Go to Your Happy Place

We just began to scratch the surface of dissociation last time.

ID-10078476Now let’s continue our discussion by assigning some imaginary numbers to clarify things. Consider a continuum from one to one hundred. So, if the shortest “mind vacation” is a number 1 on our scale, let’s go to somewhere around number 40.

Of course, there are a lot of levels of dissociation before then. Just assume that the times of being unaware get gradually longer and deeper as we progress toward the center of the continuum. At this level, episodes of dissociation aren’t much of a problem but could become annoying. Someone could simply be accused of not paying attention or of being forgetful.

He might notice a loss of memory of some childhood event. For example, a child who was in a documented car accident at age five might have no memory of it. His terrified little mind couldn’t make any sense of what was happening so the memory was sequestered in a safe place. The more traumatic the incident, the more likely that the memory would be dissociated. human brain

Most people have some buried memories because of apparently minor childhood occurrences. This is not a big deal; these misplaced memories represent only a tiny fraction of the total. They generally have minimal, if any effect on the adult’s life. An exception could be (as in the example given above) if the trauma and its repressed memory manifest as an unreasonable fear of driving or riding in a car.

For a long time, professionals believed that a child would remember nothing that happened before the age of four or five. I think they remember but it may not be understandable to an adult.

My very first memory is a traumatic one that occurred when I was less than three years old. I fell down the stairs at our new home and hit my head on the concrete basement floor. What I remember is being at the top of the stairs, then on the basement floor, then on the kitchen counter with mom examining me. Nothing else. The memory is fragmented, but it is real. dark stairway


I always thought it was a dream, but my mom assures me it actually happened. Because I was immediately comforted, I suspect my mind decided it would be safe to remember and not dissociate the traumatic event. However, I have always had some emotional discomfort while going down steep stairs.  

Children who experience repeated trauma (abuse) will often learn to dissociate at an early age to protect themselves.

doorway to the mindI’m sure you’ve heard the phrase,“Go to your happy place.” This is roughly what happens: the child simply leaves mentally. He divides his mind so that part will remain to endure the pain and the rest can look away. The memory remains intact but hidden. It may stay there forever.


The concept of recovered memories can be a bit controversial, but I will address it more in a later section. We’ll also explore further and get into the realm of the more severe types of dissociation.

Before we get that far, however, let’s talk about the origins of dissociation.

Part 2 of a series on dissociation

Part 1| Do You Hear What I Hear?

Part 3| How Could This Happen?

 illustrations courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net