Dissociation- A psychological term used to describe a mental departure from reality.

When Feelings Create Facts:

Feelings are just that... Feelings, and may have no basis in fact at all... they are just feelings. - Gary

People who dissociate sometimes believe feelings over facts. What they feel at a particular time becomes reality for them. As their moods change, they may rearrange or rewrite facts to make them more consistent with the way they feel.

When confronted with “hard evidence” which contradicts the way we instinctively feel about something, most people feel a sense of discomfort (cognitive dissonance) However, if the information is compelling enough, most of us will learn to adjust our opinions or our feelings in order to maintain a consistent world view.

People who disassociate however, are able to reject or modify “hard evidence” if it does not support the way they feel or believe the world to be.

Dissociation goes beyond common mental errors, fantasy or self-indulgent denial. It is a pervasive pattern, often without a logical conclusion or explanation. It is a self-destructive behavior which deteriorates the quality of life of the person who does it - and to those in their immediate vicinity.

Dissociation flies in the face of pure logic and can appear irrational, illogical and counter-intuitive. Dissociation may mean believing or imagining that something very real does not exist or it can mean believing that something very false does. Whole blocks of memories can be ignored, rearranged or reinvented at a time.

People who dissociate may appear to behave like pathological liars. However, the difference is people who dissociate to a certain degree believe the lies they tell. Because for them, the lies are emotionally accurate, and are a true rendering of how they feel, rather thanfactually accurate.

Examples of Dissociation:

  • Remembering an event that didn't happen, or claiming to have no recollection of an important event that did.
  • Observing a trusted person or loved one commit an immoral or unethical act and refusing to believe it.
  • Observing oneself committing an immoral or unethical act and refusing to believe it.
  • A person demonstrates two or more sets of behaviors, beliefs, skills or personality traits which appear at random.
  • A person contradicts their own version of a story.
  • A person alternates between regarding another person or group as "all good" or "all bad" (also known as Splitting).
  • A person attributes someone else's experiences or actions to themselves (also known as Mirroring).
  • A person projects their own experiences or actions onto another person (also known as Projection).
  • A person is confronted with facts which they choose to ignore.

What it feels like:

It can be a frightening experience to live with someone when they are disassociating because logical argument, reasoning or persuasion generally will not help them ‘snap out of it’. Nons often refer to a partner or family member as “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” to describe that person’s sudden changes and contradictions.

Even if the Non is aware of what is going on, it can be a disheartening experience to repeatedly watch a loved one who has been “doing well” slide away from them again and into another potentially damaging headspace. Dissociative people can be very invalidating, because they may sharply contradict what a Non wants or needs to believe about themselves or their world.

One of the most frustrating experiences for Nons is when someonespeaks to friends, neighbors and other members of the community and tells them their version of reality - one which may not  shine a favorable light on the Non. This can be a humiliating experience, especially when people appear to believe them.

It is often the case that third parties can detect contradictions somewhere in the assertions of a dissociative individual. But out of politeness, most people will not let that show.

Dissociation affects people of high and low intelligence alike, and it can be hard  to believe a person is dissociating, particularly if they have moderate or high intelligence. It often takes an “undeniable” episode to convince an observer that dissociation is at work. People who have never been exposed to dissociative behavior sometimes have a hard time believing it really happens, and commonly respond by suggesting there has simply ‘been a misunderstanding’.

What NOT to do:

  • Don’t stay up all night arguing with a person who is dissociating or try to talk sense into them.
  • Don’t use intimidation, ultimatums or manipulations to try to convince someone to see things differently.
  • Don’t retaliate. You will only make yourself look bad.
  • Don’t yield your own reality just to “keep the peace”.
  • Don’t assume that everything a person who dissociates says is untrue.

What TO do:

  • Remove yourself and any children from any situation in which you are physically or emotionally threatened.
  • Handle disagreements with a dissociative person as unemotionally, firmly and briefly as you can. Try to "agree to disagree" and acknowledge that you see things differently and that you need to see things your way as much as the other person sees things their way.
  • Find your own support network, a group of people who understand what you are living with and know the "real" you.
  • Find nurturing, validating environments for yourself, which are separate from the influence and control of a dissociative individual.
  • See a therapist who can explain dissociation, can help you build your own self-esteem and work on techniques for dealing with it.

Related Personality Disorders:

Paranoid, Schizotypal, Borderline, Histrionic, Avoidant, Dependent, Obsessive-Compulsive

See also Dissociative Identity Disorder - formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder.