6 Kinds of Dissociation — and What It's Like to Experience Them
Dissociation is a hard thing to define, but I’ve experienced nearly every type of dissociative problem. So I thought I would describe what they feel like. I would like people to understand what it’s like for us. I feel like poems help illustrate experiences most clearly, so I wrote about each type of dissociation in poetic form.
1. Depersonalization: feeling detached from your body (I started experiencing depersonalization since I was in extreme physical pain, more than my body could tolerate).
I unlock from my body.
These arms are not my arms.
This face is not mine.
I float in the air,
watch my body,
curled in a fetal position,
I am safe in the sky
though I become afraid
I don’t know how to go back.
I watch a concerned friend
bent over me,
trying to get me to eat.
Finally I return to my body
and take a bite.
2. Derealization: feeling like surroundings are unreal (I first started experiencing derealization due to having a manic episode in a foreign country and being overwhelmed by things happening there — it was too much and everything started to feel unreal).
My head is spinning.
I am driving fast,
trying to escape my life.
The world around me blurs,
I become confused.
Am I driving or is the car driving me?
Am I on a movie set?
Are the trees real or are they painted on?
Safe at home,
I touch everything,
convinced it is a movie prop,
that a brush with my hand
will knock over the wall,
that the floor will collapse under my feet,
that everything is an illusion.
I wonder if I am living in a dream,
if everything I see is an illusion,
and that someone above me is laughing
that I believe the world exists.
3. Dissociative Amnesia: inability to recall important autobiographical information, usually something traumatic.
There are holes in my life
I can’t seem to fill
I know I lived in that house
but can’t remember what happened
within its walls.
I feel like a piece of me
is lost within that hole.
I wonder if she will come back.
It terrifies me
not knowing myself,
missing those pieces
that are part of me.
It scares me that there are people
who know my secrets,
secrets I may never hold myself.
Other people hold the missing links.
But they are gone
and I may never know what happened.
Sometimes a place conjures a deep emotion.
I wonder what happened there,
if I left part of myself behind there,
whether I’ll find her again.
4. Dissociative Fugue: purposeful travel or wandering associated with amnesia (I experienced this during several months, many years ago).
I go to my car to get
a textbook or a pencil
and “wake up” in an unknown city,
always the same city
but I don’t know the name.
The road dead-ends
and snaps me out of the trance.
I have no memory of the drive,
no knowledge of where I am.
Terror hits me each time.
Why do I keep going here?
Why does my body take me here?
At least my body always knows
how to get home.
I drive home trembling.
What is happening to me?
Am I going crazy?
I am just trying to heal
and become normal again.
I thought I was better.
I thought I was just depressed,
but I keep waking up in another city
and don’t know why.
5. Flashback: dissociative experience where the person feels or acts like the traumatic event is recurring.
Out of nowhere
I am in a different place,
a different year,
I’ve become a former self.
I’m living the memory again.
I can taste the air,
smell the musty scent
of a memory I wished could stay
I am back in the house again,
sitting on a threadbare sofa,
while she lectures us.
I study the women surrounding me.
I feel low, inhuman,
like an animal who is unwanted.
I feel frozen.
Eventually the scene fades to grey
and I come home to myself,
with a throbbing headache
and an aching heart.
I come home childlike and small,
vulnerable and emotional,
struggling to ground myself
in reality again.
6. Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID): disruption of identity characterized by two or more distinct personality states, along with amnesia (I’ve been diagnosed with DID. I have DID or something similar).
There are five others
who are younger versions of me,
and two personalities who are different.
I just discovered recently
that they exist.
It’s nice to have a way to understand
all the strange happenings inside my mind.
One of them is mean to me
and shouts at me for hours,
calling me cruel names and pressuring me
Another lectures me when I pray.
When I am triggered
I flip to one of the younger ones.
They are hurting.
Everyone is hurting and sad and angry.
I let them write poems and create art.
There is too much going on inside my head
but at least I can stay in control
most of the time,
and I can talk to them.
When I switch to one of them,
my voice changes,
my body language changes,
I become someone else.
Each one speaks and acts differently.
I want to integrate us
so I can be whole again.
Right now my head is too complicated,
but I dream of wholeness,
and all the dissociation
coming to an end.
This post originally appeared on PsychCentral
Unsplash photo via Teddy Petrosky