What Is the Connection Between Dissociation and PTSD? Many people do not realize that they are holding onto trauma until it rises to the surface as disruptive and damaging psychological symptoms. One of these symptoms is dissociation. This is also true when it comes to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many people do not realize they have PTSD until the symptoms are right in front of them. Dissociation and PTSD occur together much more often than people may think.
An Overview of PTSD
Contrary to what some may believe, PTSD is an incredibly common mental health condition that affects individuals of all ages. With that, experiencing trauma does not automatically mean that someone will struggle with PTSD.
According to the National Center for PTSD, “About 6 out of every 100 people (or 6% of the U.S. population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives.” However, “Many people who have PTSD will recover and no longer meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD after treatment. Yet, ”About 5 out of every 100 adults (or 5%) in the U.S. has PTSD in any given year, and “In 2020, about 13 million Americans had PTSD.” Also, the National Center for PTSD notes that there is a likelihood that more Americans than ever are struggling with PTSD since the COVID-19 pandemic.
While dissociation and PTSD are closely linked, not everyone that suffers from PTSD will suffer from dissociation, and vice versa.
Dissociation is a tool that the body and mind use to shield an individual from instances of trauma. However, unlike disassociation, dissociation is wholly out of someone’s control.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), “During a traumatic experience such as an accident, disaster or crime victimization, dissociation can help a person tolerate what might otherwise be too difficult to bear. In situations like these, a person may dissociate the memory of the place, circumstances, or feelings about the overwhelming event, mentally escaping from the fear, pain, and horror. This may make it difficult to later remember the details of the experience, as reported by many disaster and accident survivors.” Thus, it is not a stretch to see why people who struggle with PTSD also struggle with dissociation.
What Is the Connection Between Dissociation and PTSD?
Dissociation and PTSD are intertwined in a way that most people with PTSD don’t realize. This is the aim of dissociation is to shield individuals from their trauma; therefore, many people with dissociation are eventually diagnosed with PTSD. Similarly, the symptoms of PTSD have been masked by dissociation. This is similar to the way that PTSD is often masked by alcohol and substance abuse.
It is also important that dissociation and PTSD be treated in tandem. Of course, this almost happens automatically as they are so closely linked.
Effective Ways to Treat Dissociation and PTSD
The two primary ways that dissociation and PTSD are treated are via psychotherapy and medication. According to the clinical write-up titled Posttraumatic Stress Disorder by Doctors Mann and Marwaha, “Trauma-focussed psychotherapy is considered as the first-line treatment effective in adults as well as children, and it includes trauma-focused CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), cognitive processing therapy, and imaginal exposure. Studies have shown that daytime PTSD symptoms improve even after a single session of CBT.” The results are even more positive when psychotherapy is used in tandem with medication.
The most common medications for dissociation and PTSD are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI). These medications increase serotonin levels in the brain, which promotes a positive mood and, in turn, reduces negative emotions. They can also help with sleep, as insomnia is a common symptom of PTSD.
There are other ways to treat PTSD and dissociation. One way is through experiential therapies. Therapies like nature immersion therapy, art therapy, and horticulture therapy can help individuals reconnect with the world around them and discover that the world is a safe place to express themselves. Another way of reducing symptoms of PTSD and dissociation is via holistic modalities such as yoga, breathwork, acupuncture, and meditation. These treatments can also help elevate mood and reduce stress. They are also highly accessible, which can be helpful for those unable to maintain a regular therapy schedule.
The iconic American author and philosopher, Joseph Campbell, once said, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” That is what we are ultimately here for; to give people the lives they didn’t plan for – a new life of promise, progress, and unending potential; a life that they once thought impossible before reaching out for help.