Trauma and Dissociation

The two amigos! Both exist, one within the other. Poets describe life as a dream, and it feels like a dream for many survivors of trauma. Dissociation is a symptom of trauma, and as a result of emotionally overwhelming events, as escapes from those tragic realities. It is how we are wired, we are wired for survival!


Zina Ortiz

9/18/20233 min read

EMDR Psychedelic Assisted Therapy Trauma Anxiety Denver Colorado
EMDR Psychedelic Assisted Therapy Trauma Anxiety Denver Colorado

Trauma lives in a country named dissociation. It appears in various forms ranging from mild to severe. Here are some examples of experiences that individuals who have experienced trauma encounter. Dissociation happens when an emotionally overwhelming event occurs. It's just how we are wired, for survival. Dissociation does not occur in a vacuum, and it can manifest in a combination of ways. Neurologically this phenomena is a huge opioid dump, postponing uncomfortable emotional reactions to the traumatic experience stored in the body. These are the different varieties of dissociation I have seen in my practice.

Depersonalization is a type of dissociation that is quite common where individuals feel detached from their bodies as if they are observing themselves from an external perspective. Its often described as being, like a spectator of ones thoughts, emotions and actions leading to a sense of disengagement. It's literally being a "fly on the wall", while watching oneself as actors in a movie. It also may feel as if one's limbs or body are twisted, smaller or larger than physical reality. Feeling numb or disconnected from the body. Memories lacking emotion but not because they have been processed or resolved.

Derealization is similar to depersonalization derealization involves feeling disconnected from the world. People may perceive their surroundings as unreal, dreamlike or distorted resulting in a sense of detachment, from their environment. Having no feelings or emotions for people one cares about. Sometimes one might come across surroundings that look different, from what you're used to. They could be distorted, blurry or even lacking color. Alternatively they might seem two dimensional, lacking depth and appearing flat. Both Depersonalization and Derealization are rare in childhood and in older adults.

Depersonalization is feeling as if oneself is not real, Derealization is feeling as if the world is not real.

Dissociative Amnesia refers to memory gaps concerning events or periods of time and even entire traumatic episodes of ones life. These memory gaps typically relate to experiences where significant details or entire traumatic or emotionally flooded events cannot be recalled.

Identity Confusion is confusion regarding ones identity. Individuals may struggle with comprehending their values, beliefs and sense of self. In cases this confusion can escalate into the development of parts" or identities as observed in Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Some people experience time distortion during episodes of dissociation. In cases like Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) people may have different identities known as "alters." Each alter has its memories, behaviors and characteristics. They might even have ages, genders and personalities.

Dissociation can feel like time flies in a blink of an eye. We may find ourselves getting lost in our thoughts and losing track of time. Daydreaming is also dissociative experience. This can make us feel like we're not fully connected to reality. But don't be alarmed! Dissociation is common in humans, even when one doesn't have a history of big T trauma.

There are moments when we experience periods of detachment which we call microdissociation. These moments often happen when we're stressed. Its like our mind momentarily drifts away or disconnects as a way to handle emotions.

During periods of dissociation our perception of the senses can change. We might feel numb have altered sensations or perceive things differently, than usual. Dissociation can even affect how we perceive pain. Some individuals may feel pain or not fully register discomfort during episodes of dissociation.

Dissociation also has an impact on how we see ourselves. It can cause shifts in self perception where we view ourselves differently than usual. This instability, in identity adds to the experience.

Dissociative experiences can vary in terms of their strength and how often they occur. For people dissociation might serve as a way to cope with circumstances whereas for others it could become a more disruptive part of their everyday existence. It is valuable to recognize and tackle dissociation during therapy or, by utilizing methods as this can be crucial, for individuals who are negatively affected by it. Dissociation becomes disruptive or problematic when it occurs for most of the day, creating distractibility, which is often confused with ADD/ADHD because symptoms of both diagnoses overlap.

My team and I offer effective treatment for trauma and dissociation using a multimodal approach, and mainly using somatic practices like Sensorimotor Psychotherapy.