Dissociation or Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) at the more extreme end of dissociation, is a term used to describe a coping mechanism which we employ consciously or unconsciously (more often), to disconnect from an experience or particular aspect of an experience. This may be used frequently or infrequently, depending upon the need at hand.
There are degrees to which dissociation arises. On a more day to day basis, dissociation may be used to deal with everyday stresses or to allow us to focus on things in a more intensive way by tuning out external distraction. We may automatically 'dissociate' when we drift off into the far reaches of our imagination. An example of this may be when we lapse into a trance whilst cooking and allow the pan to boil over.
The varying degrees to which dissociation may present can determine whether it is considered normal or problematic. The more extreme end of dissociation or Dissociate Identity Disorder may involve a partial shutting off or entire blocking out of a difficult or traumatic experience we have had. Our natural ability to dissociate is automatic and should be employed as a short term survival strategy only, to allow us to process difficult experiences at a later time when we feel stronger to do so and more able to cope with what has happened.
Dissociation becomes a problem when we use it as a long term strategy, failing to address what has happened at the time. We may then find that the event we are blocking revisits us as we go about our everyday lives. This could be in the form of flashbacks or unexplained behaviours which we are unable to put down to anything in our conscious awareness. This can become a huge source of anxiety and may impact on our functioning and relationships. Recall of the event we are choosing to block out, should be addressed slowly and safely with methods other than dissociation.
There are conflicting theories around the causes of dissociation but some common themes suggest that it may be more prevelant in people with the following characteristics:
A person may deal with a dissociative disorder by coming to accept all parts of themselves, incuding the internal parts and/or events they have have chosen to block out. To accept oneself allows us to heal emotionally. Coming to recognise triggers for DID is key to dealing with the problem and preventing us from lapsing back into using this coping mechanism.