What Does Dissociation Feel Like In BPD?

Updated: Mar 13

Dissociation is a familiar symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder. The brain of someone with BPD uses dissociation to deal with trauma. It's a survival strategy that protects a person by forcing them to retreat inside to a safer location that can be triggered at any time.

Am I Dissociating?

Around 75 percent of people with BPD experience dissociation. The intensity and frequency of dissociation depend on the trauma that an individual has experienced. People without trauma or mental disorder can still experience mild forms of dissociation. Every time you zone out or daydream, you disassociate to some extent.


Dissociation isn't only linked to traumatic events. Dissociation is also a common symptom of people that experience chronic pain.


What does mild dissociation feel like?

Someone's sensory experience, thoughts, sense of self, or personal history are all disconnected during dissociation. People may lose track of time, location, and identity, as well as a sense of unreality.


Dissociation is something we all do. Mild dissociation can be seen in the scenarios below:

  • When you're daydreaming while driving and, all of a sudden, you miss a big part of your journey. You might be questioning yourself, how'd you get to your destination? Or what happened? The answer dissociation while going on auto-pilot.

  • You are in a meeting at work. Someone says something that makes you think about a completely different topic. Then someone asks your opinion on the subject, but you realize that you aren't paying attention to the entire conversation. You are confused and wonder what you were thinking about.


There are more severe forms of dissociation that include: memory loss, derealization, and depersonalization.


What Is Memory Dissociation?

Memory loss is a typical dissociation symptom. You may find yourself at work or school with no recollection of how you arrived. Because memory loss is so apparent, it's one of the easiest signs to recognize.


The fundamental reason memory loss and dissociation go hand in hand is because your brain can't handle what's going on and turns to autopilot. Because dissociation pulls you out of your body, it's tough to recall what's going on around you while you're not mentally there. Memory loss is a typical dissociation symptom. You may find yourself at work or school with no recollection of how you arrived. Because memory loss is so apparent, it's one of the easiest signs to recognize.


What Is Derealization?

The point at which you become disconnected from your environment. Things shift in forms, sizes, and colors, or noises aren't what they should be. When you listen to your favorite music, it may start to echo or seem as if it's played from afar, or certain parts of it may be louder than usual while others are softer. Because you are disconnected from reality, this is a type of disassociation. You're no longer sure what's real and what isn't.


Derealization is distressing and can create anxiety, although it is common in people who suffer from anxiety, depression, or other mental disorders. Derealization, on the other hand, differs from other psychotic disorder symptoms since there is some consciousness involved. You are aware of reality and the feeling that separates you from it.


What Is Depersonalization?

A sensation of detachment from oneself and one's identity is also known as depersonalization. As if you're looking at yourself from a distance. Everything becomes muted. But not completely numb. You can still hear, see, and feel what's going on. The feelings are still strong, but they don't feel like they're yours. A survival mechanism takes over, and you are like a string puppet controlled by yourself. It's tough to communicate in such a state since it demands conscious effort. It is usually hard to respond with anything other than hi, yes, or no.


Out-of-body experiences, in which people perceive themselves from above, are examples of depersonalization. It gives them the impression it's not happening to them.


Derealization and depersonalization often occur at the same time.


Positive effects of dissociation

Dissociation is something we all do and is part of our survival system. It helps us deal with stressful events that may otherwise be too overwhelming.


When someone dissociates more than usual due to trauma, it does not mean that person is defective. Instead, it indicates that they've been able to live through situations that no one could survive if the brain's ability to dissociate did not exist.


Negative effects of dissociation

It might be difficult to connect with people if one disassociates too much from oneself, and this can interfere with personal relationships. Friends, colleagues, and partners may feel ignored, employers may believe you are careless, and individuals whose shoes you've been staring at on the bus may believe you are on drugs.


When someone with BPD dissociates, they are more likely to engage in self-harming or self-mutilating behaviors like cutting, since cutting themselves and seeing the blood reassures them that they are real and exist.


While on auto-pilot, a person's ability to function effectively is hindered since important information is not processed.


In extreme cases, it can develop into dissociation disorders like DID.


Causes

Dissociation is a response to trauma, and it may be a means for someone to detach oneself from the painful incident. Assault, abuse, accidents, natural disasters, and military warfare are all examples of traumatic events that can result in dissociation. It can also be caused by substance abuse. If you learned to disassociate as a child in times of intense stress, it likely influenced your sense of self. It's also likely that it impacted how you react to stressful situations now that you're an adult.