How to Deal With Dissociation

Throughout your life you may experience episodes of dissociation. But, what can you do about them? Find out here.
How to Deal With Dissociation
Isabel Ortega

Written and verified by the psychologist Isabel Ortega.

Last update: 25 May, 2023

Have you ever felt really distracted while having a conversation with someone? Or, found that no matter how much you read a text you couldn’t understand it?  Have you ever returned home without remembering your journey? These kinds of experiences are known as dissociation.

Dissociation is a mechanism that allows you to escape from reality. It’s usually influenced by a period of emotional disturbance which could even date back to childhood. In fact, dissociation can be explained with the expression “Here in body but not in mind”.

However, dissociation isn’t always dysfunctional. That said, it’s often associated with anxiety.

Woman thinking
Some mental health professionals consider dissociation to be an unconscious defense mechanism.

How to deal with dissociation

Dissociation occurs along a wide spectrum. In fact, it can range from not remembering moments of your day to daydreaming. So, what can you do about it?

Use your senses

Our first suggestion will help your senses in the present moment. Try touching something around you (eg a jacket, a wall), smell a bottle of cologne, or even press down on the ground with your feet.

In fact, engaging your senses helps you to ‘feel connected’ and in the here and now. Most importantly, you need to be aware of what you’re doing at the moment. Gradually, your senses will help you work on the dissociation and you’ll be able to focus your attention at a mental level on the activity, place, or person that you want.

You might also like to try aromatherapy. It can help as the olfactory bulbs of your nose send information about the aromas to your limbic system. This is the area of the brain that processes your emotions.

Breathing exercises

Breathing is an important tool. It can help you manage different emotional states that cause you discomfort. Also, doing breathing exercises can help you stay connected with reality.

This is a practice that you can implement progressively. Moreover, you don’t need to dedicate a large amount of time to it.

Gradually, you can learn and develop the ability to breathe in helpful ways that you can then put into practice.

Carry out activities that make you feel ‘present’

The following activities will help you stay in the present:

  • Describe your environment. Start by describing where you are, gradually including more specific details. You’ll progressively recover your connection with what’s happening to you now.
  • Practice a sport. Find a sport. Make sure it’s the kind that you have to focus your attention on to perform.
  • Carry out conscious eating. Dedicate your attention to the moments when you’re eating, listening to your physical and mental sensations.
  • Practice meditation or mindfulness. Mindfulness helps you become aware of the present moment. It helps you stop paying attention to thoughts of the past or future. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a world leader in mindfulness, defines it as:

“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non judgementally.”

Therapy and dissociation

There are certain techniques for managing the characteristic symptoms of dissociation. You can look for a specialized professional to provide you with more specific tools to deal with it.

In therapy, you might come to recognize the reason for your experiences of dissociation. This is extremely valuable information for designing an intervention plan that’ll really help.

Just as we’re all different, so are our experiences of dissociation. Indeed, behind each individual case, there’s a story with different experiences, emotions, factors, and thoughts.

You don’t necessarily have to carry out all of the above-mentioned activities. in fact, you should only do those that motivate you and make you focus your attention on the present moment, thus improving your episodes of dissociation. You simply need to find the most suitable alternative for you.

Find what is it that really helps you feel connected to the present moment. What gives you full consciousness, so you can live and experience the current moment? Don’t forget that this is a skill that takes time to acquire so don’t consider throwing in the towel at the first hurdle.

You might choose running or drawing. Or, you may choose to put several different options into practice. Make sure you don’t only choose those that are easy for you. Try and combine some which will be helpful in dealing with your dissociation but also interesting to establish as habits. Remember, as we mentioned earlier, dissociation is on a spectrum, and so are the tools for managing it.

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Dissociation: Natural Protection Against Stressful Events
Exploring your mind
Read it in Exploring your mind
Dissociation: Natural Protection Against Stressful Events

Dissociation in response to potentially traumatic situations is a natural defense mechanism of the mind. Find out more about it here.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Coffeng, T. (2005). The Therapy of Dissociation: Its phases and problems/Die Therapie der Dissoziation: Ihre Phasen und Probleme/La terapia de disociación: sus fases y problemas/Dissociatie, fasen en verwikke-lingen van de psychotherapie. Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies4(2), 90-105.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.