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Can Anxiety Make You Dissociate?


More than 40 million people across the United States are currently living with anxiety disorders, and that number has been growing for quite some time. Additionally, an estimated 75 percent of the population experience at least one dissociative episode at some point in their lives. For some, those experiences become routine. Are the two related at all, though? Can anxiety cause people to dissociate? Keep reading to learn more about both situations and whether they're intertwined.

What Is Anxiety?

Before comparing Dissociation and Anxiety and determining whether there's a link between the two, it's important to understand each one on its own. First of all, let's delve into anxiety. In short, anxiety is intense, excessive worry or fear over certain situations. It's completely normal for people to experience anxiety when faced with stress or potential harm. Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, are characterized by ongoing, irrational levels of fear and overthinking. When anxiety reaches that point, it can interfere with everyday life. 

What Is Dissociation?

Dissociation refers to episodes in which people disconnect from their thoughts or feelings. They may even separate themselves from their personalities or identities. Like anxiety, dissociation can stem from stressful situations and be brought on by painful experiences, memories, and other traumatic events. Dissociative episodes give people a way to escape from extreme fear or stress, but when dissociation becomes a common occurrence, it can be detrimental. It can potentially lead to a significant or complete detachment from reality.

Delving Deeper

All that being the case, anxiety and dissociation are distinct experiences. They can occur on their own, or they can influence each other. Anxiety can trigger dissociative episodes in some people. When a person is overwhelmed by intense anxiety, their mind may need to disconnect from that experience. As such, they may use dissociation as a defense mechanism to cope with those overpowering feelings. 

Imagine a person is faced with a scenario that triggers a particularly severe anxiety attack. All the thoughts and feelings that come with the event become so unbearable the person just can't handle them. In response, they may disconnect from reality, feeling as though they're an outside observer rather than actually living through the scenario. While that dissociative state can protect the person's mental well-being by allowing him or her a bit of distance from the situation, it can certainly be harmful if it becomes a constant defense mechanism.

Uncovering the Connection Between Anxiety and Dissociation

Having said all that, yes, anxiety can make a person dissociate. Anxiety may trigger dissociation as a way for a person to distance himself or herself from reality. This generally occurs under severe circumstances. Of course, when a person suffers from an anxiety disorder, everyday scenarios that seem relatively harmless to others may feel more serious than they actually are. Anxiety can alter a person's perception of dangerous versus innocuous. That, in turn, can cause a person to dissociate more frequently and to a greater extent than what's considered natural and healthy.

It's also important to note that the relationship between anxiety and dissociation isn't the same for everyone. Not everyone who lives with anxiety will dissociate, and not all dissociative episodes are directly caused by anxiety. Dissociation can be caused by other mental disorders as well, including PTSD. People who routinely dissociate may be diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, which is a condition all its own.

Recognizing and Addressing Anxiety and Dissociative Disorders

Anxiety can make a person dissociate, but that doesn't happen for everyone. On the other hand, some people dissociate or develop dissociative identity disorder without suffering from anxiety. The relationship between the two can be intricate. Recognizing the signs of each and seeking professional intervention is the key to overcoming them. 

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