The Psychology of Trauma

The Psychological Impact of Trauma

What is dissociation?

Dissociation involves an alteration in attention and awareness. People cut off awareness of feelings, thoughts, or even memories of actual events. Sometimes people remember all of the events but feel entirely emotionally detached from the memories. Alternatively, they may feel detached from personal experience, as if they are not a real person, but a robot. This is called depersonalization. Derealization occurs when people feel that the world around them is not real. Dissociation is similar to a trance state, which is an altered state of consciousness in which awareness of the surrounding world is changed.

Dissociation is fairly common among people who have undergone trauma and it serves to protect the person from becoming overwhelmed by intolerable emotions. During the trauma, some people remember slipping into dissociative states. “That wasn’t me down there on the bed. I was floating somewhere up on the ceiling.” Although dissociation may help people survive trauma, dissociative symptoms can cause problems after the trauma is over, interfering with the person’s ability to process the trauma and return to normal life.


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