Dissociation Because of the Pain of Bipolar Disorder

November 13, 2016 Natasha Tracy

I dissociate when the pain of bipolar disorder becomes too severe. It happened to be just last night, in fact. I was wailing out into the night about the pain and suffering and willing it all to end (Losing a Battle with My Bipolar Brain), knowing that it wouldn’t, so I just dissociated. I separated from the world. My brain and mind walked away from each other. The pain of bipolar disorder forced me to dissociate for my own good.

What Is Dissociation?

According to the Collins English Dictionary, dissociation is, “the separation of a group of mental processes or ideas from the rest of the personality, so that they lead an independent existence, as in cases of multiple personality.”

And while that may, technically, be the definition, there are many forms of dissociation that are considerably milder.

Take, for example, one’s morning drive to work. It’s quite possible to write a grocery list in your head while considering all the emails you have to reply to and reminding yourself of your child’s soccer practice time all on your drive. In fact, it’s easy to do all of this and not remember in the slightest your actual drive to work. This is a mild form of dissociation.

When I Dissociate Because of the Pain of Bipolar Disorder

Dissociation is a coping technique for bipolar disorder. The pain of bipolar disorder can create a wish for dissociation - so do it - in moderation. Read this.When I dissociate because of bipolar disorder, my consciousness separates from the brain that feels the suffering. It’s hard to explain because most people can’t do this at will. But it happens. When I can’t take the suffering, my mind knows how to do it.

For me, it often starts out as an extreme form of distraction from the negative thoughts. I simply think of anything that is unemotional. I do things that are unemotional. I embrace the suck, admit that I am suffering, know that it won’t end, and just push it to the side. I put it into a box, lock it up, put it in the closet and do anything I can to focus on anything but it. And sometimes when I do this, my mind simply severs from my brain. It’s like walking around in a haze. I’m alive and I know I’m alive but it doesn’t feel the same as alive. It’s like looking at everything from far away or through a fog (Brain Fog: A Symptom of Depression). My mind is tethered to my brain but it’s a long, long tether. It’s not what I would call pleasant but it is an escape from the pain – momentarily, anyway.

Dissociation in Bipolar Is Temporary

Of course, the pain is just waiting for me once I emerge from the fog. Bipolar pain is like that: relentless. Nevertheless, while dissociation is temporary it can prevent me from taking more permanent steps to end my suffering. Because, after all, when I wake up the next day, I’ll likely be at least a little renewed and better able to face the monster. I likely won’t feel as worn out and dragged down. And when I’m back to that state – not in as much pain as before – I appreciate not having taken more permanent action.

So dissociation is like a pro re nata (PRN, taken as needed) medication. It’s a completely temporary treatment, a treatment held together with chewing gum and bailing wire known to break in time, but it holds one over until better treatment (or brain change) kicks in. I’m not saying it’s right for everyone and certainly too much of it or it being uncontrolled can be bad, I’m just saying it works for me.

Check out Natasha Tracy’s book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar and connect with her on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter or at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2016, November 13). Dissociation Because of the Pain of Bipolar Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Jim Gorsh
November, 14 2016 at 8:08 am

Reading honest examples of life with Bipolar always brings the tears. Today it's especially hard to read because I've been heading toward suicide for 3 weeks. I've had enough. I'm glad you have a way to escape it. I need a more permanent solution.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natasha Tracy
November, 14 2016 at 8:35 am

Hi Jim,
I actually cried when I wrote it.
I'm very sorry to hear you are in such pain. I have been there and attempted myself.
But please know that things change -- in fact, if there's one thing I can promise, it is change. It is what happens to everyone in life. And even though you might not believe me right now, things do get better with help.
Please look up some of our resources or call a hotline. There are people and places that can help you:…
I know that suicide sometimes feels like the answer, but it honestly is not. Please reach out.
- Natasha Tracy

Maria Panella
November, 14 2016 at 8:30 am

I often dissociate when the going gets tough. Sometimes it feels great and helps. Other times I feel I should face the pain and work through it. I get angry at myself for withdrawing. For me Dissociating only masks the pain, it is still there when I drift back. Some days that monkey on my back is a gorilla.

June Sitler
November, 15 2016 at 10:05 am

Please understand that dissociation is a way to survive. It is nature's way. It is adaptation for survival. Please check out my website where I blog about PTSD and dissociative disorder. I hope that it gives you hope.
Thinking of you,

November, 15 2016 at 2:53 pm

Im a 20 year old college student suffering from bipolar disorder. Most days I can’t make it out of bed to get to class, or I struggle to work up the initiative to complete a task. I was wondering if anybody else with this problem feels like they aren’t attatched to anything? The best way I can descibe it is that im going through life without an anchor. I have friends and love them, but i just dont feel a connection with anyone or anything and I feel like they aren’t connected to me in a way. I just feel so lost at times and it’s hard to put into words how I feel because half the time I don't even know. I talk to my therapist about it, but I need someone who could possibly understand what im going through, and help me.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

September, 28 2018 at 11:51 pm

I have bipolar 1 and I too go through life without an anchor. I can’t figure out if it’s the meds the illness of my body (dissacociatibd disorder) trying to mask the pain . Either way I feel alienated and separated from those closest to me ineffective in making decisions in relationships and personal choices. It attaches to everything the numbness. It’s hard and explaining that to people is even harder. I’m 28.

December, 1 2016 at 6:07 pm

Dear ad, Although I'm almost 60, I have walked where you are walking. Most of my life, I have felt like there was no floor beneath me. Nothing to hold me up if I should fall. Nothing that could allow me to feel grounded. I have learned that when I feel the way you are describing, I make myself put one foot in front of the other. I feel worse if I lay in bed and focus on how i feel. If I get up and focus only on each task at a time, I get myself to the class, meeting or errand and accomplish that. Then I focus on the next task and accomplish that. At the end of the day, I feel a lot better than if I stayed in bed. And sometimes, I actually forget about the pain for awhile. I'm so sorry that you are feeling so much pain. Hang in there.

December, 16 2016 at 4:50 am

Thank you for writing about this, Natasha! It can be hard to explain to people.
I resonate with Maria's comment about dissociation; sometimes it can be helpful but sometimes it happens unintentionally and seems like it would be better to be able to 'stay' and feel/experience what's happening (and like there is more 'fallout' from having dissociated). Also, dissociation can really get in the way of therapy, which is frustrating.
I don't agree with you though, Natasha, that things always change and will get better with help. There are those of us who have treatment resistant bipolar and have tried a vast array of allopathic, alternative and other treatments and still just stay as sick/ keep getting sicker. It's not just a few months of being intensely unwell and then a reprieve; it's years without reprieve. Doctors just give up and have nothing left to offer. Sometimes eventually it does just boil down to seeking out the most peaceful means to end the relentless suffering. Sadly, in our society (unlike Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland) it is not possible to access medical assistance in this.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natasha Tracy
December, 16 2016 at 5:44 am

Hi Kai,
I hear what you're saying with regards to years of suffering. But here's the thing -- I have had years of unrelenting suffering and I have had doctors give up on me. And still, change occurred. I don't believe in giving up on anyone. There are always more things to try.
- Natasha Tracy

December, 16 2016 at 6:08 am

Hi Natasha, You're right - in theory, there are always more things to try. Whether they have any realistic potential to help, and whether they are actually available/ whether there is any further help or support available are other questions entirely. Also, perhaps not all of us are as strong as you; it is possible to reach a point of having little fight left and also of it being entirely illogical to continue.

December, 16 2016 at 11:48 am

Hi, Natasha,
I know just what you mean about dissociating. I do it when someone attacks me personally. It's like I just leave the room while the attack is happening. I believe it is a reasonable protective measure against pain. I'm going to see if I do it with bipolar symptoms, too. I probably do but haven't consciously noticed it yet.
Thanks for writing on this topic.

Jordan Ciraulo
June, 21 2017 at 4:27 pm

I have had Bipolar 2 since I was around 5 years old, I am 24 now.
A few years ago my grandpa died, and because I believe in the existence of God and thus the painful reality of Hell, I did believe and do believe that he went there. I loved that man very much...
Anyways I have always suffered incredible pain from Bipolar 2 depression, both the emotional kind and the apathetic, dead haze kind.
I started using Cannabis to alleviate the symptoms of the incredible pain and it worked for a few years, but I made a HUGE mistake. Whenever you are using any substance, legal or otherwise to treat a neurological disorder regardless of it's severity and you stop dosing after years of your mind and body using it as a foundation to keep you strong... Well it can get real ugly real fast.
I became completely dissociated, derealized and depersonalized in ways that I never thought were possible.
I've always felt dissociation, derealization and depersonalization from mild to moderate degrees, but when I stopped using Cannabis and got slammed with the pain the and other crap that accompanies Bipolar it was like have the floor on which I stood be instantly vaporized and I fell into the dark nothing.
It affected my memory a bit, and I withdrew into myself, I am completely logical but I rarely feel anything anymore.
I don't care about anything anymore and all I want to do is care, to feel alive again, but I know that is unlikely to ever happen.
So every day I debate on whether to end it all and what the consequences of doing so would be, it's affect on those I love, my eternal soul etc.
I don't get how people with more severe Bipolar or Schizophrenia or other dissociative disorders can deal with these brutal, crippling symptoms.
The thing that helps the most is love, making connections to people and mending the broken ashes of my mind and heart.
I think one of the few things that can help me is by making an all consuming connection to someone, like having a soul mate, that would root me back in reality and help me to feel alive again, like I actually have a reason to live.
Before I lived for the emotions, not my emotions and dreams are dead, it's like everything that was me has been dead for years and my body is the last constituent component of myself that has yet to die and to join myself in wherever most of me resides.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Jordan Ciraulo
June, 21 2017 at 4:33 pm

"Now my emotions and dreams are dead"
They say most bipolar episodes whether manic, hypomanic or depressive are only supposed to last for a few months at most.
It's been nearly three years now with this depressive episode and I doubt it's ever going to fade at this point.
It's kinda like being lost in a dark room, the loneliness and isolation are worse than anything else.
I long for the end, a ray of sunshine at the end of a dark tunnel.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 26 2021 at 7:25 pm

Hang in there. I turned to God. Prayer, meditation work. Try to find some therapy for yourself. Maybe you need a medication change - I am not a Doctor, but sounds like you might be being over medicated...I was there a while back....feeling nothing inside. Just dead. I am doing a bit better now after a med change - but who knows how long it will last. This truly is the most awful disease ever. I was thinking about the pain of Bipolar today, and if someone (if it were even possible) told me if they lit my stomach on fire and I had to endure that pain until the fire could be put out, but I would be cured of my Bipolar Depression, I would say without a doubt, where's the gas can? If you've never felt the pain of Bipolar, one can probably not fathom that. Hang in there...Prayers are with you.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

April, 22 2018 at 2:51 pm

Why on Earth would you believe your Grandpa was in Hell? This is a belief, this is not reality. I think you need a counselor who can help you deal with your grief.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

April, 29 2018 at 2:23 pm

I will pray that your grandfather knows the everlasting love of God. I will pray the Holy Spirit continues reaching out to you Jordan and that you ask to be filled with His peace and comfort.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

May, 31 2019 at 9:08 am

God is merciful and can grant the grace and blessing to allow someone to be saved moments before passing. Hang on to that in your thought process and it won't hurt so much. It very well could be true. God is mighty and all powerful.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

July, 7 2018 at 8:37 pm

Hi Jordan. I am sorry for your pain and suffering. I would like to share something positive and beneficial for you. If you would like please reply to this email.

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