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Dissociation and dissociative disorders

Explains what dissociation and dissociative disorders are, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.

How can I help myself?

This page offers some practical suggestions for looking after yourself, such as:

Keeping a journal can help you understand and remember different parts of your experience. It could:

  • include writing and artwork you do at different times and, if you have DID, in different identity states
  • help improve the connections and awareness between different parts of your identity by reading entries from them
  • help you remember more about what happened in the gaps in your memory.

“Using a journal to express my inner turmoil helps me deal with it.

Visualisation is a way of using your imagination to create internal scenes and environments that help you stay safe and contain difficult feelings and thoughts. For example:

  • you might find that imagining you are wearing protective clothing helps you feel more relaxed in stressful situations
  • it might help to imagine a place that feels safe to you (and your different identity states). When you feel anxious or threatened, you can imagine going to this place for peace and safety.

If you experience different identity states, you might be able to imagine a place where they can all meet together and talk. Your therapist might help you to do this too.

Grounding techniques can keep you connected to the present and help you avoid feelings, memories, flashbacks or intrusive thoughts that you don't feel able to cope with yet. You could try:

  • breathing slowly
  • listening to sounds around you
  • walking barefoot
  • wrapping yourself in a blanket and feeling it around you
  • touching something or sniffing something with a strong smell.

Focus on the sensations you are feeling right now. You might find it helpful to keep a box of things with different textures and smells (for example perfume, a blanket and some smooth stones) ready for when you need it.

First Person Plural's website has more tips for grounding and dealing with flashbacks.

“It's strange because it took me a long time to realise I didn't need to dissociate to keep myself safe.

Dissociation can make day to day life difficult. Practical strategies could help you cope, such as:

  • wearing a watch with the time and date
  • keeping a list of friends and family and their contact details
  • writing notes to yourself in the house or on a whiteboard.

A personal crisis plan is a document you make when you are well. It explains what you would like to happen if you are not well enough to make decisions about your treatment or other aspects of your life. Sometimes it is called an 'advance statement'.

See our page on planning for a crisis for more information about making crisis plans.

  • Try peer support. Unfortunately, there are not many peer support groups specifically for people with complex dissociative disorders, but you can contact First Person Plural for more information, and see our pages on peer support. Or you could try Mind's online peer support community, Side by Side.
  • Read other people's experiences. If you don't want to talk, you may still find it helpful to read about other people's experiences. This can give you new perspectives and help give you ideas about new ways of dealing with dissociation. You can read others' experiences on online forums, like Mind's Side by Side community. Our pages on online mental health have more information about finding ways to connect with other people online.
  • Try to get enough sleep. Sleep can give you the energy to cope with difficult feelings and experiences. You might find it helpful to learn relaxation techniques. Our pages on coping with sleep problems and relaxation have more information.
  • Think about your diet. Eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can make a difference to your mood and energy levels. Our pages on food and mood have more information.
  • Try to take some exercise. Exercise can be really helpful for your mental wellbeing. Our pages on physical activity have more information.

“Depersonalisation, derealisation and dissociation are now only occasional features in my life. But when I am under a lot of stress or not sleeping properly, I find I dissociate more.

Unfortunately, a lot of people don't understand much about dissociation and dissociative disorders, and may hold misconceptions about you. This can be really upsetting, especially if the people who feel this way are family, friends or colleagues.

It's important to remember that you aren't alone and you don't have to put up with people treating you badly. Here are some options for you to think about:

  • Show people this information to help them understand more about dissociation and dissociative disorders.
  • Talk to other people who have dissociative disorders by going to a support group - or setting one up for yourself. See our peer support pages for more information.
  • Share your experience with others. Mind publishes blogs and video blogs (mental health selfies).
  • Know your rights. Our pages on legal rights provide more information.
  • Take action with Mind. See our campaigning page for details of the different ways you can get involved with helping us challenge stigma.

This information was published in March 2019. We will revise it in 2022.

References and bibliography available on request.

If you want to reproduce this content, see our permissions and licensing page.

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