The Different Personality Types of Dissociation

The Different Personality Types of Dissociation

Dissociation, in terms of trauma, means a disconnection from an integrated sense of self in an attempt to survive an incident or period of overwhelming helplessness. It is important to see dissociation from this perspective as it gives a constructive view of how the body and mind react in order to survive rather than thinking ”self-sabotage” is intentional. Dissociation is a survival strategy, a coping mechanism, to preserve still functional parts and happens simultaneously on a physical and psychological level.

There are certainly different depths and degrees of dissociation. You can have healthy dissociation when you need to focus on a certain task and are shutting out other impulses temporarily till the job is done. On the other hand you can have severe dissociation that makes a total cut from the personality and is substituted by another, each with their distinct characteristics, as in multiple personality disorder.

The Emotional and the Intellectually Dissociated

To me there are two main types of personalities in dissociation: the emotionally inclined and the intellectually inclined type. Both can be debilitating when there is no control over the dissociation or resourceful when the dissociation is contained. Let’s present examples of both types to have a closer look.

Example 1: Cees has had open heart surgery under full anesthetics. The operation was successful but several days later, when the fog of the medicines had started to clear, he began to suffer anxiety attacks: hyper-vigilance, insomnia followed by bouts of depression and fatigue. Not his usual self as he had been before the operation. Consequently he feels alienated from his own body, gets frequent anger bursts, which are mostly directed towards himself for not recovering well after such a ”standard procedure” operation, and as soon as he is somewhat physically back to normal, he tries to lose himself in being continually occupied with his publishing business. His partner suggests that he sees a therapist to help deal with his mood-swings but he will have none of it. ”There is nothing wrong with him and he should just get well with time.”

Clearly the operation has been traumatic, resulting in hyper arousal of the autonomic nervous system and dissociative behavior in order to cope with the overwhelming distress. Cees is of the more intellectually inclined dissociative type. You can see the disconnection as what he gives importance to is more outwardly orientated: from disembodiment to disorganized emotion and thought, to coping through excessive work and denial of his state of being.

The Body-Mind Connection and Healing Dissociation

With the intellectually inclined dissociative type; if they would make the step to seek help at all, it would be necessary for them to spend considerable time on psycho-education and to have explained to them, extensively what happens as a result of trauma in the body and the mind. This is also referred to as a top-to-bottom approach. Once they come to grips with what is going on, and their (survival) defenses of denial are lessened; only then can an attempt be made to access the emotional residue within their bodies. The trust in the progressively built up client-therapist relationship is essential to recovery.

Example 2: Nory has been repeatedly sexually abused by her father at a young age, and by an ex-partner as an adult. She is unable to hold down a job for long, if she finds work at all. She suffers mostly from shame, and issues around self-worth, and is extremely sensitive to what other people think of her, as well as the common symptoms of PTSD; hyper vigilance, anxiety attacks, depression and fatigue. Moreover, she suffers from several allergies and is hyper-sensitive to fluctuations in her environment and chemical products.

Nory is of the emotionally inclined dissociative type. The common post-traumatic stress symptoms are all there, but what she places importance on is her inner state, emotionally and physically. As there is high energy charge and disruption in the body and mind, due to repeated traumatic abuse, her focus on emotion and body is disproportionate and makes her prone to contracting allergies and influences from others.

Nory is acutely aware of her traumatic state and has been to several therapists. She says it has been helpful but her symptoms have remained. To work with Nory, it is important first and foremost, to contain what she is feeling by establishing safety and resourcefulness. Emotionally inclined dissociative types have a tendency to indulge in their emotional states and will find ways and means of validating what they feel. It is necessary to work from bottom-up (containing sensation and emotion towards psycho-education) at first, but at some point it has to be made clear to her how she keeps that state alive by dissociation and over-emphasis on her body and emotions. This will assist in uncoupling the continual releasement and building up of emotion, which has become her coping mechanism to deal with being overwhelmed.

Why Healing PTSD is a Necessity

Both dissociative types have their challenges.

To work through trauma is not particularly pleasant but certainly can be very rewarding. It is necessary though, to have the positive desire to really want to be healed, because that is the catalyst to the process. This is a tough one because on the one hand you want to heal and on the other hand you don’t want to come anywhere near approaching the pain. However, an experienced trauma therapist will help you contain, release and put things in perspective and press on the brakes, when necessary, in the unfolding of the therapeutic process – providing safety and preventing re-traumatization.

Dive deeper into this topic by reading

The Trauma Essential Series

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  1. Helen  June 12, 2017

    Clearly, I am more like Nory, allergies and all. So is it the stress, or the continued body/mind activation that weakens the immune system, or does the psychological hyper vigilance cause a similar reaction on the cellular level whereby the body perceives safe things (foods) as dangerous? thus causing the body to attack. This is an interesting connection; one I will research. Thank you.

    • Roland  June 12, 2017

      Hi Helen. Hyper vigilance exhaust your energy reserves making you more susceptible to get ill and it might contribute to allergies.

  2. Nancy  June 12, 2017

    I don’t know if I am more intellectually or emotionally disassociated or both. When I split with my ex 3 years ago I was desperate to figure out why I had stayed in such a toxic relationship. It was a process just to see it was abusive. I honestly had no idea but knew it wasn’t right. I was seeing a psychologist and I wanted so much to access my emotions. I suspected the source of my problems were in my childhood but I couldn’t access many memories or feelings. I got frustrated by the therapist because she wasn’t getting me any closer to those feelings. I switched to a new therapist and she was somewhat a better fit but I never really trusted either to be vulnerable and open. Really it was the reading I did, the journaling, doing inner child work such as from the works of John Bradshaw that helped me most. And learning to feel my body through yoga and massage. I learned to tolerate anxiety and other uncomfortable emotions through studying Acceptance and commitment therapy books. I’m still working on this one. I get flooded easily and it takes me a long time to calm down. But I’m making progress!

    • Roland  June 12, 2017

      Great! Thx for sharing. All in its own time.

    • Hele  June 13, 2017

      Hey Nancy, I too learned so much by reading… you know, knowledge is power… but reading and learning would never travel from my head (knowing) to my heart (feeling), even though I desperately thought it would and wanted it too. Like RB says, we need to cautiously enter into the pain, in small doses to keep it contained and not get lost in it. (Something like that seem to help me.

    • Niki  August 7, 2017

      I believe I can relate to wanting to find the source and feeling my emotions and so out of my awareness I made it seem like I was ready I guess? Not sure but I was not ready at all. That opened the flood gates. But it could’ve been my inability to trust my self. Lack of boundaries. (Do I ever say “no” or ever think of my best interest) Not being able to feel or differentiate or trust my feelings. I blamed my T and lost trust for her and went on a spiral but I knew she ment well and only intended to heal me and will continue to want to help me…. rationally… but my feelings were chaos. I ended up talking to her and forgiving her…(without resentment…) and now our bond is stronger and I’m more aware of myself…she told me “it’s you. It’s always been you. You are the one who will get through to you. I’m just here helping.. facilitating .. you’re the one doing the work. You deserve this. ” I’m the type to take care of everyone except myself and so for one millionth time I brought up the idea of volunteering once a week before going back to work so I could help others lol and she said “you can volunteer for yourself” lol she’s relentless but I’m grateful for it.
      Glad you were able to do so well with all the self help books. Your strength and determination is admirable. I just wanna leave you with this : it’s always going to be you. You are your greatest ally.

  3. Jacqueline  June 12, 2017

    I associate with the emotionally inclined.
    For the most part I feel trapped in my body and emotions. I have all the usual ptsd symptoms. My efforts, there have been many over the past 10 yrs to have treatment have enabled me to continue to function but not brought me any peace. I try yet end up in the same circle of thoughts panic and ill health, it’s exhausting. When I reach out to life initially I believe I can cope but eventually I retreat as my emotions and unpleasant physical symptoms take over and peak.

    • Roland  June 12, 2017

      It is indeed a tough one. On our own we can do a lot to heal though we tend to avoid to come to close to the wound itself in many different ways hence never really recovering from it. There are periods of remission thinking we might be better but as the in-breath follows the out-breath our things seem to surface again cyclically.

  4. Anne  June 13, 2017

    Dear Roland,

    Thank you for making clear that with emotionally inclined dissociative type, the state is continuer by dissociation. This is something I just found out myself. Somatic experience therapy has been quite helpful to create some base, and some containment. But I didn’t why I many times when some overwhelming stuff had happened I kept feeling so numb. And only shortly I started realizing, I dissociate from my experience of pain, sorrow, and anger. Especially when grief is involved. There is much more aliveness in staying with the sensation, while not it overwhelm me. Still struggling though… can you elaborate on this keeping of the state a bit more? I think it might be quite helpful, and I feel I’ve finally evolved into being able to handle such information… Thank you

    Kind regards ,

    • Roland  June 13, 2017

      Hi Anne. Great to hear the article resonated with you. Have a look into the other material on the website where I go into the various processes of dissociation and how it binds us. Another suggestion are the eBooks.

  5. Darlene  June 13, 2017

    I like your website! And I appreciate the work you are doing with Trauma and PTSD. I am a survivor of rape and have experienced a lot of the issues you mention in your writings. The article on The Different Personality Types of Dissociation. Thank you for all you do!


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