Have you ever had the experience of being mentally zoned out and immediately returning to reality when someone called out your name? You then notice that you were staring at your spouse or a friend, and you are not sure if they are the one who really called out your name. You are unsure what they want, and it takes you some time to figure out what is going on. You have no idea what they are talking about. Oh, it is really embarrassing. Why does this happen?

Of course, you were daydreaming! Most of us daydream now and then, and it is totally normal if you have done so at least once a day. It is estimated that human beings daydream for at least 25% of the active time when we are awake. We simply do not notice when it happens. In fact, such dreams are considered to be positive as they can be inspirational to most of us. However, if a person begins to live in their dream permanently, it advances from a simple daydream to a mental health condition known as ‘dissociation’, in which a person’s senses and perceptions become majorly disconnected from the real world around them. 

Recently, I met someone who seemed to be lost in his own universe. Everyone in his immediate vicinity was attempting to show him the reality, which was vastly different from what he had in mind. His behaviours and decisions were all based on his imagined universe, yet he was oblivious to what was happening on around him. People around him began to avoid him in order to prevent seeing him breakdown. This prompted me to look into the underlying issue of why he couldn’t connect to reality, which led me to literature and research about dissociation. In this article, we will explore more about dissociation and how to identify it in order to aid ourselves or others around us.

The term ‘dissociation’ refers to a variety of experiences ranging from a slight emotional detachment from one’s immediate surroundings to a more severe disconnection from physical and emotional experiences. A detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis, is a common feature of all dissociative disorders. Dissociation occurs when a person’s ideas, memories, feelings, behaviours, or sense of self are disconnected. This is a common occurrence that everyone has gone through. Daydreaming, highway hypnosis, or getting lost in a book/movie are all examples of mild, common dissociation, which include losing touch with awareness of one’s immediate surroundings. A large proportion of people, particularly those with Borderline Personality Disorder, experience dissociation (BPD). Because of the recent high-profile legal dispute between celebrity couple Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, BPD has been prominently eminent over the media. 

Dissociation anxiety is not a single symptom or diagnosis. Dissociation, on the other hand, is a symptom that can be linked to anxiety. Dissociation helps to temporarily soothe potentially overwhelming emotional events like traumatic memories, as well as emotions of shame, worry, and fear—but it is not a long-term solution. Anxiety-related dissociation can happen during or after a stressful, anxiety-inducing incident, as well as during or after a period of excessive worry. Dissociation might work in the short term but has long-term detrimental implications because it is based on avoidance coping. So, dissociation is a common strategy for people to cope with and escape stressful situations or negative thoughts. Dissociation can also occur as a result of a terrible life event, such as serving in the war or being subjected to abuse. Dissociation is often linked to trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder in this way (PTSD). Dissociation can, however, occur in the setting of anxiety symptoms and illnesses. Dissociation caused by acute stress or fear is frequently noticed but attributed to other factors, such as health problems. These symptoms may cause a person with panic disorder to seek medical help and feel powerless to stop them. Dissociation obstructs the treatment of many types of diseases and makes it difficult to focus on the present time. It can also make appropriate trauma processing and coping difficult or impossible. As a result, it’s critical to address dissociation through treatment and establish coping mechanisms.

Practicing grounding strategies helps bring individuals back into the present moment to manage anxiety-related dissociation. There are many ways by which this can be accomplished. By constantly having a ‘grounding plan’ in place for when you notice yourself zoning out or otherwise feeling dissociated is one simple technique. In other words, just remember that when your brain no longer feels the need to protect you, dissociation will come to an end naturally. Another preventative measure that can be taken to control anxiety-related dissociation is to get adequate sleep each night. Getting regular exercise every day has also proven to help reduce dissociation. By applying such techniques, lets put effort to identify ourselves as well as people around us and offer a helping hand wherever possible.