What Could Dissociation Look Like?
A student asks her teacher questions about a test one day, but the next day, she insists that she didn't know about there being a test at all. The teacher wonders why the student is lying.
A child is fine one moment, but suddenly, with no warning, starts screaming, hitting and yelling mean words. The parent or teacher wonders if the child is being manipulative.
A patient regularly books appointments a week in advance, yet frequently fails to show up. The doctor feels taken advantage of.
A person is tired of other people telling him he lied, stole, yelled, or said things that he is sure he did not say because he has no memory of doing any of these. He wonders why people don't believe him and is getting quite annoyed.
Although the above examples are familiar to many and may often be attributed to other causes such as "difficult behavior", they are all, in fact, common examples of dissociative behavior.What is Dissociation?
Dissociation is one of the brain's ways to protect itself from overwhelm. At its mildest form, it occurs in all of us -- for example, when we read a fascinating book and become unaware of the time or what is happening in the room around us. With childhood trauma, the brain's natural ability to dissociate often expands to include disconnections to parts of one's memory, identity, experiences, body sensations, sensory perceptions, or consciousness. At first, the brain might dissociate to protect a child or adult from the overwhelm of inescapable danger, such as in situations of abuse, neglect, or other traumas. However, with time, it can occur more easily, even in situations that are not dangerous. The once helpful, protective mechanism of the brain can then lead to problems for people who are dissociative, and for their interactions with others.
To learn more about dissociation, see the short films, "The Window of Learning
", and "Here/Hear to Heal
", or follow this link: https://www.isst-d.org/resources/dissociation-faqs/
Therapists treating children with dissociation may find the following books and resources helpful:
- Dissociation in Traumatized Children & Adolescents. Sandra Wieland ed, 2015, Routledge (we currently have a limited supply at a special discounted price. See https://www.beyond-the-cycle-of-trauma.org/store)
- The Child Survivor, Joyanna Silberg, Routledge 2021
- The Fractured Child, Francis Waters, 2016
- Indispensable courses by acclaimed trauma therapists: