Dissociative behavior is a common symptom of anxiety disorders. People with anxiety may dissociate to cope with scary or stressful situations when they feel unequipped to handle the problems they face. How are dissociation and anxiety connected, and what can you do to find help if you’re dealing with dissociative anxiety?
What is Dissociative Behavior?
Dissociation is a mental health symptom that describes the experience of a person feeling disconnected from their thoughts, feelings, identity, and surroundings. When someone is in a dissociative state, they cannot identify their thoughts, actions, feelings, memories, and, in some cases, their identity.
People who experience dissociation may not remember the things that occurred during their dissociative state. These disconnected periods can last from a few seconds or minutes to multiple days or weeks, depending on the severity of a person’s mental health condition.1 Some examples of mild dissociation include:
- Becoming engrossed in a movie, video game, or book
- “Highway hypnosis”
More intense dissociative states include symptoms such as:
- Feeling disconnected from yourself
- Feeling as though the world isn’t real
- Sudden and intense mood shifts
- Memory problems
- Problems with depression, anxiety, or both
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Significant memory lapses
- Identity confusion
Signs of Dissociation and Anxiety
Dissociation is a common symptom of anxiety disorders. If you’re living with anxiety, dissociation serves as a coping mechanism when you’re faced with extreme stress or panic. Instead of facing the situation head-on, dissociation enables you to handle the event while disconnected from the severity or reality of it. Dissociative anxiety consists of two primary components: depersonalization and derealization.
Depersonalization refers to the feeling of disconnection between your mind and your thoughts, feelings, and actions. It’s like when someone describes the sensation of watching themselves as though they were in a movie. Symptoms of depersonalization include:
- Altered perception
- Distorted sense of time
- Feeling emotionally or physically numb
- Feeling unreal or absent from reality
Derealization describes the sensation that the world doesn’t feel real. This includes experiences such as seeing the world in shades of gray or having tunnel vision. Some examples of derealization include:
- Feeling like the world or your surroundings aren’t real
- Seeing the world as flat, gray, or dull
- Seeing the world with tunnel vision
How to Stop Dissociative Anxiety
Although coping with dissociative anxiety may feel impossible at times, there are things you can do to manage your dissociative behavior. The following examples are a good place to start:
- Go for a walk
- Name five things you see, five things you feel, and five things you hear
- Smell a strong scent, such as lavender or peppermint
- Eat or drink something to ground yourself in the moment
These small alternative coping strategies are a helpful starting point, but overcoming your dissociative behavior may require a more intensive approach. Specialized mental health treatment programs like those at Clearview Treatment Centers are equipped to handle difficult cases of dissociative anxiety and other mental health conditions.
If you or a loved one struggle with dissociation and anxiety, please reach out. The sooner you ask for help, the sooner you can start the path to regaining control of your life. Call us at 866-339-3544 or submit an online contact form and our admissions team will be in touch to help you find the program that best suits your needs.
- BetterHealth Channel. (2023). Dissociation and dissociative disorders.
- Verywell Mind. (2023). Anxiety and Dissociation: What’s the Connection?.