Do You Hear What I Hear?

 What if you heard voices in your head? Would you be willing to talk about it? I’ll bet you’d think you were losing your mind.

How about if you were seeing flashes of pictures that have no meaning? Does that mean you are schizophrenic? Maybe you’re flat-out crazy, or maybe even demonized.

In any case, something like this is definitely in the “woo-woo” category, isn’t it?

The voices and pictures in your head could be from dissociation. This happens when a part of your mind “splits off” in order to protect you from a traumatic memory. depressed and questioning

Dissociation is so widely misunderstood. People joke about it so they can more comfortably deal with what they perceive as a serious mental problem. They tend to think only of the worst case scenario, which is what Hollywood presents in “The United States of Tara” on cable television, or “The Three Faces of Eve”, a movie from the 1960’s about a woman with what was then called multiple personality disorder but is now referred to as dissociative identity disorder.  

To begin this discussion, let me assure you that the subject of this series is not misspelled. Lots of people mispronounce it as “dis-association”, which is the wrong word. Two different meanings. Just thought I’d get that out of the way!

end of my ropeDoes hearing the term “dissociation” make you uneasy? It shouldn’t. Dissociation is not a single entity, but a continuum of behaviors. We might even consider sleep to be a type of dissociation. Part of your mind keeps working to process stuff from your day while the rest of your mind is unaware of it. Without sleep, eventually both mind and body would break down.

Interesting concept.

The most common and mildest form of dissociation (and I bet you’ve experienced this) is the so-called mind vacation. Have you ever been driving a familiar and tedious stretch of road, checked out mentally for a little while, and then wondered how the drive went so fast? Part of your mind got bored and took a little vacation, leaving the rest to continue driving. Of course, if an emergency or simply something interesting had occurred, your mind would have resumed full concentration, leaving no one the wiser—probably not even you. No sweat.

Dissociation is not what I would consider a true mental disorder, although it is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). What I mean by this is that I believe it shouldn’t be categorized with the aberrations of brain chemistry that cause (to list only two) schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. No one really knows the origin of the chemical imbalance in these cases.



However, we do know the origin of dissociation. It is a defense mechanism that is learned in response to trauma. It is a God-given gift to a child’s soul. (Remember, our soul is made up of our mind, our will, and our emotions.)

Funny thing about dissociation: if you didn’t learn it as a young child, some say before the age of seven, you won’t learn it later. You might dissociate from a particularly horrendous memory (like war or rape), but it won’t become a habit. When dissociation is a habit, a person does it without thought. It’s automatic and usually not remembered. And it leaves tremendous gaps in the memory.

Part 1 of a 3 part series on dissociation

Part 2| Go To Your Happy Place

illustrations courtesy of