Health · Mental Health · Uncategorized

Walking the footsteps of a stranger: Dissociation and Depersonalisation disorder

** I apologise in advance if some of this is difficult to read or to understand. I’ve tried for six years to explain what it’s like to suffer with dissociation and for the most part, I’ve had little success. Putting into words an out-of-body experience which is so all-encompassing, is incredibly difficult.**
Imagine you’re walking down a street, in the town where you’ve lived your whole life. It hasn’t changed much in the whole time you’ve been there; the shops are the same, the buildings look the same and you’re walking past the same familiar faces that you see every day on your way to work. Your surroundings are the same as ever, but there’s something not quite right.
You know where you are – how could you not? So why does it feel like you’re somewhere unfamiliar? In theory, everything is the same as it is every day, but although you recognise your environment, you feel so far away from it, as if you were seeing a photo of the high street instead of walking down it; it’s as if the buildings are 2D, like you’re in a dream and seeing them from afar. The faces of those smiling at you are recognisable, but there’s a greater distance between the two of you. Why do they seem unreal?
Your feet are walking one step in front of the other but you’re not thinking about their movement, it’s happening automatically. When you get to work, there’s a gap in your memory . How did you get from sitting at the breakfast table in the kitchen, to sitting at your desk? You try to remember the walk to work but it’s all a blur – like a mind blank after a drunken night out, the only difference being that you were stone cold sober.
At work, you stare at the computer screen. Looking down, your hands are typing away: filling in spreadsheets, sending emails and ticking things off your to do list. ‘How are they doing that without any conscious effort on my part?’, you think to yourself. “Morning!”, shouts your colleague and best friend of five years, “It’s cold out!”. Her voice is so familiar but again, if you didn’t know better, you could be watching her on the TV screen – you feel like you’re miles away from wherever she is. “Morning!” – the words come out, somehow, but they sound foreign, as if that voice isn’t controlled by you.
The day races by – you’ve lost all sense of time. You’ve been in your mind for most of it. Somehow you’ve made progress with your paperwork, so there’s no need to worry about others noticing that anything is wrong. You usually look forward to going home but today it feels different, as if ‘home’ doesn’t hold the same comforting significance as usual. You know where the house is, you’ve lived there forever, but already, without even being there, it doesn’t feel as if you ‘belong’ anywhere.
As you step through the front door, a moment of panic surges and you suddenly think that you’ve walked into someone else’s house by mistake. “Hi, darling. Good day?”, says your husband, kissing you on the cheek and closing the front door which you have left wide open. You answer quickly and head upstairs to get changed. Once in the bedroom, your mind works on overdrive. You’re in your own home with the man you love, so why doesn’t it feel as if you’re home? Why do you feel like you can’t connect with anyone or anything around you? A wave of panic floods in your chest and you close your eyes, hoping that when you open them you’ll just wake up from a bad dream. But when you do, nothing changes.
You look in the mirror and see beyond your own reflection. Someone is staring back at you – you recognise their face as yours but don’t feel any connection to it. You watch your chest rise and fall, but you’re watching intently, not merely seeing. It’s as if you’re seeing yourself breathe for the first time. You feel like you’re looking at the body of a stranger and you’re wondering how it can make you breathe when it doesn’t belong to you. You look down at your hands and they feel foreign too; the more you think about them, the harder it is to move them. You shake your head, wishing that you could just snap out of this trance-like state.
Over dinner, you try to respond to questions about your day but now you’re home you barely remember being at work. You’ve forgotten who you’ve spoken to, what you had for lunch and the gossip updates that were passed around the staff room. Your mind is blank. You stare at your family members as they chat amongst themselves, hearing the words but not really listening, instead trying hard to remember them, to recognise them and to feel some connection to them. Rather than focusing on the conversation, you’re watching their mouths move,  noticing how the creases in their skin changes when they smile and how their eyes reflect their emotion. You’re focusing on everything but what is being said – table conversation feels irrelevant right now. You eat dinner but you don’t taste the flavours, you help to clear the table but you’re not there and you hope that somehow your body has done enough not to let on about what’s going on inside.
Everything around you is the same but it’s as if you’re stood behind a sheet of glass, unable to fully be in the moment. Your mind wanders to places with no sense of time – thinking about everything and nothing simultaneously. Your body functions, words come out of your mouth and you go through the motions, doing everything without thought or engagement. You feel like an empty shell, void of emotion and with no sense of love or affection for anything. It’s not that you don’t love your family or friends, you do, but for some unapparent reason, you don’t, and can’t, feel anything for them.
Your body is doing what it’s expected to do, what it has done day in day out for years – at least you think it is – but you’re no longer in control of it; it moves on its own, it speaks on its own and it somehow manages to do everything that you did without you doing it. You’re so glad that no one has noticed – how would you even begin to explain that you’ve left your body? At the same time, you’re desperately longing for someone to feel real because at the moment, being behind a glass screen is horrendously lonely.
Are you really you? Who are you? Are you even real?
You go to bed; sleep is respite from a world that you’re not really in.

4 thoughts on “Walking the footsteps of a stranger: Dissociation and Depersonalisation disorder

  1. This was incredibly well-written – thank you for sharing it.
    My husband recently started experience dissociative episodes for the first time. I have some limited experience of my own from a few years ago but he had never heard of it. Could you point me toward any resources for learning more about it?


    1. Hi, thank you so much for your message. I’m so sorry to hear that your husband is going through dissociative episodes – he’s very lucky that you want to learn more about it. The Mind website writes clearly and concisely about the different types. For more detailed writing, there are several books: A stranger in the mirror, is one. Sadly there are limited writings :(. I hope you find something useful xx


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