The 2 Forms of Dissociation & The Different Personality Types

Keywords: Types of Dissociation.

Dissociation, in terms of trauma, means 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 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. Till the job is done. On the other hand, you can have severe dissociation that makes a total cut from the personality. Each personality could have distinct characteristics, as in multiple personality disorder.

Types of Dissociation: The Emotionally Inclined 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.

Dissociation, in terms of trauma, means disconnection from an integrated sense of self in an attempt to survive an incident or period of overwhelming helplessness. 

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 hyperarousal 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.

Psycho-Education and The Intellectual Type

With the intellectually inclined dissociative type; if they would seek help at all, it would be necessary for them to spend considerable time on psycho-education. Furthermore, 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.

The Body-Mind Connection and The Types of Dissociation

Example 2: Nory has been repeatedly sexually abused by her father at a young age. Secondly, 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; hypervigilance, 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 PTSD symptoms are all there, but what she places importance on is her inner state, emotionally and physically. As there are 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.

The Types of Dissociation and 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. That is the catalyst to the healing 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.

What is your type in dissociation? Are you more intellectually inclined or emotionally inclined? Leave your comments below.

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  • Helen says:

    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.

  • Nancy says:

    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 says:

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

    • Hele says:

      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 says:

      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.

  • Jacqueline says:

    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 says:

      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.

  • Anne says:

    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 says:

      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.

  • Darlene says:

    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!

  • Mandy says:

    Hi, I’m not sure if I’m an intellectual or emotional disassociated…probably both, but feel l might lean more to the emotional side. I dont have the allergies described here. At this point in my life, I am a complete and utter mess. I have been sexually abused for many years as a child. I ran away from home at a very young age and discovered sex, drugs and booze. I had to stay very hypervigilant as living on the streets were simple terrifying. I allowed people to continue to abused me, and have been in some fairly horrific situations. Somewhere deep inside even though I knew I was better than who I had become, I learned at a very young age to gage my situations and surrounds. I learned to protect my inner self and locked it deep away. Over the years I managed to pull myself out of that and place myself into a toxic marriage. I divorced him and got into another abusive marriage which ended with him have regular and multiple affairs. And , now I’m in what appears to be a 3 rd broken relationship. I cant seem to function or flourish without trust. So much so it seems to rule my every choice and decision. Turns out my 3rd husband ( however a good man ) who I loved dearly, has 4 years hiding he was a sex addict and even acting out issues towards my daughter. It’s been 2 years since he came clean, and began his healing journey. Mine has unraveled. Me, on the other hand have turned into this primal raging person who cant seem to gather a thought to right myself. My head is so full and plays a terrible tape in my head. I’m so lost. I’ve been to all kinds of therapy and sessions , even fortunate enough to spend a few weeks in an intense recovery program that dealt strictly with survivors of childhood sexual abuse. But…it keeps coming back. I mistrust I feel my husband has blind side me. I cant seem to pull my head straight enough to function for more than a few days at a time. I bounce between anger, rage, so depressed I’ve almost become a elective mute. Then others I bounce up and cook clean and take care of my family. What a complete mess I am. I trying to convince myself all my kindness and giving away somehow makes me whole again. I have no friends and have chosen to alienate absolutely everyone who could get close enough to hurt me. I just don’t ever go out on that limb. Not sure how I came across this article but do you think it could help me? Somewhere under all this, I know I’m kind, caring, giving, thoughtful, and a genuine person so full of love. How does one ever get set free???

    • Jason says:

      Under different circumstances I feel we share a similar conflict, lock it all away and never let anyone in, but I am thinking it may reduce the pain if I can share it, in a sense get rid of it

  • catherine warren says:

    I’m definitely emotionally inclined. It’s exhausting

  • Angela says:

    Second type. Understanding that should give me more control. Thanks Roland.

  • Katerie Gagnon says:

    I just learnt i have emotionnal dissociation

  • No one says:

    I believe I dissociate in both ways, emotionally and intellectually. I switch between them or combine them in different ways. I’ve been intellectually driven and goal-oriented with work to the point of burnout. I’ve also been very emotionally-inclined where it completely consumes me and I can’t really function under those massive waves without some outside help or without calling out to another part of me to help me out of it. It’s like parts of me dissociate in different ways and so when one is failing, the other takes over for a while and around we all go playing musical chairs, if you will. I think over time, these coping mechanisms have become separate parts of me that I think of as people inside me and I have learned to connect them and cajole some parts to take over when I need them to so I can function better. Other parts of me are still frozen up in a state of terror and don’t function at all, so I literally need to dissociate for one part of me to function. And when one emotional part is on, another emotional part is avoided. All at once would overload the system.

  • Ash says:

    Hi Roland and whomever may read this.
    I appear to dissociate in both ways, intellectually and emotionally , yet intellectual seems to be the most dominant since a very overwhelming event 5 years ago… I find that without a sense of myself in my body, that is – some inner safe space to contain my experience, then the intellect runs away like mad, mainly as the mind seems to be being used as a defense mechanism, very much how Roland has explained fawning – a pre-occupation with detecting future perceived threat… which i knew i was doing yet couldn’t stop it intellectually as it was driven by unprocessed emotions.

    It’s great that you offer both the somatic and intellectual pieces Roland.. Thank you.. it does seem to have helped and continue to help me contain my experience a bit more, the hardest step now seems to be trusting myself and moving out of the known small world that’s been created out of fear, mistrust and anger towards myself.

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