Can Grief Trigger Dissociation?

Grief and dissociation can sometimes go hand-in-hand, particularly if your grief is recent or you have an unresolved past trauma related to loss, anxiety, or abandonment. Dissociation refers to experiences of disconnection from your body, feelings, thoughts, or external surroundings. Dissociation itself is not bad or wrong, but it can cause distress and impact your grief process.

Regardless of your circumstances, you can learn how to understand the adaptive function of dissociation and practice grounding skills when you feel disconnected. This, in turn, can help you better navigate your symptoms of grief.

Understanding Dissociation Symptoms

Grief often shows up in the body. Dissociation comes in different forms, but it’s a coping mechanism that entails a disconnect between your thoughts, memories, feelings, or sense of identity. During a dissociative episode, you may feel detached from yourself or your surroundings. Some people describe it as feeling like they’re in a fog or trance. Dissociation can happen after a traumatic event, and it also coincides with certain mental disorders, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, and dissociative disorders.

Although dissociation can offer some immediate relief, it may interfere with daily functioning and prolong emotional pain:

Feeling disconnected from yourself or the world around you: You may be experiencing dissociation if you feel disconnected from your body or your external environment. It may feel like things are blurry, and you could feel like you’re in a dream-like state.

Emotional numbness: Numbness (feeling completely detached from any emotion) is a common grief symptom, but it can also be a sign of dissociation.

Loss of time or memory lapses: Dissociation can come in the form of ‘losing time’ or having memory gaps. You may note that several minutes or hours pass without much explanation, or you might have trouble remembering important parts of your life. In serious cases, this may be a sign of dissociative amnesia or dissociative identity disorder (DID).

Maladaptive daydreaming: Maladaptive daydreaming refers to frequent or intense daydreaming that affects daily functioning. At times, it may be difficult to discern reality from fantasy, making it difficult to stay in the present moment.

Understanding Dissociation and Grief

Occasional dissociation is fairly typical, and it’s not indicative of having a dissociative disorder or inappropriate grief response. Of. course, if you’re concerned about persistent or serious forms of dissociation, a mental health professional can assess your symptom severity.

But, in many ways, dissociation is the body’s natural response to distancing itself from experiencing too much stress or the cascading effects of grief. For example, feeling numb can feel infinitely safer than feeling devastated, angry, or hopeless. Dissociation can also be an adaptive function for compartmentalizing grief symptoms so you can move through your typical day.

Sometimes dissociative symptoms are more transient and mild- they don’t impact your daily life, cause identity disruption, or dramatically affect the natural feelings you experience related to grief.

It’s also important to note that dissociation can be a natural response to traumatic events. When physically escaping a traumatic situation is not possible, dissociation offers a mental escape. With that, dissociation can be a helpful coping mechanism to protect you from overwhelming distress.

Steps to Coping With Dissociation Symptoms Amid Grief

Dissociation can feel uncomfortable and even frightening. Fortunately, you can develop coping skills and implement mindfulness exercises to use when you note dissociative symptoms.

Here are some simple strategies that can help you:

Breathe deeply: Mindfulness exercises can help offset dissociation. Aim to take slow, deep, intentional breaths. Inhale and focus on all the air entering your lungs. Then, exhale all the air. Repeat as often as possible.

Engage in immediate physical sensations: This can include splashing cold water on your face or clenching and releasing your firsts. If you’re sitting down, stand up and stomp your feet. These physical actions can move you out of dissociation and bring you back into your body.

Imagine a safe or happy place: It can be helpful to picture yourself in a safe or comforting place, whether real or imagined. If it feels helpful, visualize supportive, loving people who can offer you security while you’re emotionally visiting this space.

Practice positive self-talk: Simple affirmations like, “I am safe,” or, “This experience will pass, and I can cope with it,” can reorient you to your strengths, harness self-compassion, and help you move through dissociation.

Creative expression: Journaling, painting, and creating music are all different ways to creatively express your emotions. This can especially helpful if you struggle to articulate your grief or don’t feel comfortable talking about how you feel.

Grief Therapy for Dissociation and Other Trauma Symptoms in Austin, TX

If you’re experiencing intense grief, you may be at a heightened risk for physical and emotional symptoms, including dissociation. Co-occurring mental health issues may also exacerbate certain challenges within your grief process.

As a grief therapist, I specialize in treating all types of grief, including prolonged grief, complicated grief, ambiguous loss, and more. In therapy, you will have a safe and nonjudgmental environment to share your feelings and learn new ways to cope with stress. Regardless of your individual circumstances, I am here to support you. Please contact me today to get started.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759
(512) 988-3363

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