How people dissociate is probably as different as anything else. What I describe in the poem below is my experience of one way I dissociate. These days – I can stay around and experience the experience of dissociating – kind of a contradiction in terms (since dissociating for me fills the function of not having to be around). But I stay – and experience it. When I started doing that – it was absolutely terrifying. So, I fled it – into my mind and other versions of me. But I have practiced. A lot, and now I can stay in it. It still makes me feel inadequate. I cannot control it. Only be in it – work with it – anchor myself to the best of my ability. Most people would not pick up on any of what goes on for me.
It feels like failing. Like I let fear govern and control me. When technically I know I am safe. What really helps me out of it – is being with someone I feel very safe with, and whom I can anchor “in”. But I have learned that is not okay. That I need to be able to anchor myself – so I keep on practicing.
I used to be very ashamed of my dissociation. Of how I leave my mind and enter this pure state of sensing – and how when I try to come back – I sometimes can not find where I left off, and don’t know what we were talking about or doing. I have learned to stay in my blank space – not panic – and orientate myself. Leave people waiting. Even letting them see my distraction. Hear the stammers. Hear the pauses when I search for words. Returning to mind is not easy. But it is how we “human” right? We exchange things through our minds. We talk with each other. Reaching to each other’s senses seems not to be okay.
It is funny how dissociation and mindfulness are often seen as opposites. I am not sure I agree on that. It sounds logical, but at least for me, that is not entirely true. I both flee from and find my refuge in my mind. But I also flee to my senses, or away from them. It does not always work for me to use my senses to ground myself, if those are the ones that has triggered my dissociation. If I do that, I just make it worse. I don’t know if this is because my autism makes me a very sensory oriented and sensitive person? I can become overwhelmed by both my senses and thoughts. And depending on what kind of overwhelm it is – I need to use different strategies to “get out of there”. Grounding myself then looks different. Losing my mind or losing my sense – is not the same thing. Sometimes I need to help myself get into my body, at other times I need to help myself get into my mind – and even sometimes what is needed is to connect them with each other.
When I “lose my mind” – lose speech, coherent thinking, I used to get scared. And so would people. They would probably see my panic (those who cares about that). I don’t get as scared anymore. So, I manage to stay more grounded even in the disappearance of me. But I can see it makes others panic too. Others feel a strong need to ground me. And it is super hard to decline that “help” when being non-verbal. What helps me – is if you too stay grounded. Stay in you, do not shame me, judge me, try to fix it. You can ask if I want assistance – ask if sensory cues would help. Ask for consent to touch. Ask if I need pen and paper. If getting outside would help. Often it just helps that you are there – and I am allowed to anchor “in you”. I still don’t get why that is so bad – why I need to be so totally an island of my own and am not allowed to reach out for anchoring. Maybe it is not a mature thing to ask for?
I am not being difficult on purpose – and I would love more acceptance and non-judgment. I work on my own shame. On my own feelings of failing. Episodes like this would often before trigger needs to self-harm. But I just notice those thoughts today – and focus on self-compassion instead, asking myself what I need, right now?
As I said – in general – if I am not myself in a therapy session where I am the client, and I can work more on myself, you would hardly notice any of this. What goes on inside of people are not always that visible or noticeable. If you work with people, I still suggest you learn to recognize this. Help with the shame and stigma around dissociating. If you work with trauma – this is trauma 101. Get yourself to a course about dissociation (and please check it also includes lived experience).
Why does this happen? Perhaps I have not learned to fluidly move between being with my senses and being more with my thoughts? Or connecting them fully so I can easily handle being with both at the same time?
This feeling of dissociating would before be so terrifying that I would dissociate from dissociating… and I would lose time. For a person who already have their own sense of time, this was very unhelpful. Still, it saved me from having to experience these episodes of “losing myself” – or rather “losing my mind” or my senses. If you have not experienced it, I understand why you cannot relate to the fear. Imagine step by step losing your speech, your words, your ability to think, orientate yourself, even see, control body and facial movements, if there are any sounds coming out of you. Or the other way around, you lose your ability to feel, a sense that you exist, that you have a body. And then will yourself to stay in that process, disregard what others might or might not pick up of it – and disregard if you trigger something in them. Do not count on help. And just let it be. Ride it. Even when these episodes sometimes have you move through old sensations and memories that you had forgotten about.
This is actually a way to be with what is, to be in the “here and now”. It is not active flight, , or freeze – it is staying with what happens with you. But often, this is not happening in situations where there is time to dive into myself. It happens when I give talks, when I meet new people, when I navigate the world. Like some kind of seizures triggered by some kind of overwhelm. When anything, whatever, becomes too much for me.
Why do I write and share about this? Dissociation is very poorly understood. Mostly it is described by people using theories, by people looking at it from the outside. I have a knack for recognizing dissociation. I see when people do it. For me it is natural and okay. Sometimes dissociation is used on purpose (I do that too), sometimes it is triggered. Sometimes it is just an escape from a boring situation. Or it is resting within, daydreaming, fantasying, wishing, planning. It is something we all do – to a lesser or greater degree. But it is different when you are not wanting to be in it. When it has you, and you cannot get out of there.
I had a strong and to me very palpable dissociative experience yesterday – and had to work hard on “staying”. It did trigger an unusually strong shame response. And I lashed out feeling very lonely. Not realizing people have no idea where I am at. I had to take a lot of care of myself after it. And the beginning of the poem below came to me when I processed what had happened. Now I need to come up with strategies to manage these particular kinds of situations better.
I leave you with my poem.
Which I find in You.
Words are Lost
Thoughts are Lost
Only Sensing Me Remains.
Learned to look for other Safe Ground(ing).
A Pebble in my Hand.
A Tea Mug on my Desk.
Rubbing my Forehead.
Twisting my Ring.
Moving in and Out of
Not being Here.
Of Not having an “I”.
Full Acceptance Helps
I cannot Control This,
But Ride It.
Text and picture are copyright protected © Katarina Lundgren 2022