Zoning Out, Dissociation, & Mental Illness: What is the Connection?

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There’s this symptom of several different mental illnesses that I’ve never really given much thought to. When you have this symptom, it can even be a mental disorder on its own, but most commonly, from what I have seen, it goes along with another diagnosis. The thing about it is that, at its most mild of inflictions, everyone has this symptom of mental illness. Pretty much anyone can identify a point in their life when it has affected them.

But, the fact remains, for some reason, in my mind, this is one of the most extreme ailments of the craziest of people. (I know; it makes no sense!)

In reality, like many things in the mental health sphere, this symptom is on a spectrum — meaning there’s a scale of severity.

It’s called dissociation.

And, it has come to my attention that I dissociate a lot more than I realize!

So, zoning out, dissociation, & mental illness.

The thing these have in common is that “zoning out” is a type of dissociation; it is on the mild side of the spectrum, so to speak.

And, dissociation is a symptom of many mental illnesses — & is even a diagnosis of its own in some cases!

Dissociation is when you feel separate from yourself & your surroundings.

At it’s simplest, dissociation is when you get so absorbed in a movie or a book or a game that you forget the world around you.

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Dissociation can be normal, everyday daydreaming or getting that hypnotized feeling when driving or watching something repetitive. It’s what we call zoning out or spacing out.

But, it can also be that “out of body” feeling when you’re giving birth or in the middle of something extremely painful or traumatic.

Any time there is a disconnect between you & the world around you — or if you feel like you do not actually belong to or matter to the world around you — it is dissociation.

Do you describe yourself as “numb” or “in a fog” a lot?

I do.

For being such an “emotional” person, I sure do lose “sight” of what my emotions really are more & more these days. I feel muted — blurred — caught in a goo.

It feels like I am so tired for no good reason & that I am forcing myself into interacting when I’m not really connected to anything playing out in the scene before me.

I feel like I am faking it. Like I am a fraud.

Everyone thinks I am sitting before them, but, really, I am floating above them, trying to force myself to the ground to be “normal.”

I am still getting to know my triggers, but it’s so different than simply saying, “I feel depressed.”

Though, I do sometimes just say I am “not feeling right” or just let people around me think it’s depression creeping in. Frankly, it’s easier to do that than to try to explain that I feel insignificant. Literally. Insignficant — like I do not matter to the outcome of the world around me — like I am not actually a part of it.

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I don’t say that I feel insignificant as a matter of self-esteem.

I say it because I don’t feel connected to the world. I feel like I am a consciousness of some sort suspended in the vicinity of this body called “Reta Jayne” when everyone thinks I am in that body. Yet, I feel like that body is foreign to me — on so many levels!

You don’t have to tell me; I know. I sound flippin’ cah-raze-ee…

Some people dissociate for more than the length of a movie or during times that are no longer life-or-death or traumatizing. Some people get high anxiety & “check out” for hours or days or weeks at a time. Still others, on the more rare side of dissociation, dissociate while an entirely new personality emerges. (It’s called dissociative identity disorder — also known as multiple personalities.)

So, it’s no wonder that, in my mind, for the longest time, I didn’t want to acknowledge the bits of dissociation that really happens to me.

When my therapist or psychologist would ask if I was ever unresponsive to others talking to me, I would always answer no. I thought it was a silly question.

They’d ask if I talked so quiet that others couldn’t hear me or if I sometimes moved so slowly it appeared as if I wasn’t moving at all… I thought the questions were quite silly, but now I wonder if they are a way to gauge dissociation along with depression & such…?

Obviously, I am no mental health expert.

So, take everything I say with a grain of salt. Obviously.

But, when I force myself to pay attention, I have been kind of dissociating a lot lately… Zoning out on a computer game or lying in a dark room halfway between awake & sleeping. It’s been over a week of this off & on with not a lot of snapping out of it except to pick up or drop off my daughter maybe…

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This kind of zoning out is common for me. When life feels overwhelming — even when I think it shouldn’t feel that way — I withdraw from everything.

And when I say I withdraw from everything, I don’t just mean that I don’t call people back or accept invites to whatever.

I mean that I do as little as possible to expend the least amount of energy possible. Even showers or preparing food feel insurmountable. I feel like I am just existing — but not really actually a part of life.

I could literally sit for hours at a time, staring off into space, stuck in my own head, & not even realize so much time had gone by until I snap out of it.

It’s so hard to put into words!

(Yes! Even for me, the gal of many words.)

It’s just so weird; it’s like I am not even me & my goals don’t matter & I am just a spectator anyway…

I am just here.

Yet there is that tiny voice locked away somewhere in a corner that is screaming about the time I am wasting. But she’s so distant.

I don’t know. I sound CRAZY as Hell! 

But, then again, I guess that’s not anything I’ve denied either…

I guess this is just another way my brain lies to me. Now, I need to process that.

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Reta Jayne

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I am Reta Jayne. I help women learn to love themselves again (or more!) through no-bull discussions about mental health, self-care, & more. Click the email icon to subscribe to & communicate with me via email.

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