Dissociation is often subtle.
It’s often not the dramatic “switching” we imagine it to be, or we’ve seen dramatized in the media.
Most often people who dissociate don’t announce it.
Hell, often people who dissociate aren’t entirely aware they’re dissociating.
Even when dissociation is somewhat extreme— such as it is in Dissociative Identity Disorder— “switching” between self-states isn’t experienced by a person as fun or exhilarating.
It’s often a pain in the ass. It interferes with your day.
It’s often confusing. People discover purchases they made— sometimes signifiant ones— that they don’t remember.
When people dissociate, it’s not a floaty vacation from the “real world.”
Some part of us still has to be present or “out front” to deal with the “real world”— and some part has to carry or otherwise deal with the painful memory or emotion that triggered the dissociation in the first place.
Even when there are dissociative barriers between parts or aspects of experience, it’s not like anyone gets to just “skip over” or “zone out” pain.
Some part of us ALWAYS has to deal with it.
If that part of us is walled off from the other parts of us, that means that part is dealing with it alone.
It’s an experience that often echoes the experience of having endured the abuse or abandonment in the first place— being alone, frightened, abandoned.
It’s not fun. It’s not an adventure. It’s an adaptation to trauma.
Nobody “chooses” dissociation because they think it’ll make them more interesting, or give them a pass to not deal with with something.
Because the “something” that is dissociated is ALWAYS dealt with— just not consciously.
When emotional pain or traumatic memories are walled off via dissociation, it means we can’t bring our adult understanding and skills to deal with it.
It leaves the younger pars of us to try to handle it— alone.
Don’t get me wrong: sometimes people have parts of themselves that charge RIGHT at a painful feeling or memory to try to “handle” it. Some people have “warrior” or “defender” parts of themselves that can very much hold their own on the emotional battlefield.
But they shouldn’t HAVE to hold their own.
Lots of people who dissociate describe feeling embarrassed or ashamed that they struggle to stay present when they’re triggered.
There’s no shame in dissociation. You’re not choosing it. Very rarely does anyone say to themselves “I’m just gonna float away now,” or “I’m just gonna hand this over to a self aspect to handle.”
Dissociation is an adaptation to trauma, usually enormously panful trauma that happened to us relatively early in our development.
If you’re dealing with dissociation at ALL in your trauma recovery, it’s because it was, at one time, a relatively SUCCESSFUL adaptation.
That’s why I’m not hot on shaming anyone for dissociating or demanding that parts “integrate.”
I have ENORMOUS respect for ALL self-aspects and dissociative processes. I respect them and I’m grateful they were there for you.
I want to work WITH them now— not against them.
I want them to be able to trust you.
I want you to be able to be there for them.
I want the NEED to dissociate to diminish.
I want YOU to be able to handle things WITHOUT checking out or instinctively handing them off.
I want your dissociative processes and self-states to INFORM how YOU deal with stressors— instead of feeling obligated to take over and deal with them themselves.
Healing doesn’t mean your parts go away.
It means they get BETTER at what they do— and that you and all the parts of you have each others’ back.