Dissociation: The Spacey Feeling of Disconnection

what does it feel like to dissociate

One of the possible symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder is "transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms." (You can click here to read the full list of possible symptoms/criteria.)

What does it feel like to dissociate?

The experience is different for each person and can differ from episode to episode, but many people report some commonalities in their puzzling and troubling experience of dissociating, such as:

  • Depersonalization: I've experienced depersonalization ever since I was a young child. It's the strange feeling that you are not in your body. For example, I noticed it today when chopping vegetables. I became aware of my body and what I was doing, but I felt disconnected. I used some grounding techniques, such as noticing and naming what was around me. I also repeated: "I am standing in the kitchen chopping vegetables."
  • Derealization: I've also experienced derealization since I was a child, and this was also a part of my experience today.  With derealization, things around you feel unreal.  I liken it to how I feel when I am in the midst of a severe anxiety attack or sometimes what it feels like when you have a lucid dream (when you become aware that you are dreaming in the sleep state). It almost feels as if I am in a movie. Things feel completely unreal. It can be quite frightening.  The grounding exercises helped with this aspect as well.
  • Losing Time: You know that feeling when you've driven home and you forget lots of parts of the trip? You've basically coasted home on autopilot. You might think, "I don't even remember how I got here!"  Losing time, or dissociative amnesia, is like that. I fortunately did not experience this today.

What causes someone to dissociate?

Most commonly, dissociation occurs during times of extreme stress, and it is common among people with Borderline Personality Disorder.  Knowing that extreme stress is often the trigger for dissociation in my personal case, I worried when I realized I had been dissociating, as I wasn't currently identifying as feeling particularly stressed.

When I thought back on my day, though, I realized that I had some accumulated stress, including having been in several crowded stores, and having my bags searched at one of them, as they suspected that I had attempted to take something. I felt so embarrassed -- like all eyes were on me -- and many of them were.  Perhaps these incidents were the precursors form my dissociative episode.

It's been a while since I've had an episode.  I recognize having one as a bold cue for me to self-care and relax and to cope with the stressors that triggered me as best as I can.

Have you ever dissociated?
What did you experience during your episode(s)?
What have you found helpful?

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

The author wrote this blog post several years ago. She is now in RECOVERY from BPD and thriving as an emotionally sensitive person. She teaches all she learned in her live, weekly, global ONLINE classes. Learn more  and sign up for a class at DBT Path.

You might also find these posts on Dissociation helpful to read:


  1. I dissociate on occasion and sometimes it is rather lengthy, which can be very scary. After spending a year on Abilify and almost in a constant state of dissociation, I was taken off of it (my new psych said I had 'flat face' and my mother said I was like a zombie and not present, which was the truth) and began to be able to tell if I was dissociating. I don't feel comfortable driving in that state at all, and unless it is necessary and a short distance, I do NOT drive. Even if I need a gallon of milk, if it's bad I will not drive. I've had it to where I was in such a dream-like state I thought if I stood up and took a step up into the air I could climb the air like stairs; even though I knew I was awake, everything felt like a dream. That was scary. I had to ground myself, like you mentioned. Being able to acknowledge that it's happening, and knowing POSITIVE things to do to ground yourself or bring yourself back to reality are key.

  2. I have this quite a lot, I actually thought it was 'normal' until I read your post! I definitely need to work on finding ways to ground myself during these episodes.
    Thanks for this post, I can share it with my parents too so they understand a bit more!

  3. This is like being at least 2 people: The calm, rational surface "me," the screaming deep distant emotional me, and occasionally a detached third person observer, all at the same time. A lot of my childhood memories are third person.

    1. I Have Become ...Comfortably Numb....

      When I was a child I had a fever.. MY hands felt like two Balloons
      Now that feeling has come back again.. I cant explain you wouldnt understand ..this is not how I am... -- Pink Floyd

  4. I also have these times. Where I will look back on the day and not remember like 85 percent of it.I have lost numerous jobs due to this issue. This really sucks and it seems to be getting worse

  5. Until recently I thought everyone did this. To me its always been normal. I don't know the triggers but it can last days.

  6. I drive on "autopilot" fairly often and wonder how I managed to get to my destination without killing myself, someone else, or ending up in some strange, unfamiliar place.

    During intense therapy sessions I'll start to dissociate- I'll feel somewhat dizzy/fuzzy, unable to think clearly or form words, have difficulty concentrating, my body will feel numb/ tingly/ fuzzy/ kind of like it's pulsing? When my therapist talks it kind of reminds me of the Peanuts cartoons where you hear the teacher say "Wha wha wha wha wha wha wha". I'll feel zoned out in some ways and hyper-focused in others. Difficult to explain. I get a feeling of "not really being there/ existing".

    Other times I'll be in the middle of doing something, like putting makeup on in front of the mirror, and all of a sudden I'll get that "Weird" feeling like I'm not really there- kinda 'zoned out'. Sometimes I'll feel like I'm outside of my body watching myself like one would watch a movie.
    Those are the best ways I can explain my experience.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and for taking the time to share your experience J-Me!

  7. I still don't understand it. The artical didn't go into great detail or many examples. This isnone part that is hard for me to grasp.

    1. Hi Ashlee -- dissociation is a difficult one to grasp and is a different experience from person to person. Thank you for reading.



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