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  • Eileen Ward

What is Dissociation?

When you hear the term 'dissociation,' you may immediately think of dissociative identity disorder or a recounting of near-death experiences where someone is floating over their body looking down on it. Dissociation, however, is defined as "a mental process of disconnecting from one's thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity."

In some cases, dissociation is driving home and having no recollection of how you got there. Still, dissociation can be used as an 'intermediate' strategy for coping in heightened moments of distress. It is used to step back from the situation you find yourself in and see the situation more objectively.

an image of a road at night

DBT Self Help founder Lisa Dietz discusses dissociation in her post "Intermediate Coping Strategies" by likening it to raising your shields like a Star Trek spaceship. The goal is to stop the words being hurled in your direction and bounce them back in the speaker's direction. From an objective versus emotional state, you can separate yourself from it. She says that this can allow her to "see me in the situation and coach myself like a loving parent coaching their child. See there how upset you are. That you are feeling pain and hurt and need to be comforted. I try to act as if I'm years into the future, looking back on what is happening and noticing how wise I am about it."

Bringing yourself to a place of objective versus emotional thinking will allow you to use the other tools that DBT teaches and come back to a site of willingness and mindfulness.


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