focus on it.” Well, that, coupled with the fatigue that arrived with it, never went away.
Of course, I have methods of dealing with it, but it totally bothers me. I hate living life through a veil. I almost always feel as though I am under water, looking up. Some days, I am closer to the surface than others. But some days, I feel really deep down, like I’m so far away from everything and everyone else.
Of course, it is a sucky thing to experience, but it has its perks, too. I mean, there’s a reason for its existence. So, without further ado, I present to you my list of the cons and pros of dissociation:
Going on holiday is almost always unpleasant.
I can never really remember a time when going on holiday was as fun as people make it seem (I’m a germaphobe who loves my own comforts -– so sue me!), but living with dissociation presents a whole new level of holiday anxiety. Not only do I need to remember to pack enough clean underwear, I also have to consider the fact that new situations, like vacationing a million kilometres away from home, make my brain totally detach. I live through holidays on auto-pilot, feeling totally uncomfortable, longing to get home and snap back to some semblance of present-ness.
Actually, most things that are meant to be fun, life-changing moments are unpleasant.
Recently, it was my sister’s wedding, and all I wanted was to soak it all in and remember the day. I found myself feeling crappy at the reception when I felt as though I was watching the wedding like it was a video. The dissociative fog strikes again! Anything life-changing or significant presents heightened stress and a break from routine, so my brain is all “Later, suckers” and I can’t truly be present. This obviously makes me worry about important future events, like my own wedding day, or the day I finally become the president of the entire world.
Getting rid of it involves experiencing it on a worse-than-ever scale.
Because getting rid of dissociation (probably) involves talking about a lot of uncomfortable topics in therapy, getting rid of it is especially challenging. Talking about trauma, the thing that likely triggered the dissociation in the first place, really reminds it why it needs to stick around. Quick! Feelings! To the fore! In all honesty, feelings are tricky enough to deal with without having a constant mind-bodyguard making it even more difficult. I suppose this is probably also helpful, which brings me to the pros of dissociation (yes, there actually are some):
Robot mode for difficult times or memories.
Even though I cry more than the average person and am super sensitive, dissociation gives me the ability to go into robot mode in particularly difficult situations. Oh, someone died? Here, let me cry while also somehow watching myself cry. I feel all the difficult things through a veil, so I rarely ever break down where others would or do.
Likewise, events that likely led to the dissociation are neatly boxed away in my mind-cabinets, resting there. This means I often experience things without being able to make sense of them, but it’s great to be able to live my everyday life without having to constantly experience or think about the past. It’s like sweeping things under the rug without any effort at all!
It isn’t a constant.
Although feeling detached from the present is my everyday reality, it isn’t always that bad. Some days, I can forget about it. A lot of people have it worse -– most difficulties that people face are constant, and the severity doesn’t wax or wane depending on moods or events. I’m grateful that it isn’t always severe, and that some days it eases up to a light mist.
Becoming engrossed in films or books is pretty easy.
When I watch a movie or read a book, I become utterly absorbed into it. Because my life sort of feels like a movie, watching a movie provides this new life; I am able to really feel like I’m experiencing things through the main character’s eyes (of course, sad movies leave me pretty crushed, and TV or book series finales are always a sad affair). It’s one of the main reasons I really love these other little worlds –- I am basically a part of them for the allotted running time and the characters are really my best friends. The only part that isn’t so great is when a long or particularly engrossing movie ends, and it sort of feels as though eight hours have passed.
Of course, dissociation isn’t always fun, but acknowledging the quirky pros of this sometimes-useful mechanism really allows me to see things differently. If not for that, I’d be miserable 91% of the time (the other 9% would be spent watching television.