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What It's Like to Live With a Dissociative Disorder


“Dissociation” can be quite the pop-psychology buzzword. In most cases it means being detached — that feeling of numbness that comes after something distressing happens, like your emotions don’t exist. You “check out.” Or a form of day-dreaming, like when you’re driving down the freeway, blink, and suddenly you’re pulling into your house with no specific memory of taking the exit.

Everyone does it.

For some of us, though, it’s more.

There can be memory gaps — actual blankness where your life occurred, but you weren’t present for it. I remember the time my first boyfriend wanted to make out after a date. I remember him moving in for the kiss, and then I remember him walking me to the door. The hours in between are gone.

Reality can be distorted. Sometimes I don’t fully recognize myself in the mirror. I know the face is mine, but it is also separate from me.

It sometimes feels like my head is a handful of balloons, and if I don’t hold tightly onto the strings, I’m in danger of them floating off. I worry that they’d never return.

Other times, I’m moving at a different speed than everyone else. I feel like I’m stumbling over my words to get them out as fast as my brain is going. Other times, I’m in that dreamlike state of moving as if underwater — everything is slow and exaggerated and everyone around me is moving at double speed.

Or sometimes, time isn’t chronological. I think it’s morning, but it’s actually time to put the kids to bed. I’ll go to start the laundry three times in a row, even though I’ve already folded and put it away.

It can feel like the “me” inside of my head, the “me” looking out of my eyes, is not connected to the “me” that is the body. Like I’m operating a machine.

Noises can seem far away. Echo-y. A light, shimmery film covers everything.

Nothing looks real. It must be a movie set. Colors are so garish… I reach out to touch the table and am surprised that it feels real. That I can make contact.

Sometimes I’m watching from above, as if my life is a movie. I’m so large and everything around me is so very, very small. My hands go numb.

Or I’m the small one, and everything is too big. A darkness spreads and it’s heavy and thick enough to feel. I’m afraid I’ll get lost in it.

And as suddenly as it can come on, it lifts. Life is back to normal. I can move at regular speed and my voice sounds like my voice coming from my own body. Or not. Sometimes I gradually come to with a melting ice cube in my hand. I force myself to recite a story book I’ve read repeatedly. I count all the blue objects in the room. Anything that reminds me I have a body and a mind and that they are one.

Sometimes there’s a trigger, sure, for these episodes. Over years and years of therapy, I’ve been told countless times that this is a normal response to trauma. That it’s a normal response to abnormal events. I can intellectually understand this. I can accept this as true.

For everyone else.

Not for me.

Nothing, nothing makes me feel “crazy” more than dissociation does. When reality distorts itself, when I can’t grasp that objects in front of me exist, I can’t trust that it will get better. And if it does, when it does, I wait for it to return.

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Unsplash photo via Sam Burriss


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