Dissociation is a way the mind copes with too much stress. People who dissociate may feel disconnected from themselves and the world around them.
Periods of dissociation can last for a relatively short time (hours or days) or for much longer (weeks or months).
Many people with a dissociative disorder have had a traumatic event during childhood. They may dissociate and avoid dealing with it as a way of coping with it.
The causes of dissociative disorders are poorly understood. They may be related to a previous traumatic experience, or a tendency to develop more physical than psychological symptoms when stressed or distressed.
Someone with a dissociative disorder may have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse during childhood. Some people dissociate after experiencing war, kidnapping, or even an invasive medical procedure.
Switching off from reality is a normal defence mechanism that helps the person cope during a traumatic time – it’s a form of denial, as if “this isn’t happening to me”.
It becomes dysfunctional when the environment is no longer traumatic but the person still acts and lives as if it is, and hasn’t dealt with or processed the event.