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I have PTSD but I also have a dissociative disorder. After many years of psychotherapy I’ve developed a theory as to how the dissociative disorder came to be. The author of the writing I mentioned above speaks of the fight, flight, or freeze response. Well, in the past I’ve tried fighting that danger, once, and the outcome was so bad I have a hard time even fathoming trying to do it again. Flight, was never an option. There was never anywhere or anyone to run to. So my body’s gotten comfortable with the only safe remaining option. Freeze.
My dissociative episodes run from mild to severe. The more mild ones you may not notice even if you’re standing right next to me. I get very quiet and move more slowly than usual. The more severe ones are much scarier. I become unable to move or speak. I once had a dissociative episode last several hours. I lied there in bed that whole time only able to blink and unable to call for help even though my cell phone was just inches away from my hand.
These episodes can look very different depending on their severity but a few things are always the same. I’ll have a very difficult time thinking. My mind feels like it’s in a fog. My thoughts feel like they’re trapped behind a glass wall. I can see them but I can’t get at them to form coherent sentences. I feel detached from my body. Like the essence that is me has somehow slipped out of alignment with my physical self and now they’re two separate things and I’ve forgotten what buttons to push on my little remote controller to make the physical piece work.
But the most prominent aspect of a dissociative episode is fear. They are triggered by extreme stress or fear and fear is the only thing I’m feeling until they have passed. Fear for my safety and fear for my life. Whether rational or irrational my brain has managed to convince itself that I am in real danger. My chest gets tight, my muscles go rigid, I find it hard to take a deep breath.
Don’t make any sudden moves.
Don’t draw attention to yourself.
This is a serious disorder. It’s a disease of fear. It’s what happens when you’ve experienced being so scared and so helpless that your body doesn’t know what else to do to protect you but shut down. But it is trying to protect you. Remember that. Your body is not your enemy.
If you have a dissociative disorder just know that you are not alone. 2% of the population is diagnosed with one. And if you know someone with a dissociative disorder be patient with them. We’re trying.
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