What does dissociation feel like?

Over at Polyvore the group Adult Survivors of Abuse are running a friendly competition to come up with the sets which represent to you “How does it feel” to dissociate.  This isn’t an easy question to answer, as it can depend on the trigger, type of dissociation and the severity of the dissociation.  As an example, I can sometimes tell I’m about to dissociate as I get a tingling at the back of my head and neck, or the world tilts and it feels like I’m falling into a black hole… other times, the dissociation is so quick that I don’t notice anything until I come back an hour (or more) later.  When I discussed my dissociation with the first therapist that I saw, we talked about it being like a train that is speeding out of control…  it’s hard to know how to slow the train down, or whether you’re trying to get on or off it.  This was before I knew many of the grounding and distraction techniques I now know, but the dissociation still feels like an out of control train…  Hence the reason for my entry into the competition –

Dissociation train

But the feeling of dissociation is more than that… it’s also about contradictions existing at once.  Over the past month or so, we’ve noticed our food issues coming back.  We’ve never been diagnosed with an eating disorder, and most of our food issues are generally hidden.  One therapist described our food issues as being tied to a sense of entitlement regarding our health. I’m not sure if she’s right or not, but our dissociation means that we can perceive our body as being different ages, shapes and sex.  With the return of the food issues, there is an internal battle raging between those who see themselves at either end of the weight spectrum…

Food food food

One day I know I’m going to have to work on the food issues. I have raised it with several therapists, but they never seem to consider it a problem worthy of attention. I think this time the food issues are going to be a rough trip, the battle lines are firmly entrenched and there is serious retribution for any action which is perceived as going over those boundaries.

But probably the most consistent issue I have experiencing dissociation is the noise. There seems to rarely be a lull in the constant level of background chatter… I’m not sure how different this is from the usual level of internal noise that non-dissociatives experience, but it can at times be overwhelming, scary and confusing.


This is what happened to me last week with the “rupture” in the therapeutic relationship with Liz. It’s also the reason why I’m often left incapable of speech while in therapy. The conflicting messages and noise are so intense that it’s impossible to work through what the real message is that needs to be discussed.  This had become more of a problem during my sessions with Liz… it could be seen as progress, but so much of the noise was negative that I’m not really sure what it meant.  The noise has died down over the last day or so – except the noise related to the body’s weight, and I think this is tied to everything going back on “lock-down”…

Last week we saw the Mental Health Team psychiatrist and she asked that we write a letter to Liz outlining our concerns and reasoning behind our departure.  We did that, but haven’t heard a response…  The psychiatrist said that they will offer support for a one month period, and by the end of that time we have to have found another therapist… or gone back to Liz.  This has given us a deadline for either having ourselves sorted out to the point of everything being behind the dissociative walls again, or with a therapist.  We’re preparing ourselves for being without a therapist for quite some time…


10 thoughts on “What does dissociation feel like?

  1. Dear CG,

    This is an excellent post. I am glad you came back from your self imposed “break”.

    I hope things do work out with Liz. I hope she is able to appreciate that you really do try hard and that the problems you two experience is based on problems with communicating experiences.

    Interesting, though, you communicate here very well and very clearly. I wonder if her reading your blog would go a long way towards solving the problems you have together.

    I think you have some pretty accurate descriptions of what dissociation feels like. I resonate with many of the words and pictures. This is why when I talk about dissociation, I often conclude that it is not really that fun. I know others talk about what special things dissociation has allowed them to do. And I do appreciate that. But there is a huge price to pay. And I think you realize that.

    This is why we heal.

    As far as eating, this is complicated, as is any behavior aimed at stuffing expression of feelings. Self-injury, eating… all need to be addressed, but only insofar as what they represent. You only need to focus directly on the symptoms if they are completely out of control, otherwise you focus on what’s causing the symptoms. Often our desire to focus on the symptoms is a distraction.

    You have a lot of work to do, as do we. And you need help. So, I hope you repair your relationship with Liz or find someone else soon.

    Be safe…


    • Hi Paul,

      I sent an email to Liz, but I now consider it bordering on rude. I’m not sure whether to send another email apologising for being such a confrontational idiot, or wait for her response. I’m still undecided as to whether we could ever resolve the problems between Liz and I… so many of them are based on my inability to speak; yet when I asked her what we could do to help this, she seemed at a loss beyond what she was already doing… Her current methods were to allow the silence and wait, but this seemed to allow the craziness to escalate… Bob used to confront the silence and force me to talk, but that caused me to push back…

      I realise the food issues are a symptom, and it’s never been a serious threat to my health. I think they are similar to much of my issues with suicidal ideation… they need to be acknowledged in order for the ones internally going through the agony are validated in their struggle. Liz had a policy of not acknowledging the suicidal ideation or the food issues, I think on the understanding that if you ignore it, you won’t fuel it’s fire. Unfortunately this seemed to have the opposite effect, with the ones struggling, upping the ante in the face of the lack of acknowledgement.

      I am appreciative that for some reason, my brain decided to choose dissociation as it’s coping mechanism – there are plenty of other options which are far worse… But I do see it as a daily struggle. I once heard dissociative identity disorder being described as a gift that out grew it’s intended purpose… I have to agree with that statement. It’s allowed me to do so much, but at the same time, hinders me from doing so much…

      I’m trying to be safe 🙂

      Take care, and thank you for your support…

  2. Glad to see you.
    I think Paul says good stuff.
    Liz not got back to you? 😦
    There’s more than one way to do T.
    Maybe if Liz not work out, mebbe there a diff way.
    I hope you can sort it w/Liz, but I dunno if she will work. Guess you will have to see what she says.
    FWIW, almost anything worth communicating I do by email. Paul had a good idea…
    Or you could send her parts of blog.
    If you decide she will work out that is.
    Alot can be learned from repairing ruptures, IF the T is any good…
    As for what DD look like?
    LOL, I am not very creative!!! but from what i gather, the experience can be highly variable.
    I find it fascinating how I can understand some of peoples DID experiences, and some not.( I would lie more in the realm of DDNOS). Also, I have confusion btwn whether what i experience, many’average’ people also experience. And what is DDNOS ‘stuff’, and what is a disorder, and what is just ‘me’, and just the way I am and its not a ‘disorder’, but just is the way i am.
    My parts are not that distinct. More like many fragments. LOL, I got ‘fragment disorder’!
    Makes for ALOT of confusion when it gets noisy for sure. other times, i think I am pretty darn ‘normal’. LOL, sometimes i am better than normal!
    Think think think.
    methinks I think too much!
    Anyhow, the ART is AMAZING. I dunno how people manage it. I haven’t the patience.
    Thx, sorry if I am too intense of something.

    • Hi Ones,

      I wasn’t very well at the end of last week… things got too much so I had to take a break from all of the input.

      I was hoping Liz would’ve responded by now, but she may have wanted to talk to her supervisor about the situation and get some further advice. I’m not sure and I don’t really want to speculate.

      I think communication will be an ongoing issue for me in therapy, so at least I’ll know what to tell my next therapist…

      I’m similar in that some people I identify with, and others not so much. Some of it is due to similar past experiences, I try to take it as it comes now and not read too much into it.

      Thanks for the compliment about the artwork.

      Take care,

  3. I think your art work is super-gnarly!

    Are you nervous about the possibility of being without a therapist?

    We are working on trying to lower the internal noise levels here, too. The safe space is helping a little, but as they move into the safe space they feel safer (naturally) about telling their story, which causes more chatter.

    You mentioned having trouble verbalizing during therapy. That’s starting to happen with me, too. I try to talk about something, forget, ramble, realize I’m not actually speaking out loud, etc., and it’s frustrating.

    Why do you think that realizing that we dissociate (and why) sometimes causes us to dissociate more? It should be more like “Ah, there’s the problem! See? Now that I’ve shown you, you be sure not to do it again.”, like putting your hand in boiling water, and we should have more control. Should, should, should…oh well.

    I hope everything turns out for the best between you and Liz.


    • Hi Lisa,

      Thanks for the compliment… have you tried art as a therapeutic tool? I really like the pictures you include in your blog, they’re emotionally evocative.

      I’m sort of numb about the therapist situation… In many ways it’s beyond my control. I was listening to the Crisis Team psychiatrist talk to Liz on the phone and it seems like Liz thinks I should be under the Mental Health Team, but they have a 6 month waiting list. If we don’t have a therapist, we’ll just go on “lock-down”… For us this means stamping everything down in order to cope with the day to day stuff.

      The communication is frustrating… I often lost track of what was said out loud versus what was an internal conversation.

      I think once we know we dissociate, there’s a combination of us being able to identify and label what we’ve already done – so it seems like it happens more often, but it doesn’t really… and also once we know we dissociate, it allows a space and sort of permission for it to occur. It’s good in the long run, but can feel crazy making at the time.

      Thanks and take care,

  4. Castorgirl,

    I can so relate on the food and weight issue. I’m fortunate that our therapist acknowledges our struggle with food. Sine we are technically within a normal weight range, it would be easy for Therapist to dismiss our issues and think we are okay. Our struggles with food are daily and he acknowledges this. If he didn’t, we would probably also feel like we needed to up the ante for his attention.

    So sorry about Liz. I hope you don’t take her not reciprocating contact personally. Those are her issues, not yours. Please keep us updated.

    Take good care.

    • Hi,

      It turns out Liz never got my first email, she only got the second one I sent yesterday – which was much more level-headed. I hope she responds today… even if it’s just to say “Hi, I’m thinking over what you wrote”.

      I know you struggle with food and weight issues, and I’m sorry if this was triggering in any way for you. It’s such an awful thing to struggle with… you need to eat daily and are surrounded by it with advertising etc.

      Thanks, I’m trying not to take it all personally… but I know I am.

      Take care,

  5. Love your entry to the competition on polyvore, but much more I like the picture which represents the noise you described. This is really stunning. I know this too well and it’s really overwhelming and scary 😦
    I really hope that Liz writes you back soon. It’s a good idea to give Liz some parts of your blog to read. You could print it out. I have an agreement with my thera, that I can write 2 pages for each session with her and that helps me a lot. Also we draw pictures and make sets for her, because it helps us to describe what’s going on in our system. Have you tried this with Liz?
    I’m glad your are back 🙂 Even when I can’t write very much at the time, I always read the blogs from my friends.
    Take good care and I really hope things sort out with Liz or you find another thera which works with you. I think it’s important that you have support.
    Take care and be safe my friend.
    Warm safe hugs to all who want them (((())))

    • Hi LostShadowChild 🙂

      We’ve taken Polyvore sets into Liz in the past and she didn’t really know what to make of them. She looked at them, said they weren’t what she was expecting and put them aside. We also gave her all of our YouTube work, but there was no comment made about any of that… other than to say that she would look at it if she had the time.

      I think I’ll have to go back to writing things down to take into therapy… I used to do it, but got out of the habit when I was seeing the previous clinical psychologist. It helped me to express things I couldn’t verbalise.

      Thank you for your comments and support… they always help me.

      Take care and (((warm safe hugs))) to those who want them,

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