What does it mean to be detached? What does it mean to be dissociated? I personally believe that it means something a little bit different to everyone, and also, that the psych websites and technical definitions have got it a little bit, well, off. All of that considered, let’s start with the technical definitions anyway, just so we can all be on the same page, okay?
1. A voluntary or involuntary feeling or emotion that accompanies a sense of separation from normal associations or environment.
2. Separation of a structure from its support.
3. A voluntary or involuntary feeling or emotion that accompanies a sense of separation from normal associations or environment.
4. Lack of connection to other people or the environment.
5. Separation of a structure from its support.
So, detached, then is basically a separation from support, or separation from normal associations and the environment one is in.
I have spent most of my life detached, I just wasn’t aware of it. I always had a feeling “something” was missing from my relationships, and I was right. What was missing was me, being close to the people I cared about. Being detached feels like being slightly removed from the people in your life. It’s as if they are there, and they are a part of things, and while you trust them, and value their opinion, and even believe that they care about you, it’s only to a point, and it’s more of a surface type trust. I don’t trust them with my deeper secrets, my inner self. I care about them, very deeply, but that aspect of feeling remains hidden from everyone; it’s not something I show.
Being detached is sort of like moving through a fog, or having a fog separating me and the other person. The closer I am to the person, the less fog there is. It’s like I am always alone, because the fog keeps others out; even those who are less separated are still very effectively kept out. Because I am always alone, I feel very needy when I do reach out, and I get very afraid that those I get the slightest bit close to are going to leave.
Dissociated (I have covered this term before, but I think it’s worth it to go over it again, in contrast to detached, from my point of view)
1. The splitting off of a group of mental processes from the main body of
consciousness, as in amnesia.
2. The act of separating or state of being separated.
3. The separation into two or more fragments.
So, then, dissociation is the the mental process of “checking out”, separating our awareness from our memory.
Dissociation for me, seems to occur on different levels. There’s the fact that I am always dissociated from my body, on some level. I seem to “live” in my head, and not feel my body. As a person who is diagnosed with fibromyalgia (a chronic pain condition) this can be a good thing in some ways, as I don’t feel my pain unless it is really, really bad. I didn’t even feel my labor pains until it was time to push — and I had a natural, pain medication free birth (until we ended up with a c-section).
But I have gotten off track. With dissociation, I can be just a little “not there”, or a lot “not there”. A little “not there” feels normal to me, it’s what I am used to. I feel just a little bit pulled back, maybe a little bit removed, not as emotionally involved in any of the situations. I don’t believe that I have ever experienced the looking down at myself type feeling, but, watching my hands type this can feel a little surreal, like these aren’t fully my hands, even though I know they are. With this level of dissociation, when memories form, they don’t form with details. I may remember that I took Kat to the park, and that we went to lunch, but the details get lost. Being dissociated in this way is how I have lived my life since I was sexually abused. It kept me safe. It’s one reason I don’t have a lot of memories throughout my life. I’m an expert at moving through life and functioning in various levels of dissociation. Most people don’t ever realize that I’m not really “there”.
The other type, the a lot “not here”, is harder to describe, because, well, I’m not really there. I feel like everything is fuzzy and hazy, far away, but it’s not that telescope view where things look small and far away that I have heard people describe. They just seem for away, like I can not connect, or like the can not reach me. Things are hazy. Things and people feel really seperate. I don’t feel my body at all. I feel a little light headed and floaty, but at the same time, I can feel like I’m deep inside my head. Emotions can’t touch me, I don’t have to feel them. I don’t know if I can say that I feel safe, because I don’t really feel anything, I just kind of exist at that point.
Okay, readers: if you are someone who has experienced dissociation, in any form– derealization, depersonalization– or detachment, please feel free to describe your experience in the comments. I think the more personal explanations of these experiences there are, the better understanding of them we can get.