Understanding Dissociation: Causes and Solutions
Ever had those moments when parts of your life feel like they’ve slipped away, covered by a fog of forgetfulness? I am not talking about a busy day where events seem like a blur.
What I’m talking about are weeks, if not years, when you have no recollection of where you were, who was around you, or what happened to you. This is something that people who’ve faced ongoing stress or traumatic events often encounter: dissociation.
As a life coach for business owners, I am fascinated by how our brain works hard to keep us safe from stressful and painful memories. In this article, we will peel back the mystique around dissociation, discuss the causes, and explore how you can regain a clear understanding of your past.
What is dissociation?
Dissociation isn’t just a fancy term; it’s a real thing that happens. Imagine your brain’s memory center, the hippocampus, acting like a protective guard saying, “Let’s not think about that right now!” It does this to shield us from overwhelming stress by blocking certain memories.
But why does our brain go to such lengths? It’s all about keeping our body safe from stress. The brain wants to avoid too many stress hormones—like adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine—flooding our nervous system.
As Heidi, a follower of my X/Twitter account, mentioned in the screenshot below, our nervous system doesn’t have the time nor energy to filter good memories from bad during a stressful event. It just wants to wipe the slate clean and erase anything it deems too much for the mind to handle.
Why dissociation isn’t the same as memory loss
Forgetting things and dissociation are kinda connected but not exactly the same. Forgetting, or memory loss, happens when you can’t remember stuff that was in your head before. This can be because of getting older, alcohol abuse, brain issues, sleep apnea, certain medicines or combo of medicines, Vitamin B-12 deficiency or tough experiences, like trauma.
Now, dissociation is when your mind sort of takes a break from your thoughts, feelings, or memories to deal with stress or trauma. It can mess with your memory too, making you forget specific events. Some folks might even blank out during these times, and that’s a bit like memory loss.
So, memory loss can happen on its own, but when it’s linked to dissociation, it’s like your mind is taking a timeout because of big stress or tough experiences. They’re connected, especially when your memory goes wonky during stressful times or traumas.
Next, let’s talk about how our bodies still store traumatic experiences for years, if not decades.
Your body still knows what happened…
Even with our natural defenses, there’s a limit to how much our brain can protect us. That’s when we might notice things like panic attacks, flashbacks, or stomach pain for no apparent reason. These signals are like reminders that we can’t hide painful memories forever.
Instead of seeing these signals as bothersome, think of them as clues to explore our experiences and deal with unresolved issues. In the journey to get better, our body becomes a guide, gently pushing us to face challenges stored in our minds.
Healing is like an ongoing conversation between our mind and body. As we heal, our body signals that it’s time to address the complexities within us. Now, let’s discuss some ways to help you retrieve those trapped memories and recover.
How to re-claim suppressed memories and heal from dissociation
Reclaiming lost memories, especially those hidden due to stress or trauma, can be a gradual process. Here are some simple and accessible ways to help in this journey:
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing): EMDR is a type of therapy that helps deal with tough memories. It uses guided eye movements to help the brain organize distressing memories, like sorting them into the right mental folders.
TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation): TMS is a painless treatment using magnets to stimulate brain nerve cells. Though it’s not meant for remembering things, TMS has shown promise in easing depression and anxiety symptoms. This could indirectly help create a more stable and balanced mental state.
Mindfulness and Meditation:
Trying out mindfulness stuff like meditation can help you stay focused and be more aware. It makes a calm space in your mind, so you can think about memories without feeling too stressed. I meditate on Bible verses but you can choose whatever method works best for you.
Writing in a journal lets you share your thoughts and feelings without any restrictions. Record your experiences, even if you remember them in bits and pieces. Eventually, this can help you understand your past like putting together a puzzle.
Seeking Professional Support:
Consult with a mental health professional, therapist or trauma-informed coach like myself. Professional support can guide you through the process of uncovering and understanding suppressed memories. The therapeutic relationship provides a supportive environment for exploration and healing.
Regular physical activity has been linked to improved cognitive function and mental well-being. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood enhancers, and may contribute to a clearer mental state.
Art and Creativity:
Engage in creative activities like drawing, painting, or other forms of expression. Sometimes, the subconscious mind can communicate through art, allowing suppressed memories to surface in a less intimidating way.
Healthy Lifestyle Choices:
Ensure you are taking care of your overall well-being. Maintain a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and avoid excessive stressors. A healthy lifestyle supports both mental and physical aspects of memory recall. This article I wrote has some helpful self-care tips.
Getting back lost memories is different for everyone. Take your time, and if you need help, talk to a professional. Make sure you’re in a comfortable place that helps your mind slowly remember and deal with those memories it kept hidden.
Now, here’s a quick overview of my tips. After that, I’ll tell you my last thoughts.