Mindfulness for Dissociation and Racing Thoughts

Like many of my readers, I suffer from time to time with dissociation, depersonalization, and racing thoughts.

All three of these experiences can be quite frightening, but I've found that the more I have had them, the less frightened I am because at least I understand what is going on and have some coping strategies.

Dissociation and depersonalization, from what I understand from my own experience, are when your brain temporarily escapes reality because a particular part of the brain has been triggered to "check out," all with the good intention of protecting you from emotional trauma and harm.

The official definition of dissociation, according to Google Dictionary, is:

noun /diˌsōsēˈāSHən/ 
dissociations, plural

  1. The disconnection or separation of something from something else or the state of being disconnected
    • - the dissociation between the executive and the judiciary is the legacy of the Act of Settlement
  2. The splitting of a molecule into smaller molecules, atoms, or ions, esp. by a reversible process
    • Separation of normally related mental processes, resulting in one group functioning independently from the rest, leading in extreme cases to disorders such as multiple personality

    One of the main criteria for diagnosing Borderline Personality Disorder, according to the DSM (Diagnostical Statistical Manual) is:

    • Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

    Although Borderline Personality Disorder is quite different from Multiple Personality Disorder or, as it is now called, Dissociative Identity Disorder, many people with BPD experience episodes of dissociation, and it can be quite frightening.

    Everyday, the average person "spaces out." Have you ever driven to your destination but totally forgotten how you got there (or realized that you hadn't been paying attention at all? that your mind was somewhere else the whole time?)  This is essentially what dissociating has felt like for me and how I have heard others describe it. There are times when I feel completely disconnected from the here and now. My mind is off "somewhere else."

    Then there is depersonalization.  I described an incident when I looked down at my arm and had this strange feeling that it wasn't a part of me. I know how crazy that must sound, but that's one way that depersonalization manifests itself. I have also felt that I am not myself at all - that I am observing myself from the outside. This feeling has been quite frightening for me.

    Google Dictionary defines depersonalization as:

    noun /dēˌpərsənələˈzāSHən/ 

    1. The action of divesting someone or something of human characteristics or individuality
      • A state in which one's thoughts and feelings seem unreal or not to belong to oneself, or in which one loses all sense of identity

        Sound familiar?  One of the main criteria for diagnosing Borderline Personality Disorder, according to the DSM is :
        • Identity disturbance: Markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self
        The other symptom I mentioned is racing thoughts. Racing thoughts are when your thoughts start coming in faster than you can handle or process them. It can be overwhelming, and like the other episodes, frightening.  You may experience difficulty or an inability to focus on any one thing at a time. I've heard this is a rather common occurrence in bipolar (mania), OCD, and in many anxiety disorders.  All I know is that, for me, when it happens, it's quite distressing.
        Now that we know a bit more about each of our topics: dissociation, depersonalization, and racing thoughts, what can we do to FEEL BETTER when these episodes occur?
        You may never look at a conveyor belt at the supermarket the same way again after you try this DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) mindfulness exercise by Dr. Marsha Linehan (creator of DBT.)
        Before I even get to that, I will share with you that since I have been suffering for a day now with dissociative episodes and for many mornings in a row with the racing thoughts, I have decided to use the principle of Radical Acceptance to stop pushing away and denying/suppressing the reality that I am experiencing these things. For me, this is Step One, and a huge relief, as if you can't change it, the next sane thing to do until you can (at least for me) is to accept it.
        I just basically said, "This sucks, but I accept that it's happening. I also know for certain from experience that all moods and situations are transient. This is only temporary."  That alone began to help.
        Back to the mindfulness exercise. Here is how to do it:
        • Read these steps first so you know what to do ahead of time and can practice without referring to the list.
        • If you have a gentle timer, set it for 5 minutes.
        • Once you've read the steps, get comfortable in a chair. Feel your feet on the ground, and sit with your back a bit straightened so that you stay alert.
        • Focus on a spot on the ground with a soft gaze, or if you can remain awake and feel more comfortable, close your eyes.
        • Picture a conveyor belt in your mind's eye. You're standing at the end of the conveyor belt and imagining every though that occurs to you as an item coming down toward you.  
        • As the items come closer, toss them in a pail/bucket that you use to categorize your thoughts. For example:
          • Thoughts about tomorrow
          • Thoughts about work
          • Thoughts about later today
          • Physical Sensation
          • Sound I can hear
          • Worry thoughts
          • Boredom thoughts

        Conveyor Belt DBT Mindfulness Exercise by Dr. Marsha Linehan
                You can have as many buckets as you want and call them whatever you wish. 
        •  Just watch the items come and go into the pails and then go back to noticing what is coming next
        • Try to release attaching yourself to a particular thought and getting caught up in it, but it you do, just NOTICE THAT, "Caught up in Thoughts Thought," and sort it into a pail.
        • Try not to push away, but if you do, notice "Pushing Away Thought," and sort it into a pail. 
        • If you get the urge to quit - it does MEAN you have to quit. Just notice "the urge to quit" and put it in an Urge Thoughts pail. Keep going.
        This exercise helps us to get into the moment, to focus, to NOTICE, and to realize that even if we have one thought after another or feel disconnected, we can get in touch with what we are thinking, make sense of it, and even become more calm.

        Video Guidance on how to do the exercise from my YouTube channel:

        I'll be interested in knowing how this exercise works out for you if you decided to try it. 

        If the mindfulness exercise is not effective enough for where you are at right now, here is another blog post that you might find helpful about using the DBT skills of Distraction and Describing to get through an episode of dissociation, once you become aware of it.


        Thank you for reading.
        More Soon.




        1. Hi Debbie, I really liked this post because even though I've done DBT before I had not heard of the "sorting into pails" option. This is new to me and very helpful as I am someone who loves to sort :)

          Generally though I find it really hard to stick with mindfulness exercises. I tend to get really restless. That's just me though!

          Thanks again for writing :)

        2. Thank you so much, Rabbit! :)) I'm glad you enjoyed this. Since you've commented, I've added a video with some guidance on the exercise. Hope you get a chance to view it and enjoy. ☺

        3. Hi Debbie,So I loved this post (well - when don't I love one of your posts though) ... but anyway, I gave it a go when I was fairly calm this morning, and it was amazing how many thoughts came rushing down that conveyor belt at once even though I was calm at the time. I kept having to press the stop button on the conveyor belt to allow me to catch up with everything that was coming at me. As the time went on they started to slow down. I'm not quite sure what all my buckets were called because I lost track a bit at the beginning. But I guess that shows just how a thought is only a thought and will pass. Although you said in the video that 5 minutes sounds like a long time, it went really quick when actually doing this exercise.
          I went on a walk this afternoon by myself, and as I was walking all these thoughts started to come into my head, so because it was quite peaceful where I was I carried on with this exercise and visualized them going into the buckets just as I did earlier in the day, so I can carry on enjoying my walk. But I am going to write a post on my walk today, as it was filled with many great experiences. Which I would love to share :-)
          Thank you for this. I will try this next time I start to feel really stressed or 'out of it' again. ♥

        4. Is this still a valid link for comments? I liked this exercise a lot. Thank you for it.



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