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Coping with dissociative disorders and their impact on daily life

What is a dissociative disorder?? A “dissociative disorder” can refer to any of the disorders in the section of the DSM-5 labeled dissociative disorder: dissociative identity disorder (DID), otherwise specified dissociative disorder (OSDD), depersonalization/derealization disorder (DPDR), dissociative amnesia, and unspecified dissociative disorder.

These disorders are characterized by a disconnection from the body, memory, the present moment, or the external world and can vary in how they are experienced. There are many different disorders that are not dissociative disorders that may include dissociation as a symptom. However, the dissociative disorders include more severe dissociation that is chronic and disrupting to the life of the person experiencing it and is rooted in traumatic experiences.

People with a dissociative disorder may lose track of time, hours or even days at a time, which can lead to job loss, damaged relationships, school difficulties, and overall disorientation in their daily lives. Others may experience a constant sense of not physically being in their body. Many of us may have had an “out of body” feeling at some point in our lives - imagine that feeling being more constant and you can see how this can be distressing for someone with a dissociative disorder.

Some dissociative disorders also affect the way that the external world is perceived where things and people outside of them appear distorted or “not quite real” at times. I propose that we think about dissociation like we think of depression, which can be a symptom of many disorders (ie: bipolar disorder, ADHD, etc), but it can also be its own disorder (ie: major depressive disorder, dysthymia, etc).

Dissociation can be challenging to live with at times, but it is a symptom that can be treated, just like depression can be, whether it is a part of a dissociative disorder or a symptom of another disorder.

Tips for coping with dissociation:

● Grounding exercises - how do you feel connected to your skin/body, the earth, your sense of self, your life, or the world around you?

● Mindfulness practices - spending more time in the present moment helps us orient ourselves when we dissociate.

● Evaluation by a dissociation trained mental health professional - determining if your dissociation is a symptom of another disorder or a dissociative disorder can guide interventions that your counselor can use to better help you manage dissociation.

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