There is a wide range of experiences for people who struggle with dissociation.  Some people have episodes where they “space out” or have a floaty feeling for a period of time, and then it passes.  They may or may not have much memory of the time when they were checked out.  On the other end of the spectrum are people who experience dissociative identity disorder and have several different parts or personalities living within one body.  Where you lie on the spectrum will determine the tools that will work best for you.

            If you are someone who experiences dissociation as a “zoned out” type of feeling, the first thing you want to do is to determine under what circumstances the dissociation happens or gets worse.  Start journaling about what you were doing, where you were, what was going on around you and how you were feeling when you had the dissociative episode.  There can be a lot of information in understanding when it happens.  When you gather that information, then you can decide what tools to use.  If it happens in situations where it is loud and chaotic, you might try some noise canceling headphones.  Try staying on the outskirts of crowds when possible, so you don’t feel like the noise and chaos is coming at you from every direction.  It can also be helpful to remind yourself that you are safe, and even though it might be an uncomfortable situation, it’s not dangerous.

            Grounding techniques like muscle tensing and relaxing can help you come back from a “floaty” place.  Tighten your jaw and relax it, bring your shoulders up as high as you can and then relax them, push your feet into the ground and then relax.  When you can bring your attention to your body it can help bring your mind back. 

            Playing around with your breath can also help bring your mind back to the present.  Try holding your breath for 5 seconds and then let out a deep exhale.  Try breathing faster than you normally would, and then gradually slow your breath down.  Try inhaling to a count of 6, and then exhaling to a count of 6.  Experiment with different techniques and see what works for you.

            If you experience dissociative identity disorder, then your tools will be different than those described above.  Having lots of different voices all living together in one body can be overwhelming, confusing, and unsettling.  Depending on the level of communication and cooperation between parts, it can also be a logistical nightmare at times.   

            System communication can help with day-to-day life.  Find a way that parts can communicate with each other – often a journal can help with that.  Have a place where everyone can write their thoughts and feelings, and anything they need to communicate with the rest of the system. It can also be helpful to write things down to share with your therapist.

            Another way to make day-to-day life a little easier is to make agreements between parts.  For example, if you have some young parts who show up at inopportune times, make an agreement with them that if they will let you handle the adult things you need to do, then you will take them to get ice cream, or something like that.  Let them know you won’t forget about them, and you will give them time, but they also need to let you have some time to do the things you need to do.

No matter where you fall on the dissociation spectrum, professional help can be an important part of your healing toolbox.  You are unique, and your healing journey will be unique.  The ideas above have helped many of my clients over the years, but they are only suggestions.  Take the suggestions and mold them into a custom strategy that works for you.

After years of working with people dealing with dissociation, I created a journal to help with communication and cooperation among parts.  If that is something that might be helpful for you, here is the link: 

all parts are welcome: A guided journal for people with dissociative disorders to encourage communication and creativity: Bartran, Gwen: Books


            There are certain dates – anniversaries, holidays, etc., that almost always bring painful feelings and memories.  They are reminders of horrible things that happened, or of tragic loss, or of perceived failures.  Often these dates and the surrounding weeks interfere with my normal functioning.  I am less resilient to normal ups and downs.  I have less energy and an increase in migraines and other physical symptoms.  I sleep less and have more nightmares when I do sleep.  There is an increase in flashbacks of prior trauma.  Needless to say, I dread these times.

            Recently, however, there has been a shift in my awareness.  Normally, during the anniversary times I am reminded of all the painful things I experienced.  To a certain extent, I relive parts of these experiences, flashbacks that are reminders of my wounding.  I have seen this remembering as evidence that I am broken beyond repair, and less valuable than other people around me. 

            But my perception is changing.  What if these anniversaries are a reminder that I won?  What if they are a time to reflect that I am actually not broken, but that I am healing?  Yes, awful things happened previously on these dates, I am not minimizing that in the least.  Actually, I have seen the struggle around these times as a way to honor those parts of me that endured the pain.  I thought that anything less than what I go through around anniversaries would be dishonoring and discounting of what I have been through. But what if the reminders that come up can be reminders of what happened, but not in a defeating kind of way.  I survived!  The bad guys didn’t win!  I didn’t take my life; I didn’t end up giving up and losing myself to addiction or anorexia or living out the rest of my days in an institution.  This is not judgment for those who struggle with those things – I have certainly spent my share of time in dark places.  But I emerged on the other side – I have a family, I have a job, I have people who care about me, I am not lost to the darkness. 

            This is not to say that life is great all the time, or that I don’t hate that those memories still linger inside of me.  I know there will be more flashbacks, more migraines, more sleepless nights.  But that’s ok.  I can handle that. I have handled worse.  I am not broken beyond repair.  I was broken, and I am healing.  They tried, but they couldn’t break me beyond my capacity to heal. 

            So today, rather than hiding from another holiday that holds memories of abuse, I am spending some time in quiet reflection that this day is a reminder that the darkness didn’t win.  The shadows tried to consume me in the past, but today is a reminder that I am not a hostage to the shadows anymore.  I got out.  Today I am quietly celebrating that I won.  I am not without scars, but I won.  Today, I am grateful for anniversaries to remind me that I went through some hard shit, and I came out victorious.