9 tools for coping with trauma related dissociation.

Dissociation is a broad term for feeling disconnected from yourself or the world. The APA states “dissociative disorders involve problems with memory, identity, emotion, perception, behavior and sense of self.” It is a way our mind and body cope with stressful and overwhelming situations.

What constitutes a stressful situation varies depending on the person. I touch more on stress in my post here. Dissociating due to a traumatic event and trauma triggers is quite common. There are several grounding tools for coping with trauma related dissociation. I will touch on those in a moment.

Reading, daydreaming, and zoning out.

I think of dissociating as being on a continuum, because there are different types and varying levels of dissociating intensity. On the left side of the continuum, you have escaping by reading a book and daydreaming. These behaviors can still be a form of dissociating because you can feel disconnected from yourself and the world, but they are at a lower intensity level than other forms of dissociating. Somewhere in the middle you have zoning out. You may find yourself missing chunks of information during school or repeatedly asking someone to repeat themselves because you missed what they said.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “I read books, daydream, and zone out periodically. So, am I dissociating and have past trauma?!” Dissociating is more common in individuals with past trauma. However, you may engage in dissociative type behaviors to decompress due to stress and not because of a trauma trigger.

Depersonalization, derealization, dissociative amnesia, and dissociative fugue.

On the right side of the continuum, you have more intense levels of dissociation. Depersonalization, derealization, dissociative amnesia, and dissociative fugue. These types of dissociating are more severe and are more often because of past trauma.

  • Depersonalization: Is the out of body type experience. You feel like you are watching yourself from outside of your own body. You feel disconnected from your own body. You may have trouble feeling emotions and instead see them almost as an object that you are observing instead of something you are physically feeling.
  • Derealization: You feel like the world is not real. You may feel like you are in a fog and that you cannot see clearly. You feel disconnected from your environment and disconnected from the people around you.
  • Dissociative amnesia: You forget information from the past. This could be personal information such as parts of your childhood home or events from your childhood. You may also forget how to do certain things that you learned a long time ago like how to ride a bike.
  • Dissociative fugue: You may find yourself driving and suddenly you are in a new town with no recollection of how you got there. You may also forget personal information and find yourself taking on parts of a new identity.

There are several tools you can use to help ground yourself back in the present moment when you find yourself dissociating. The goal is to engage in an activity that brings you back to your present moment and reconnects your mind and body when coping with trauma related dissociation. However, these tools can work regardless of what is triggering your dissociation.

Coping with trauma related dissociation by grounding with nature.
  • Activate your senses. Name (speaking out loud) 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
  • Splash cold water on your face or run cold water on your hands and feet.
  • Snuggle with a pet.
  • Talk to a friend or family member.
  • Play a categories game. Name (speaking out loud) everything in the room that is blue. Pick a new color when you have found everything.
  • Walk barefoot through the grass.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Recite the alphabet and say a word for each letter. A for apple, b for bat, c for chicken.
  • Meditation and mindfulness practices.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation. Start with the top of your head and work down to your toes. Tight each muscle individually for 5 seconds then relax that muscle and move to the next muscle.