Dissociation and Depression

As I mentioned yesterday, the last few weeks have been rough for me and my depression. This depressive episode came with all the typical symptoms of depression, and one added one: dissociation.

According to the Mayo Clinic, dissociation involves, “experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity.” The common types of dissociation are dissociative amnesia (memory loss), dissociative identity disorder (formerly called multiple personality disorder, where an individuals switches between multiple identities), and depersonalization-derealization dissociation (detachment from yourself or your reality).

This last one, depersonalization-derealization, was what I experienced at times during this last depression. It wasn’t so much me watching myself act, which happens to some people, but rather me feeling “detached and foggy or dreamlike.” There were times where I was doing things like driving to work, working, talking to someone, making a meal, etc, but I wouldn’t be aware of consciously doing those things. And later, the memory of it would be foggy. This was more than just the muscle memory that drives you home as if on auto-pilot, but a fog that to be separating my conscious mind from the part of my mind that was doing these actions.

In other cases, I would be aware that I should feel something, but I had difficulty connecting with that feeling. Rather, it was more like I was watching my feelings the way some people watch a movie (“I wonder what will happen next”).

I have heard of others who struggle with depression or anxiety disorders experiencing this, but  I’ve hadn’t experienced it myself until this most recent time. It was unsettling, and certainly a far cry from the blissed out detachment portrayed by the psychedelic practitioners of the 60’s.

In psychology terms, dissociation occurs because your brain is trying to protect yourself, or rather itself, from extreme stress, trauma, or emotion that it is having trouble processing. From this perspective, it makes sense why my dissociative symptoms showed up with this most recent depressive episode. Part of the what led to this episode was a convergence of many things, some of which I am reluctant to talk about here since they involve stories that aren’t solely mine to tell. However, it seems these stressors, on top of the normal stress of working through a depression, was a challenge my brain wasn’t fully ready to handle.

And unsettling though this is, identifying the times the dissociation occurred and working through them with my therapist will be key. Understanding this better will mean understanding my brain better, which may help ensure this doesn’t happen again, and may even help me understand and manage my depression better.

And since this is my first dissociative episode, I have nothing to compare it with. So I am curious if any of you have experienced these symptoms. If so, I would be interested in hearing about it, either in the comment section below or the contact section above.

And as always, thanks for reading.

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