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Exploring the Intersection: Understanding Dissociation and Bipolar Disorders

Dissociation and bipolar disorders are both well-known disorders that carry many misconceptions. The following sections dive into what is meant by dissociation and the various mental health disorders associated with dissociation and bipolar disorders, as well as the interconnection between dissociation and bipolar disorders.

What is Dissociation?

Dissociation is a sensation that people often find difficult to describe with words. Some feel a general disconnection from the world around them when they dissociate, while others may feel a sense of numbness or even detachment from themselves.

Dissociation is also used to describe a variety of mental health disorders, including dissociative identity disorder, depersonalization or derealization disorder, and dissociative amnesia. 

However, experiencing dissociation does not necessarily mean that you have a dissociation disorder and could instead be a symptom of something else. For example, dissociation can often be a symptom of a different mental health disorder, such as bipolar disorder.

What Causes Dissociation?

Sometimes, feeling like you are dissociating can happen suddenly and without apparent cause. Dissociating can often lead to additional feelings of anxiety and depression when you are unsure of where the feeling is coming from. 

However, dissociation is a common symptom of various things and is often a natural response to specific triggers. The following list encompasses common reasons for why you may be experiencing dissociation.

Trauma and Mental Disorders

Suppose you have had past traumatic experiences or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In that case, you may find yourself dissociating as a mechanism of coping when specific triggers or memories cause you to be provoked or reminded of your trauma. Additionally, dissociation can occur as a response to an ongoing or prolonged exposure to a traumatic event.

If you have anxiety or fear disorders, you may also experience dissociation as a symptom of your disorder. When feelings of stress, fear, and worry begin to increase, dissociation can often occur to help you disconnect and separate yourself from those intense feelings.

Other mental illnesses such as depression, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder may be the root of why you have been dissociating. The intricate connection between dissociation and bipolar disorder specifically is discussed in more detail below.

Drug Use

  • Psychedelics: Some recreational drugs are known to cause dissociation as a symptom of use. Hallucinogens or psychedelics, such as lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD, and certain psychedelic mushrooms, are taken because they are widely known for their mind-altering effects, which can lead to intense derealization, depersonalization, and dissociation.
  • Alcohol: While consuming alcohol does not directly cause dissociation, those who imbibe may overindulge as a means of coping with past traumatic events, which can lead to dissociation. However, while consuming alcohol may at first seem to promote relaxation and help ease some anxiety that may accompany feelings of dissociation, binge drinking can lead to a host of other issues that may end up exacerbating the already-present feelings of dissociation.
  • Ketamine: Dissociation is a well-known side effect of ketamine use. While ketamine can be used as a treatment for a variety of severe mental health disorders, including bipolar disorders, some enjoy using ketamine recreationally. Without proper dosing and the potential for abuse, ketamine use can lead to dissociation. Additionally, high-dosage ketamine use can lead to extreme dissociation and disconnection from reality.
Dissociation and Bipolar Disorder

Prescribed Drugs

Some medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs, are known to cause a variety of side effects, including dissociation. However, whether you experience dissociation as a side effect of taking your medication is based on a multitude of factors, including dosage, how long you have been taking the drug, and your genetic makeup.

If your medication is causing dissociation symptoms that are causing you concern, it is usually best to first consult your doctor who prescribed you the medication. Suddenly stopping your medication should be avoided unless you have been advised otherwise.

What it Feels Like to Dissociate

For example, dissociation can feel like you are physically present in your environment but not fully present, as if in a daydream or a daze.

Other feelings and symptoms of dissociation include: 

  • Sensations of being disconnected from your physical environment or physical body
  • Depersonalization, or a detachment from your identity

Dissociative Disorders

Several dissociative disorders are characterized by particularly pronounced dissociative symptoms, including:

  • Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID): This mental health disorder, previously referred to as multiple or split personality disorder, involves the existence of two or more personalities and is often caused by a highly traumatic event or sudden, overwhelming experience. A person with DID will develop these multiple personalities in response to specific memories, which don’t necessarily have to be traumatic. This switching to alternate personalities or “alters” often occurs suddenly and involuntarily, and gaps in memory can result as different personalities take over.
  • Depersonalization or Derealization Disorder: Depersonalization or derealization disorder often causes feelings of disconnection from your own body or like you’re able to float above your body and look down upon it. A sense of detachment from your surroundings also arises.
  • Dissociative Amnesia: Those with dissociative amnesia will dissociate to block out specific traumatic or distressing memories or events. Dissociative amnesia differs from average memory loss in the sense that dissociative amnesia occurs for distinct periods and applies to particular types of memories and experiences, such as childhood trauma.

What Does it Mean to Have a Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorders encompass a range of mental illnesses that are characterized by an oscillation between manic and depressive episodes. Because of this, bipolar disorder used to be known as manic-depressive illness or manic depression. 

However, the most recent volume of the DSM-5, or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which provides a complete list of recognized mental illnesses, now outlines a variety of mental disorders within the “bipolar” umbrella, including Bipolar I and Bipolar II.

Bipolar I

To receive a diagnosis of Bipolar I disorder, you must experience at least one manic episode, which is characterized by an elevated mood, increased activity or energy, heightened irritability, or reckless or sporadic behavior.

This manic episode usually, but not always, comes after or before a depressive or major depressive episode. 

Bipolar II

Bipolar II disorder is characterized by a hypomania episode, which is like a manic episode but with milder symptoms. In addition, you must also experience at least one depressive episode, which can occur after or before the hypomanic episode. With bipolar II disorder, you may also experience frequent and unpredictable shifting between hypomania and depression.

The Link Between Dissociation and Bipolar Disorders

Bipolar and dissociation are sometimes co-occurring disorders, which means that they can occur at the same time as each other. A study found that there is a relationship between those with childhood trauma and symptoms of dissociative disorder and bipolar disorder. 

Specifically, this study found that those with childhood trauma and dissociative symptoms share similar clinical features to those with bipolar disorder.

Coping Strategies for Comprehensive Understanding

When it comes to treatment for bipolar disorder and co-occurring dissociation, medication, and therapy in combination, some effective medications for bipolar disorder include mood stabilizers, which, in conjunction with psychotherapy, can be a beneficial combination for those attempting to combat both disorders.

If you are experiencing symptoms of bipolar and dissociation, we are here to help. The Summit Wellness Group offers a variety of evidence-based therapies, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, that are a vital aspect of treatment for those who have been diagnosed with co-occurring bipolar and dissociative disorders. Reach out to us today at 770-637-0579 to learn more.

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