As someone with dissociation and friends with it too I’ve realised it’s really not very known and knowing how to help is even less known. So let’s start with what dissociation is: in the most basic explanation it’s a disconnect from oneself and/or their environment. It’s a spectrum. Everyone dissociates from randomly ending up at home when they just left work or day dreaming. But a person with a dissociative disorder may experience loss of time, complete amnesia, feeling like they’re dreaming, or in its most serve forms such as dissociative identity disorder, complete disconnect from oneself in the form of other people. Personally I lose time or feel like I’m dreaming. The cause of a dissociative disorder is usually chronic stress and trauma and/or a damaged attachment to caregivers.
I will link some resources at the end of this post if you’more about the science of dissociation.
Here are some of the things which help me and my friends during dissociative episodes
1. Learn more about dissociation and notice what triggers these episodes.
2. Ask questions about what the person needs in that moment or for future reference. Do not ask the cause unless the person volunteers that information as it may trigger an episode, flashbacks or panic.
3. If the individual appears disconnected talk to them in a calm voice. In that moment they may be distressed internally and need another persons energy to bring them back to Earth.
4. Frequent reminders of the time and date date, plans or what’s happened so far on that day.
5. Remind them they are safe by reminding them of their current environment and who you are and why they can trust you. Don’t take it personally if they still cannot trust they’re safe with you. Their brain is in overdrive trying to find the cause of the stress.
6. Be patient, it can take a while for dissociation to pass or for someone to comprehend what you’re saying. Try your best not to get agitated as this will not help you or the person.
7. Give them time to come around and ask what would help now.
8. Learn grounding skills such as 5-1 sensory detailing, breath work and simple things like having someone count backwards or recite the alphabet.
9. Don’t touch them without permission as this could cause more distress. For some people additional sensory input can be too much.
10. If you are in a different environment go somewhere quiet or outside.
11. Fresh air can be really helpful because it’s a lot of sensory input which helps some people reconnect.
12. Offer a hot or cold drink, something soft, some food or any other sensory things you may have around.
13. Listen with compassion. It can sound strange to someone who has never experienced dissociation but it is a very real mechanism the brain develops to handle stress and trauma.
System Speak – podcast about trauma and dissociation
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