Differences between Dissociation and Detachment

In this video, I speak about what I learned last night in PTSD trauma recovery group on the distinctions between dissociation and detachment.

Some thoughts on Dissociation vs. Emotional Detachment:

1. Dissociation is really an involuntary process of the mind to protect us, whereas, on some level, emotional detachment can be intentional.  Dissociation is being emotionally disconnected and not present, where detachment is more like being distracted and not fully present (but still somewhat present).

2. Emotional detachment can be likened to "numbing" one's feelings by avoiding being with an emotion because it feels too overwhelming or painful.

3. Both of these coping skills are often associated with having experienced trauma in the past. Emotional detachment can also be related to other anxiety and stress disorders.

4. Sometimes, when we are emotionally detaching, we may appear present to others in the cognitive sense (speaking logically) but our emotional affect may be lacking. (Think of the character Data in Star Trek.) 

5. Grounding skills can be helpful with both issues.  Acknowledging where you are, what you're feeling, what all of your senses are taking in, can be very helpful.

Do you experience dissociation and/or emotional detachment?  How do you cope effectively?

Hope this helps.

More soon,


  1. I have heard of the terms Dissociation and Detachment, but still have some difficulty pinpointing exactly how or if they relate to me. I can say this: A few years ago when it was real bad, before I was diagnosed as BPD, and before I was on medication, I would very frequently find that I just was not present. I would be walking with someone and they would be talking to me, telling me all about something that happened, and somehow I would hear the voice but just not hear what the person was saying to me or even acknowledge that they were talking to me. I don't know where I was, but I wasn't there. Suddenly I would snap back to reality and apologize to the person I was with and tell them that I didn't hear anything they were saying. This happened pretty much on a daily basis during a time that I was feeling very overwhelmed. Does this sound like Dissociation or Detachment, or am I off base?

  2. What you are experiencing is detachment, most people just call it "zoning out". Dissociation is more like feeling you are outside of your body watching yourself and in some instances you can experience amnesia. For instance, I have dissociative episodes where I forget where I am, I can remember my name but nothing and no one else is familiar to me. The last time that happened I was sitting on my sofa watching tv when my husband spoke to me and I instantly experienced an episode. I didn't recognize his voice or him although we've been married for 20 years. Everything around me was unfamiliar and I began to have an anxiety attack, my husband looked at me and asked if I was okay and I told him that I didn't know who he was, where I was and that I was scared. That was the first time he has ever witnessed an episode because I don't have them frequently. I have had these episodes since I was very small because of the sexual abuse I suffered by my father and the physical and emotional abuse I suffered by my mother. What is great for me is that over time I have been able to remain aware of who I am and that I am having a dissociative episode and can bring myself out of it with deep breathing and concentration.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experience here, Cher.



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