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Dissociation is an instinctive survival tactic that helps us survive overwhelming or life-threatening situations.

Trauma counselling near me

Dissociation is a natural automatic response to a traumatic or overwhelming situation that your  brain and nervous system knows is too much for you to cope with, so effectively makes you ‘leave’ or zone out in order to protect you. However although it’s an incredible survival response at the time it can feel very frightening when it reoccurs after the original event.

A common experience of dissociation is to feel unreal or disconnected from the world around us. There are different levels; from feeling like you’re behind glass or a bit numb or unreal; to feeling completely out of your body as if you’re watching from a corner of the room or watching a movie of yourself. You might even take on a different personality while you’re disconnected.

You might feel like your body is in the room but your mind is somewhere else, or like you’re viewing the world through a different lens so everything looks strange and unreal. Everyone’s experience is different, and it can last from a few minutes to days or even months. And everyone’s triggers that cause them to dissociate will also be unique to them.


The trigger may be something that happens in the present that feels similar to the original overwhelming event(s). Someone getting angry for example, or being too intrusive or ‘putting us on the spot’, or any form of confrontation or subtle (or obvious) abusive behaviour. But it might also be caused by just feeling ‘seen’; not feeling we can defend ourselves in our usual manner; perhaps during emotional or sexual intimacy. It can also be activated because of an overwhelming experience with a mind altering substance such as cannabis.

Trauma counselling near me
Trauma counselling near me

Dissociation usually starts in childhood with a difficult or abusive upbringing, but it doesn’t have to have been traumatic. It could have started because of less obvious circumstances such as an emotionally unavailable parent so being left alone with overwhelming emotions. Or perhaps a parent that had difficulties handling their anger, or were emotionally immature or alcoholic/drug dependent. Or a sibling that acted out and was ‘demanding’ which meant your needs weren’t a priority…

There are many situations that a child might find overwhelming and need to dissociate from. It’s a way of coping with a situation when there are no other options; and obviously a child doesn’t have many options.


However while it is a really effective survival strategy when we’re in a threatening situation, when we’re no longer in one but are behaving as if we still are it is far from useful. Effectively the brain’s fight or flight mechanism has learnt that in certain situations it needs to dissociate to keep you safe; but what it’s not taking into account is that you’re no longer a child with no other option; you’re now an adult that has choices… the good news is that you CAN unlearn dissociation. You can learn strategies to use other than leaving your body.

Trauma counselling near me
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