“an adaptive defense in response to high stress or trauma characterized by memory loss and a sense of disconnection from oneself or one’s surroundings.”
Dissociation is something we all do, and it is a vital part of our ingrained survival system. It is a part of the system that helps us to cope with stressful situations, which may otherwise feel overwhelming (Steinberg and Schnall, 2001). It is built in and is not pathological (Ross and Halpern, 2011). However, when a trauma occurs, sometimes this built-in system disconnects to a greater degree in an effort to protect the individual from traumatic material, body sensations, emotions, or memories that may be overwhelming.
Dissociation related to trauma occurs in varying degrees. On the lower end of the dissociation spectrum, for example, let’s say someone was in a car accident. A few days after the accident, the person finds that he or she cannot recall parts of the accident, even though reports of others were that he or she was conscious and responsive during those times he or she cannot recall. On the other end of the spectrum, someone who was severely abused throughout life can dissociate to the point that he or she has more than one personality, all of whom display and contain their own characteristics and who hold different memories associated with the trauma.