36 thoughts on “How Childhood Trauma Teaches Us to Dissociate

  • February 24, 2019 at 11:13 pm

    As a child, being prostituted our by my own mother, I remember when the abuse was happening It was as if I was sitting at a distance watching it happen to someone else, flying up above the trees. I thought I could move my feet real fast and could actually fly for the longest time. I was about 15 when I realized I was not actually flying. It was a sad time for me. I really thought I had some super power to rise above the abuse.

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    • February 26, 2019 at 1:13 pm

      Blessings and recovery to you ❤

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    • March 2, 2019 at 4:15 pm

      Hugs. I had flying dreams too. I also had dreams where I felt I was falling and would hit the ground and wake up in panic. I used to imagine myself running so fast and far away whenever I’d be in the car and the yelling started

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    • May 5, 2019 at 12:23 pm

      Feel for you xxx

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  • February 25, 2019 at 12:21 am

    I remember my first experience with dissociation. I was 9 years old and it was months after a found my father bleeding on out living-room floor after having been shot. I was at school and we were playing volley ball. It was somewhat cold, windy, partly cloudy, and I even remember I was facing west. There is nothing else that I can recall more vividly. I was standing in front of the volley ball net and I spaced out. My body didn’t feel like my own, and I felt like I was watching someone else’s life. It was a minute before I came back to myself. I was only a kid, so I shrugged it off and never told anyone. (Everyone feels that way, right?! Not so much, but I didn’t realize that at the time.)

    I didn’t dissociate again till a couple years ago when my boss reminded me of my narcissistic ex-husband. Studying Psychology (graduate level now) has let me put together the pieces and understand everything I experienced as a child and understand what was normal and what was not.

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  • February 25, 2019 at 6:55 am

    This is a new beginning for many! I am hoping to connect with this writer.

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  • February 25, 2019 at 10:30 pm

    I was about 6 years old and my Mother was beating me unmercifully. I remember looking out the window as she beat me and telling myself “we are outside in the garden.” I can still envision me in the garden but I was holding on to a bed post being lashed with a belt / belt buckle. It didn’t hurt when I wasn’t there…

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    • February 26, 2019 at 1:17 pm

      A heartfelt wish for recovery and comfort from me to you ❤

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    • March 2, 2019 at 4:18 pm

      Me too. When I was getting beat I would think of any place other than that moment. It didn’t hurt when I was in the other place. Every time my sisters did things to me I would pretend it was ok and normal and it was my fault for the bad things.

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  • February 26, 2019 at 12:09 am

    I’m closing in on 50 and I STILL dissociate if I’m not on the ball. I’m an adult with a successful career, make excellent money, and do what I do very well.
    But I also have the ability to completely haze out in to a completely different world and live there for awhile. I once lost 3 days of vacation time because I wasn’t able to leave home and spent those three days, in bed, nowhere near the real world.
    That doesn’t happen often, but I’m not stupid – I know that it stems back to abuse as a kid. I was vaulted out of childhood at the ripe old age of about 4 because of abuse and became a daydreamer (and night dreamer, for that matter) of epic proportions just so I could escape. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I figured out what I was doing.
    I try everything I can not to allow it, but sometimes those memories pile up on me and catch me unaware. I hang on until a weekend, then pretty much live in a feuge state of mind.
    I dunno if I survived childhood abuse – it extracted a heavy price, which I paid (and still do and always will).
    I hope there’s a special part of Hell for abusers of kids. They don’t suffer through life – we do.

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    • March 6, 2019 at 4:24 pm

      My dissociation is not as bad as it used to be though it took years (I’m in my late 50’s). I think that people who abuse kids are acting out what was done to them as kids, so I have a bit of compassion for the kid in them who was abused.

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  • February 26, 2019 at 1:16 am

    Great article. Chronic dissociation as a response to trauma and as a way of avoiding the immediacy of being … is epidemic, I believe. Walking it back and showing back up in one’s life is a sacred journey.

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  • February 26, 2019 at 1:21 am

    I didn’t necessarily learn to dissociate from a physical or sexual trauma where I felt I was in physical danger. It was more of a defense for emotional pain. My sophmore year of high school I was pretty depressed; my mom was pretty strict so I wasn’t able to socialize outside of school, and this in turn led to limited social connections in school because I had no shared experiences out of school to bond about. So I felt pretty socially isolated at home and in school. I’m pretty creative so I would spend the majority of my school day daydreaming. I don’t mean short fleeting thoughts. I mean I was creating an ongoing movie in my mind, to the point I would become annoyed when the bell rang to change classes and I had to pause my daydream movie to be present to walk to my next class. Then once I sat back down in class I would check out again back into my world. At home I would then put on my Walkman and sit for hours continuing my daydream while staring at myself in the mirror. I wasn’t really looking at myself or seeing my room in the mirror, so I don’t really know why I would do that.

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    • February 26, 2019 at 1:22 pm

      I identify a lot with dissociating for hours in front of a mirror. I did that while I was being badly bullied at work, harrassed by an abusive ex husband and an abusive cousin

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  • February 26, 2019 at 7:57 am

    I am a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate). The foster youth I am a CASA for used to dissociate. It happened at moments of emotional stress, for example if she were to feel angry at her foster mother, she would just go blank. I am sure this was a technique to avoid angering her bio mom who was the abuser– to blank out her own feelings/ agency. From the outside you could see a more slack facial expression, a depressed affect, and silence or one-word answers to questions. Like a sleepwalker with her eyes open.

    She was dramatically helped by Neurofeedback. She used the “Neuroptimal” system of dynamical neurofeedback which worked rapidly. NF basically allows the right brain to notice it’s own largely involuntary activities and learn to modulate them. It’s like a mirror of the activity of the brain. She did about 30 sessions.

    The biggest change, after about 8 sessions, was when she bean to get in touch with her pain and anger about her abusive parents, and let herself feel those feelings. She wrote some incredible poems about her parents that were incredibly moving and vivid. Somehow the feelings no longer catapulted her into a dissociative state, so she could explore them more.

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    • February 26, 2019 at 2:00 pm

      Wow. That is great. So happy for her. Thank you for being a CASA.

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  • February 26, 2019 at 10:04 am

    I was sexually abused by my dad and mom knew. When I dissociated the first time my fists were clenched, my eyes were squeezed shut so tight they hurt and all the muscles in my body were taut. It was excruciating. I couldn’t close my ears. I remember telling my brain to fly away. After that I could dissociate at will until it became automatic. When I got older people could see changes in my personality that I never saw. I lost time. Was diagnosed with DID and have been healed from that. I’m beginning trauma therapy and I find myself “numbing out” a lot but especially after my appts. I’ll sit for up to four hours with my brain and body both numb because it’s hard to live through again. I’m going to be volunteering after my appts (regular place, different day) to see how that helps. I’m entering another level of healing and that gives me hope.

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  • February 26, 2019 at 11:24 am

    My older sister just passed away this year–she was a malignant narcissist with psychotic tendencies and being 12 years older than I was, when I was a child, she used to torture me and my other sister. She was a “problem child” but she saved her torture for when our parents weren’t there (both worked). We were middle class, both parents public servants, and all I can remember from childhood was once being an outgoing, goofy kid to becoming an introvert and always wanting to be alone. My parents didn’t know how to handle my sister (who was out of control even with them), and my other sister became suicidal, so I just bucked up and tried to never be a problem–a good kid who got straight A’s and never asked for anything–including attention. I went on to be an advocate for vulnerable communities, knowing all too well what it meant to be vulnerable. Only now am I realizing how much I dissociated in my childhood, locking myself in my room, “disappearing” from everyone else and even myself. I’m 47 now, and it has taken a long time to unpack the layers of effects–and having my traumatizing sister pass away this year also caused that to come into even sharper focus.

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  • February 26, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    I was two when I was sexually abused by a babysitter. I remember it as if I were watching from behind and above me. It’s my first memory and it haunted me in my dreams for years. I am 37 now, have developed epilepsy and suffer depression and disassociate when in crowds or too much information is coming at me. I do feel drunk, like there’s a fog around me and I am not always sure I am functioning appropriately because I feel slow.
    I suffered much more abuse and trauma and my therapist says I still check out but I didn’t really know what that meant until the last month or so. I don’t think it’s helped me any to have listened to Radiohead’s song “How to disappear completely” hundreds of times, either….

    “I’m not here
    This isn’t happening…”

    Another time I disassociated where I have a memory of watching myself was when I got a tattoo on the back of my neck. It was so painful and I kept saying to myself pain is temporary, Love is forever, and I swear I can see the man tattooing me from behind him.

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    • February 27, 2019 at 8:35 am

      Hi hilary, i too was abused and later duagnosed with “epilepsy” after decades of heavy medication finally a doctor spotted that it was not epilepsy it turned out there is a condition that is very similar to the symptoms of epilepsy caused by severe childhood trauma, it turned my life around as I could learn to drive and came off the awful medication, wish you well x

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  • February 27, 2019 at 12:48 am

    I don’t recall the first time I dissociated, I was probably 3 or 4. Dissociation for me is my baseline, it’s where I live. I don’t understand the concept of being in the present. I accept my reality but I don’t feel it. I’m a multiple and my hope is that someday child abuse will be eradicated from the face of the world. God bless all of you that had the misfortune of being abused. You are loved.

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  • February 27, 2019 at 3:55 am

    I can relate to much of the above.
    Ive always had dreams of not being able to run. How can you run from your life givers?
    When i was 16 I dissociated to 20 foot above my body while it was gang raped.
    I have always seen the world behind a thick pain of glass but we put that down to autism. Is it? When I drink i am back in the room.
    When my husband was headbutting me I must have dissociated. It was only when moving down the tunnel of light I realised I was dying and fought back.
    That winter I had a strong feeling that Id always been hovering about 20 foot above my body and began to drag myself back into my self. I would visualise the lost bedraggled inner girl I pushed to one side as a part of me and accepted her.
    Around the abuse my dreams were incredibly vivid. I had T-rexs hunting me down. Many discarded basements and old junkies.
    Just before he died we were sitting on his narrow boat on a bright sunny day in spring and I asked my partner if he was happy. He had been sober for 9 months. He said that he was behind a thick plate of glass and he couldnt even hear the birds singing. He was diagnosed with C-PTSD shortly after and told me I had caught his PTSD.

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  • February 27, 2019 at 8:06 am

    I can disconnect anytime I want to because I’ve practiced so much. I go away to many levels of otherness, including being completely aware yet separate, to being completely away in my imagination or mind with only a vague awareness of an ability to return.

    The abuse I suffered starting as a toddler, at home, up through the horrors that were visited upon me by other people into my adulthood, have made the away happenings valuable. It’s been life saving to disconnect when I need to, and I just go away. Sometimes in every day life I will feel like an alien driving a human body and I will re-seat myself in my consciousness to try and be an active participant.

    At this point, I don’t need to disconnect all the time, but I find I deal with heavy emotions by going into my imagination still. Additionally, I’ve used the ability when I’ve had dental surgery, to make it through the hours in the chair. In the last 6 months I’ve had 17 root canals and 17 crowns so I’ve been in the chair sometimes as much as 2x per month for 8 hours at a time. It feels like torture and going away helps me to make it through. While they are not working on me I still stay a little disconnected to stay separate from the part of me that wants to bolt.

    I know that disassociation is not always considered a good thing to becoming a healthy and functional adult, but I am navigating society on most levels and managing the horror in my head without killing myself or hurting others. Those are victories to my way of thinking. I am diagnosed as BiPolar, PTSD, and ADD, with Fibromyalgia, and RA. I am a survivor of multiple sexual assaults starting in early childhood from multiple attackers, ritual physical, mental, and verbal abuse for 18 years. Despite everything I work a decent paying job, have my degrees, and sometimes even make a friend. I don’t think I would have survived without the ability to go away.

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  • February 27, 2019 at 8:26 am

    As a young child I was put by my parents into a paedophile ring. I suffered many years of intense horrific abuse, including witnessing brutal murders,
    I used to convince myself I was walking in the woods listening to the birds.
    I could see a lot of the other children were dead inside, they did not speak no change of expression. I think what kept me alive inside is I would fight back, it was futile as I was a skinny half starved kid, and the punishments were off the scale! But I think it kept me semi sane.

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  • February 27, 2019 at 11:18 am

    I am a man in my 60’s who has had sexual issues for my entire adult life (e.g. touch aversion, inability to initiate sexual relations, erectile dysfunction [physical causes ruled out]), as well as never having felt affection, love, gratitude towards anyone in my life including my wife (we have had a sexless marriage for all but the first few years when she was willing to initiate).

    I always assumed my problems came from being raised by an abusive raging alcoholic father and a mother who emotionally incested me (in addition to saying I was conceived in rape and she wanted to abort me but it was illegal back then). But then last year my older brother died of cancer, and on the day he passed away he informed me that both he and I had been repeatedly sexually abused by a male neighbor who “babysat” us after elementary school (our parents both worked). I have NO recollection of any of that, but have a myriad of sexual inhibitions (some of which I mentioned above).

    My question is this. Does this mean/sound like I had or have dissociated? If so, would this affect the type of treatment I should get? (BTW: I am getting no treatment because we live in the country an hour from the nearest city. We have slow speed Internet so skype/web therapy is not an option. The few therapists in the nearest city all charge $200/hour which my wife and I can’t afford anyway. I saw one for 6 sessions last year and he said I have CEN, dismissive avoidant attachment disorder, and probable PTSD.

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    • March 8, 2019 at 1:03 am

      No Hope,

      It sounds like you forgot your trauma. It’s actually very common to completely blank out episodes but have your body remember. Your physical ailments can be called Implicit Memories.

      Read a book by Dr. Bassel Van Der Kolk called “The Body Keeps the Score.” If you seek to understand why you and your body is the way it is, read that book. WARNING: It will be emotionally hard to get through. Pace yourself. Dr. Van Der Kolk does do an amazing job of explaining everything though.

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  • March 1, 2019 at 3:14 pm

    As a survivor of repeated incest before the age of 5, constant beatings, verbal abuse, a mother with munchausens by proxy which caused her to almost kill me as a toddler, and imprisonment i needles to say I have PTSD and the accompanying Dissociative Disorder. At age 11 my father had me cornered in the bathroom and was beating me unmercifully. I always put my hands over my face to protect it when this happened. In my mind that time I thought I took my hands down from my face and laughed in his face. I thought after that that he and my mother never beat me again. Thirty years later when I told my sisters how I had stopped getting beaten, they corrected me. They told me that I was beaten just about every day of my life. My father would walk in from work and just start beating me. Once my father had me pinned to the floor and was banging my head into the floor so badly that my four sisters had to pry him off me. Most memories of my teenage years are unavailable to me. Anyway now I count Dissociation to help me, when I experience a shock or something bad is happening to me I do not feel the emotions usually associated with that. I am able to think clearly, calmly, and dispassionately. I am the best person to have around in an emergency. After I left home at the age of 17 my life completely turned around and I had many amazing, fascinating experiences. I wrote and published a memoir of that time called “Ever The Wild Girls”. It does not include any part of my life before the age of 17.

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  • March 2, 2019 at 12:52 am

    Can relate to a lot of this. Had several abusive incidents at different churches when I was younger. Ranging from physical to mental and emotional abuse. I would disassociate back then and had nightmares. Thank Thor that a former pastor who studied his way out of belief just told me to read the bible front to back and I would realize it was just fables written by a middle eastern sect of people who knew little of the world. He was so right but should have warned me it condoned genocide, murder, rape, incest and slavery besides the crazy supernatural stuff. I eventually learned to just repress and ignore it.

    But in the last few years had a bit of a relapse from death threats to the usual burning in hell threats from in-laws. Got spit on from an lady pushing chick tracts. This along with being depressed and suffering from anxiety about job issues and the loss of my parents brought on RTS (Religious Trauma Syndrome) and nightmares again.

    This combination caused me to disassociate and cope poorly with the situation. Now my wife of 28 years wants a divorce because I don’t make enough money and possibly from her new resurgence in evangelical activities. Got some help and good advice from The Recovering from Religion Foundation and local secular and humanist groups. Still working on getting back on my feet again and dealing with being alone as I don’t really have any friends or family.

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  • March 2, 2019 at 4:31 pm

    I was always in a disfunctional family situation. My father was physically abusive, my mother was in her own mental block, strict, and abusive. After she left my father, she had relationship after relationship with abusive men. They beat us, sexually violated us, mentally screwed with us. I was 4 when one of her boyfriends would carry me up into the attic of his warehouse and masturbate and make me sit next to him turning pages of magazines. I didn’t know what it meant, what he was doing. When I was being beat or hurt in some way I would be completely out of my own brain and body like I couldn’t feel, think, or even move- frozen. I was raped 3 times and can’t even think about it. I drink heavily everyday because the memories will come back, the anxiety is out of control, and now have panic attacks. I used to dream of falling and hitting the ground and waking up crying and in a panic. I don’t do drugs or take any pills…I just drink…a lot.

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  • March 7, 2019 at 5:05 pm

    I am in my 60’s and have had very few times in my life when I have not battled very hard to keep dissociation from taking over my entire life. My childhood was extremely traumatic. Just for an example, my biological Dad would be standing in a pulpit one hour and within the next hour he would have my Mother’s arm twisted, have her on the ground and threatening to kill her while exploding in this demonic laughter. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Dissociation became my mental drug of choice from a very early age. I couldn’t think to do my homework, I constantly looked out the windows at school and had no interest playing with other kids. I felt awkward like I was an ugly duckling. I also felt like I was living inside a bubble and the world was going on around me, but I was not a part of that world-just an observer. I thought as an adult, that I would finally be free from this awful trap only to find that more major traumas would come which would keep me imprisoned in dissociation. Fortunately, over the past few years I finally received the help that I needed through a licensed therapist with specific training in C-PTSD. Healing started happening. My brain stopped being inside the bubble and I was finally able to start actually living and thriving in the real world.

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  • March 9, 2019 at 8:16 am

    Seem to be some recent comments relate to ritual (satanic) abuse – more and more people are becoming aware of the prevalence of this across the world- thankyou for sharing your painful stories – you are heard and believed #saybravethings
    Best wishes for your healing going forward

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  • March 12, 2019 at 11:41 am

    As an adult who works in the field of social services, I always thought I was pretty ‘up-to-date’ on the function and symptoms of trauma, but I could never see myself in the experiences described in the literature. Turns out, I was reading for the narrow scope of descriptions, rather than the intent of the description. My sexual abuse was at the hands of cousins and a sibling, blown off as ‘doctor play’ at my first adult disclosure. Over time, I came to see how my experience was what was described. I learned about body memories and emotional flashbacks which all very accurately depicted my experience, along with the nuances of CPTSD. In first grade, I was labeled a daydreamer and moved closer to the chalk board. As an adult, when in stressful situations, I will lose myself in the clock, or a tree outside the window, or a piece of trim on the wall, sometimes for a minute and sometimes for much longer. My partner has finally begun to recognize this checking out and inquires.
    I will say, though, as I have been addressing my trauma and homing in on 50 years of age, the dissociative symptoms happen less frequently, which has opened me up to a whole new world of discomfort and learning to deal with *that* has been a challenge. Facebook, booze, mindless tv, the whole nine yards, because without the innate ability to check out, I’ve found some other ways and have needed to deal with each in turn. It’s still a work in progress and always will be.

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  • March 29, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    I read this with interest and am horrified by most of these stories. I was never physically or sexually abused but I learnt to dissociate at a very young age due to emotional abuse. I became depressed around the age of 7/8 as I didn’t know who or what I was. I realised I was alive in some way but that was as far as it went. My childhood memories are feeling sad, trapped, depressed, unhappy and unacceptable. On the odd occasions I came out of my fugue I would be wildly emotional but was always slapped down hard as this wasn’t acceptable.

    This carried on until adulthood with one moment feeling dreadful and the other as high as a kite and people found it very hard to deal with me which just reinforced that I wasn’t accepted and this just made it worse.

    I can remember very little of my childhood and even some periods of adulthood so I must have been dissociating then. My school reports endlessly spoke of day dreaming and I couldn’t do school work so I got dropped down to the next class.

    I have been working on myself for many years now but there are certain areas I cannot heal such as the inability to form intimate relationships, to have sex, or to let anyone too close to me. I do have friends though which is very good. I have resigned myself now at my late age to always being essentially on my own and still dissociate sometimes which is comforting if a bit scary. I just wanted to put my story out there.

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  • April 16, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    Are narcissistic people NPD’s, malignant are in disassociation as well?

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  • April 23, 2019 at 10:34 pm

    Amazing how the mind uses dissociation to protect itself from trauma. In this way, dissociation, and even dissociative disorders to some extent, can be seen as being adaptive. I’ve heard stories of people with dissociative disorders who claim they’re better off with their condition. Had their minds not dissociated, they would’ve been crushed by their traumas.

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  • May 1, 2019 at 6:04 pm

    Articles like these are extremely helpful. As a survivor of childhood sexual, emotional and physical abuse, and adult domestic violence, it was not until I reached my sixties that I had the freedom to step back from my life and begin to examine why I am like I am. Words like “dissociation”, “Trauma”, “Complex post traumatic stress” enable me to pin down frightening, unexplained feelings that were previously unfelt or more probably deeply repressed. They give concrete validity to these feelings, which means that I can begin to accept that I am real, that I exist, and that I might not just suddenly be “ annihilated”, (another solid word that pinned down a terrifying emotion). Thank you for the time and research put into these articles.

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