Trigger Warning: This post discusses traumatic experiences
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, the information provided is based on my lived experience of bpd and online research. If there is any misinformation on the matters discussed (flashbacks, DID, PTSD etc) then don’t hesitate to let me know. Thank you 🙂
I started working on this blog post a while back but found this to be a topic that was quite complex for me and I couldn’t quite articulate my experience with it. I’ll try my best now though as I feel dissociation is very important to talk about as it can have a detrimental affect on your life and its not very understood . I believe I started dissociating in childhood, there is a lot I don’t remember about that time, only bits and pieces but even they are hazy. You see I had quite a traumatic childhood that I won’t go into detail about now but it greatly affected the rest of my life.
I find myself getting frustrated as I can get severely triggered by something but not remember why I’m triggered by it. For example when I’m with my dad I feel constantly on edge like I can’t please him but have to try and keep him happy so, when he starts getting angry, I panic and try to fix the situation (even if its something out of my control). I don’t remember my dad being abusive, at least not consciously, I do remember him yelling at me once and hitting my sister a couple of times but my reaction to him now does make me wonder if more happened that I blocked from my memory…
When I get angry myself I sometimes forget what I did soon after, my mother told me I once tried to stab my cousin with a fork in rage but I don’t remember that. I believe these blocks in my memory is the result of dissociative amnesia which is where your brain blanks out traumatic experiences to protect you from the distress of it or it can protect you from your own emotions which, in my case, was rage. In high school I started experiencing a form of dissociation called derealization,where you become detached from reality and everything around you doesn’t feel quite real, I’d describe it as feeling like you’re in a dream instead of real life. School was an extremely stressful time for me so I think my brain started trying to soften the impact of that environment by making it seem unreal.
A third type is depersonalization which is much like derealization but it means experiencing a detachment from yourself, your feelings and such. I sometimes feel unreal or that my body isn’t mine. You may also feel numb or like you’re observing yourself from outside your body. This usually happens when extreme feelings of panic, rage or depression arise. It’s most likely why people with depression can find themselves feeling numb, the brain tries to protect you from emotional harm by detaching from your feelings and body.
Dissociation is something the brain does for protection however, ironically, it can have a negative impact on you and your life. Recently I took on a job that was very unfair and overwhelming. On the first day I found myself dissociating so I wouldn’t have a panic attack, problem is when I dissociate I tend to lose concentration more and function slower. My head feels fuzzy, everything doesn’t look or feel real, I’m detached from my body and emotions but can’t seem to get grounded. I quit that job now, I only worked two days but it felt longer and I still haven’t managed to come back to reality, this past week feels like a blur and I highly doubt I’m going to remember much when I finally do get grounded but I don’t think I really want to remember this time anyway. So thanks dissociation for making my life both easier and harder.
Dissociation and Identity
Dissociation may not just effect your, thoughts, emotions and environment, it can also impact your sense of self. Dissociative Identity Disorder is where someone experiences switching between different identities, they dissociate from themselves and don’t usually remember what happened while another identity (alter) has taken over. They may speak with a different voice, have different personalities and even memories. This type of dissociation is called identity alteration and people who experience this likely suffered abuse and severe trauma so their brain creates these alters so they don’t have to experience so much pain.
With BPD you may also experience dissociation through your identity but in a different way. This other type of identity dissociation is called identity confusion, with this type you may not have a clear sense of who you are and how you think or behave can change depending on your mood or your environment. You may struggle to define what your sexuality is, what you’re interested in, how you feel about religion and politics or what career you want. Your stance on things can change easily as well as your interests and ambitions, you may find yourself “trying on” different identities to see what fits or have a strong case of the chameleon effect. I’ve struggled with this identity confusion pretty much all my life to the point I relied on other people to define me.
Dissociation and memory
As I mentioned before, with dissociative amnesia, dissociation can affect your memories and your experience of them. Someone with PTSD can experience dissociative flashbacks which is where the person feels that they are experiencing a past traumatic event in their present. Usually a flashback is in response to a trigger (something that reminds you of a traumatic event) and causes you to mentally relive that event and respond as if it were currently happening, completely dissociating from the present reality and experiencing the past all over again.
Another type that affects your memory is called dissociative fugue, also known as fugue state. This type entails a person temporarily forgetting important details of their life and who they are, this fugue state can cause someone to impulsively travel or even take on a new identity. I’m finding this one difficult to explain so below is a snippet of an article where someone explains their experience with dissociative fugue;
The first episode took place when I was 13, after months of fearing my Maths teacher. She had a habit of getting right up in your face when she told you off, and was known for dishing out brutal punishments if you didn’t do your homework.
One day, I’d forgotten to hand in my mobile phone at the school office, which was a strict rule – if we were caught with our phones in class, even if they were just in our bags, we’d get a massive telling-off.
During a maths lesson, I opened my bag as she walked past – and my phone was inside. When she spotted it, I knew I was in for it. I got hauled to the front of the class, and yelled at. It was so intense, I could feel her breath. Flecks of saliva landed on my face as she shouted. It was horrible.
She told me to hand my phone into the office right that minute – so off I went, feeling cold with fear. After I handed it in, I couldn’t face going back to the classroom – I was too scared of her.
What happened next is part of a memory that isn’t too clear, but I do recall feeling that I had to get out of the reality I was in, because it was filled with so much fear. I simply ‘switched off’, and I don’t remember much after that feeling.
I do know what I did immediately after deciding I wasn’t going to deal with my life – I simply walked out of my school. There is then a gap in my memory – I know now that I was missing for around 6 hours.
When I came back to reality, I was sat in a field down the road from my school. It was pitch black, and there were cars zooming past directly behind me.
https://www.gulfbend.org/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=55734&cn=109 – Flashbacks, Dissociative reactions
Thank you for reading, feel free to let me know what you think by either commenting on this post or tweeting me @Addict2L 🙂