What are Dissociative Symptoms?

Dissociative symptoms are commonly experienced by patients with mild head injury and include:

1. Derealisation 

A feeling that you are disconnected from the world around you or “spaced out”.

Ways in which people describe derealisation:

‘My surroundings seemed unreal / far away’, ‘I felt spaced out’, ‘It was like looking at the world through a veil or glass’, ‘I felt cut off or distant from the immediate surroundings’, ‘objects appeared diminished in size / flat / dream-like / cartoon like / artificial / unsolid’

2. Depersonalisation 

A feeling that your body doesn’t quite belong to you or is disconnected from you.

Ways in which people describe depersonalisation:

Common: ‘I felt strange / weird’, ‘I felt as if I was floating away’, ‘I felt disembodied / disconnected / detached / far away from myself’, ‘apart from everything’, ‘in a place of my own/ alone’, ‘like I was there but not there’, ’I could see and hear everything but couldn’t respond’

Less Common: ‘puppet-like’, ‘robot-like’, ‘acting a part’, ‘I couldn’t feel any pain’ ‘like I was made of cardboard’, ‘I felt like I was just a head stuck on a body’, ‘like a spectator looking at myself on TV’, ‘an out of body experience’, ‘my hands or feet felt smaller / bigger’. ‘when I touched things it didn’t feel like me touching them’

Why is it Helpful to Find out about Dissociative Symptoms?

These symptoms occur in all kinds of situations. Most people have experienced them to some degree when they have had the flu or are very sleep deprived.

Understanding what dissociative symptoms are, that there is a name for them and that they don’t mean you are “going mad”, can often be helpful to people with a mild head injury who may experience these symptoms.

Fear and anxiety can intensify dissociative symptoms so if you know more about them then the symptoms themselves can be less intense.

Dissociative Attacks

Some people develop so called dissociative attacks, or ‘non-epileptic seizures’ after having a mild head injury. These are episodes where people fall to the ground and black out, either with or without shaking movements. They resemble epilepsy and can be very frightening and disabling.