Rosie O'Donnell Explains How Her Childhood Sexual Abuse Led to Dissociation


In an appearance on “The Howard Stern Show,” Rosie O’Donnell discussed her past sexual abuse and current mental health struggles. In addition to sharing that she has major depressive disorder and experiences suicidal ideation, the comedian talked about a symptom many trauma survivors are familiar with — dissociation.

I think it’s what your body does to protect you if you’re a kid who’s sexually abused, which I was. You kind of disconnect from your body, you dissociate. You don’t pay attention to it. You don’t want to love it, because it’s kind of betrayed you in some way.

Dissociation is marked by periods of feeling detached from reality or one’s own body and thoughts. And while many people experience some level of dissociation in their lives — for example, going on “autopilot” when you’re driving a familiar route — people who have experienced trauma in childhood may be more vulnerable to dissociation that impairs their day-to-day functioning. According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network:

Dissociation is often seen in children with histories of complex trauma. When children encounter an overwhelming and terrifying experience, they may dissociate, or mentally separate themselves from the experience. They may perceive themselves as detached from their bodies, on the ceiling, or somewhere else in the room watching what is happening to their bodies.

While dissociation looks different for every person that experiences it, Mighty contributor Mary F. shared what it feels like for her in her piece, “10 Things People With PTSD-Related Dissociation Should Know.”

Dissociation takes many forms, but for me, it means I am never truly ‘present.’ There is always a part of my brain that is shut down. Some days, this means I have no concept of time. I will function on autopilot for hours or even days at a time, and nobody else is aware I am not thinking or feeling anything.

If you are struggling with dissociation that affects your daily functioning, know you aren’t alone. For more information and resources, visit the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation website.

If you are interested in reading more about dissociation, depersonalization and derealization check out these stories:

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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