Dissociation is a mental action in which a person is detached or removed from the immediate reality.  Dissociation is a maladaptive coping mechanism that protects a person from being overwhelmed by stress.  There are various dissociative disorders, including Dissociative Identity Disorder, Dissociative Amnesia, Dissociative Fugue, and Depersonalization Disorder.


  • Identity Alteration: feeling like another person at times
  • Derealization: feeling disconnected from reality
  • Depersonalization: feeling detached from the self
  • Amnesia


Dissociation is a coping mechanism, so it will typically be triggered by overwhelming stress.  Instead of fighting or running from a situation, a person can retreat into their mind and completely detach from a situation to avoid the stress.  This often occurs in trauma victims whose only defense is to mentally flee from reality.  Torture, rape, natural disasters, or extreme grief are all potential triggers.


Dissociation is a very serious problem, but it also indicates the presence of other severe problems.  A person with a dissociative disorder likely has suffered in the past or present from extremely traumatic events.  The primary concern is the patient’s safety, meaning they must be removed from a dangerous living situation and it must be considered whether they could be a danger to themselves or others.  Therapy will involve discussion of previous trauma or overwhelming situations to uncover what triggers a client to dissociate and enable them to reconcile these experiences if at all possible.  Treatment will also focus on learning life skills and healthy, adaptive tools and coping mechanisms to allow the person to adequately and safely handle stress.  It may not be possible for the patient to completely stop dissociating, but they can be taught to manage and live with their disorder.

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