PTSD: Dissociative Symptoms

Holy feedback!

As soon as I put up the last blog post, there was a stampede of comments and emails saying, “Yes! Talk about this more!!!”


So we left off talking about how the “freeze” response is part of the fight/flight/freeze reflex. It’s how we defend ourselves when we can’t fight or run away; it dulls the pain of whatever is happening.

Let’s put this together with some information we have from before, about how reflex learns: it learns that any reminder of the trauma is a sign of danger.

So – a reminder of your trauma might set off a “freeze” reaction.

Here’s what it feels like: you might feel like you’re not really in your body so it’s not really happening to you (this is called depersonalization); or you might feel like the whole thing is a dream, a movie, or happening in slow motion like it’s not real (this is called derealization). You might feel like you’re just losing chunks of time – ‘waking up’ and not knowing how you got to be wherever you are.

Here’s what it feels like to have PTSD do this to your life: it’s terrifying. You feel like you have no control over your mind or body. You want to do everything you can to grip onto reality, but you get sucked into this rabbit hole. You might feel angry at your mind for betraying you this way.  You might feel guilty, weak, and ashamed for not being “strong enough” to somehow hang on tighter and not let this happen to you. It can leave you feeling traumatized again and again, every time it happens, because being helpless to stop yourself from dissociating can remind you of being helpless to stop your trauma when it happened. You might feel depressed, useless, worthless.

…Boy, sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Look – I won’t try and tell you that getting out of this is going to be quick or easy. If your PTSD includes dissociation, research suggests that, as far as PTSD goes, yours is bigger and harder to heal.

What makes it worse is, every time it happens, you might feel disappointed in yourself, like you should be stronger. This just erodes whatever self-respect you have left. You’d never say stuff like that to a buddy to encourage them when they’re struggling…

You need to start by realizing that this happens to you because you don’t feel safe; so, how you start to fix it, is to work on increasing your sense of safety.

The ability to feel safe is like a muscle – and yours is, well… It’s not so strong. You strengthen it with exercises – stuff like relaxation. Grounding skills. These are your drills: practice this stuff. Be patient with yourself: this might mean that, for now, don’t purposely put yourself in circumstances that you know will be overwhelming for you. What you’re trying to accomplish here is very hard work, so give it time.

Finally – you know that fine print I put at the end of every post? You know, the stuff that you never read, because you don’t think there’s anything important under the pretty picture?

Yeah; it says that this blog is not a substitute for therapy. If you’re dealing with PTSD with dissociative symptoms, it’s extremely difficult to try and heal that on your own. Please consider getting help to give yourself the best chance of recovery.


I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.


*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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7 thoughts on “PTSD: Dissociative Symptoms

  1. What do you recommend folks do when the activity which made you feel safest (saved you repeatedly in the past) and gave an escape and sense of independance from it all, has suddenly been removed? Can’t say that there’s an alternative soother at hand.

    1. Nicola,

      Thanks so much for the question. It’s a tough spot to be in; when there isn’t an alternative at hand, you have to start from scratch, building new self-soothing skills. Grounding skills for when you’re triggered, as well as guided imagery exercises such as those on this blog, might be one place to start. It sucks – but you have to find a new way of finding comfort…

  2. I enjoy reading your blogposts Dr Dee, they resonate so well with what it’s like to just deal post trauma. I’d like to say that in periods of high stress I now find my face numb, my voice hollow sounding and strange as it seems, it’s like I’m looking out my eyes from somewhere seated nearer to the middle or back of my head. I do feel like an idiot for not being able to stop it but I also know that it’s one of the challenges I face post trauma. It’s not me, it’s PTSD.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words. And you’re right – it’s not you, it’s PTSD. It’s not your fault. You have nothing to feel like an idiot about…

  3. While I found reading this to be very insightful, I must also add that despite different types of counseling/therapy I’ve experienced over the years not much has been all that helpful & so I have had to find my own ways to cope. I am a 3x’s clinically diagnosed “chronic/ongoing PTSD” person wading my way through the muck & mire of it WITHOUT the aid of antidepressants or relying on any other drugs for that matter. It’s slow, it’s painful, it’s frustrating BUT I’d rather do it that way & know I’m actually dealing with it than covering it up & not facing or dealing with it at all.

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