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What is dissocation? :acrobat:

This pamphlet gives you basic information about dissociation. Please talk to the doctors or nurses if you have any questions.

What Is Dissociation?
Dissociation is the ability of the mind to hide a memory, a feeling, or a body sensation for a short or a long time. The mind does this quickly when it feels that what is happening is too much for us to handle. The mind acts like a light switch and turns off all or parts of the event. It also keeps this event apart from other information with which it would usually be joined. Dissociation is a way for the mind to deal with the very hard things of life. Dissociation can be a symptom of an illness such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder etc.

What Causes Dissociation?
Dissociation is occurs by life events that are very painful. These events are too big for the mind to accept.

Some examples are:

? a rape
? a serious car crash
? a home burns down
? the tragic loss of a loved one
? childhood traumatic events

Is Dissociation Harmful?
We all dissociate to some degree. Day dreaming is an example. At times, being able to shut off an event helps. When we dissociate in response to a painful event, the mind helps us do what needs to be done by giving us just enough information, a piece at a time, so we can live out the event. At some later date all the information can be joined and pieced together. However, if we dissociate too often, the mind becomes trained to deal with hurts in this way. A habit is formed. A person who uses this ?light switch? as a way of dealing with most big and little crises of life can have problems. People who dissociate have too many blanks in memory, feeling and time to live life effectively. Often the choices they make to soothe themselves lead to bigger problems (alcohol, drugs, self-harm behaviors). Family and friends may drift away because they don?t understand.

What Happens When You Dissociate?
Any or all of these things may happen. You may:

? have frequent blank spells
? have pain, for which there is no explanation (e.g. headache, stomach ache)
? feel as if the painful event is happening right now (a flashback.)
? hear voices (a trick of the mind; you are not going crazy)
? have an ?out of body? experience (you may be able to see yourself from a distance, feel unreal, and feel that everyone else is unreal)
? have nightmares, startle easily and have a hard time sleeping
? numb out your feelings
? lose track of time and have memory problems
? be depressed or anxious

What Can You Do To Control Dissociating?
The best thing you can do is to learn and practice how to ground yourself in NOW time. With practice, you can be effective at stopping dissociation. Some ways to ground yourself are:

? With your eyes open, place your feet on the floor. Feel the floor. Say your name out loud, where you are and the date and time. Repeat this information as often as you need to so that your mind can bring you to this very moment (here and now).
? Keep your eyes open. Take a deep breath; hold your breath for a moment and s-l-o-w-l-y let the air out. Repeat this way of breathing while your eyes take in where you are and what is happening at the moment.
? Keep your eyes open and do one thing from this list:
sight (take a scenic walk, read a book, go to a garden).
touch (have a drink of water, use ice or hot pads).
sound (watch TV, listen to music, talk to a friend).
taste (eat something new, sweet, tangy, tart, spicy).
smell (a candle, perfume, soap, spice).
write in a journal.

How Can Others Help You When You Dissociate?
People around you may or may not know that you are dissociating. It is your job to ground yourself in the present time and place. With practice, you will not need help from others. Some things others can do to help are:

? call your name and let them know you want them to do something with you (e.g., talk to you, go for a walk).
? ask you to open your eyes so that you can see where you are.
? remind you that right now you are safe.
? remind you to ground yourself.

Controlling your dissociation will help you to:

? improve your memory,
? be in control of your life,
? be present in the moment and know what is happening, and
? keep your self-respect by avoiding embarrassing behaviors.

If you need immediate help, you can:

? call your doctor
? call Health Link ? 408-5465
? go to EMERGENCY at your nearest hospital.

A patient describes dissociation as:
?I am like a puzzle. I am the frame of the puzzle and all the pieces are parts of who I am and what I do. Sometimes the pieces fit together. Often there are spaces or a piece is on top of the frame. I need all the pieces so I can get them in place and see the whole picture.?​
Where can you get more information?

? Ask your doctor or nurse
? Call Health Link ? 408-5465

This pamphlet was written by the Education Committee of the Mental Health Program at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital and the Co-ordinator of Patient and Family Education, Caritas Health Group. September, 2004.


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