Detached and Dissociated

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.


3 thoughts on “Detached and Dissociated

  1. Well, that “little not there” is me at my functional level. I only have brief moments of connectedness that often feel so different. Like when I can actually smell my hubby’s face and feel his hug (and this usually sends me into unconnectedness).

    Or this morning I actually wrestled around with my German Shepherd and could feel her fur and and breath…and her love. Normally I have no feeling. Honestly, everyone could die and I’d be fine. God, that’s terrible to admit. But I am so not me, so far away, so distracted by my thoughts.

    I’m afraid to be close to anyone or anything because I will hurt them or maybe because they will hurt me. I don’t know. It’s just a distancing. Like in therapy I will let myself be real and then all of a sudden I’m not even listening anymore. And then I sort of snap back and realize I wasn’t “there” but I don’t know where I was. My psych pointed out that I do recognize the difference…it doesn’t seem to matter though or help. And is weird to think that someone other than myself notices.

    I kind of forget what I was listening to, who I was talking to…I am back in my mind and away from being vested in hearing the reply. I can’t explain that…but I do it with my hubby, my kids, my friends…I can ask how you are and hear your first few words, but if you keep talking I’m there but not really listening. I care but I can’t concentrate or stay with you.

    All that is not so separate from dissociation or is it? I don’t know. I have the same dizzy, light headed feelings. Sometimes I’m caught in a flashback, triggered by a smell, a face, or a statement. I go away into my mind. But it’s a bad place. I really can’t explain it. I’ve also had moments where I can see myself…watch myself in the past tense (but these are extreme moments and far and few in between).

    I’m going to stop at that because I don’t think it makes any sense, or maybe it does.


    • It makes sense to me. I guess I seperate the “going away to bad places” as being stuck in a memory, but that is dissociation, too. But yes, being detached is technically a a form of being dissociated, I would think. It feels the same. Just one is more involving how connected we are to people in our lives, maybe?

      I don’t think anything makes you sound terrible. It’s not that you are terrible. It’s not a measure of you being good or bad, it is a measure of how detached you are, how removed you are from those in your life.

      The moments of connectedness sending you right back to being detached, that is too familiar….I do that, too. I’ve found that certain things help me remain maybe less detached, less dissociated, but not really present or connected either. I just keep trying different things, testing things out to see what might help me remain more present.

      Everything you have said makes perfect sense to me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Me too, you so described how I spent much of my life. Makes perfect sense to me. I found it hard, almost impossible to focus on others and what they were saying. I still rather people just get to the point, though I’m more in the moment and less fearful of the present. It’s ok to be here now, so I yank myself out of that thought from the past that I could easily dwell on. Takes effort sometimes.

        And if people you live with or are closest with died, I don’t believe you’d be ‘ok’. The pain feels more that one would think possible or capable of living through. But that is just a guess, one I make from my own experiences and many losses.

        Liked by 1 person

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