Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Disassociation: To some extent, we all do it

I'm going to write for a bit about disassociation, or fragmentation. I will not be sharing all of these on facebook, because it is a rather specialized topic. But I started a post several weeks ago that quickly became long, unwieldy, and rather close and personal, so I decided to split it into separate posts and we'll see where it goes. If the things I have learned and are learning can help someone else feel not so crazy, I'll be happy.

Disassociation, or fragmentation, is a gift. It is one reason people survive really horrific things, and can walk away and keep living, instead of being overwhelmed or destroyed by their experiences. But to begin with, I was wondering to what extent fragmentation is a normal process for everyone. For example, a certain smell or a glimpse of a view like a sunset or a woodland trail can take you back to a memory that you may have thought you'd forgotten. For a few moments you're transported to a different place and time, and in that place and time you can feel like a very different person than the person you function as in your workaday life. There is a piece of you, or your personality, stored in that memory. Maybe you feel wistful, and realize you want to be that person more often, or maybe you shudder and turn quickly back to the present, because it reveals a side of you that you don't like.

Many of us in our vast country of open spaces spend a lot of time driving, and I've read that some amount of disassociation is common when we drive. Part of us is paying attention to the road, but another part of us can go somewhere else for a while. Hopefully we don't miss our exit, though that has certainly happened to me! The mind roams free during rote tasks like this, tasks that only require part of our attention to complete. This is why sometimes in the shower, or while driving or walking the dog, connections are made and ideas come to us seemingly out of nowhere.

I would think quite a bit of fragmentation is necessary for everyone. You could not function while experiencing all of your deepest emotions all of the time, or while consciously aware of all the different pieces of memory from all the ages and stages of your life at once. Most things get filed away, and flicker back onto our screen either when we need them or are triggered to reconnect with them by some association in the present. Some downtime or "relaxed brain time" is healthy for everyone, so our brains have time and space to process our present life and make the needed connections. Whether it's running, swimming, walking the dog, drawing, yoga, rocking a baby or moving a paintbrush across a canvas, it's important to have "connecting time". Important connections also happen when we dream, and good sleep is also important for both physical and emotional health. Life starts feeling too crazy when we don't have time to think and process things.

But trauma, whether it is one catastrophic event or a series of overwhelming events over a longer period of time, takes fragmentation and disassociation to a whole new level. And that's what I'll be writing about in my next few posts.