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21.1. What it is to dissociate

To dissociate means to split or separate something.

In psychology, the definition is that one takes an emotional or cognitive distance from what is happening.

Dissociation occurs when we feel overwhelmed, do not understand or cannot handle a situation. What you are facing is simply too much or too foreign.

What do you do then?

In psychology, one operates with three types of dissociation:
  1. Derealisation: It feels as if your situation is not real. You experience being in a kind of strange dream state. You do not buy «reality».
  2. Depersonalisation: You regard what is happening in your life as if you were a spectator at the cinema. What you experience is real enough, but it does not happen to you.
  3. Dissociative amnesia: You struggle to remember important things about yourself. This can occur if you have been exposed to violence, sexual abuse, war, etc.
Dissociation is a widespread phenomenon. It is estimated that at least half of the population has experienced dissociation one or more times during their lifetime.

Obviously, it is also a spectrum of degrees.

Even the three main types of dissociation can be seen as «easy» (one experiences the situation as unreal), «medium» (what happens is so unreal that it does not apply to me) and «serious» (one moves so much away from the situation that one doesn't remember anything).

So what happens when we dissociate?

The starting point is often that the inner and outer worlds are not in concordance.

The person experiences a conflict that needs to be resolved. Solving means understanding something. When something is understood, the conflict may still be there, but then it is an understood conflict. Your inner and outer experience of the situation is consistent; you experience a conflict, and you see both sides clearly. Usually, you can live with that.

The problem occurs when you are unable to find a solution. Then dissociation is a way out.

What is the mechanism?

When we face something new, we can choose different strategies that reflect the exact mechanism we discussed throughout the book, namely «emergence».
  • We are facing something new (register changes),
  • We interpret, i.e. try to find out what the new can be, by associating, which means seeing similarities and connections between apparently separate things.
  • If we see that the new is only a variant of something known, we integrate the new into the existing concept; we «normalise».
  • If we fail to integrate, the solution is to dissociate.
These activities are thus the same as emergence, the mechanism that is the engine of all creation in the entire universe at all levels and in all categories of existence.

The fact that we find the exact mechanism everywhere strongly indicates that we are in on something.

Have I said that before?