Most people can relate to the feelings of zoning out, daydreaming, or getting lost in thought. For most, this is just a natural aspect of everyday life. What many people may be surprised to find out is that these are actually very natural, mild, and harmless forms of dissociation. However, for those struggling with borderline personality disorder (BPD), dissociation is quite different and can feel devastating.
Dissociation in relation to borderline personality disorder can be not only disruptive but also dangerous. Those with BPD experiencing dissociation often feel lost, scared, and detached from reality.
While dissociation is not the primary symptom of BPD, it is one of the symptoms that make getting treatment for BPD all the more urgent. BPD can be debilitating to those struggling with its effects, but that debilitation does not have to continue unchecked. There is a myriad of treatment modalities that can help those with BPD get on the right path of recovery.
Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) defines borderline personality disorder as a mental health “disorder that is characterized by hypersensitivity to rejection and resulting instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, affect and behavior. Borderline personality disorder causes significant impairment and distress and is associated with multiple medical and psychiatric co-morbidities.”
Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some of the symptoms of BPD include:
- Efforts to avoid real or perceived abandonment
- Exhibiting a pattern of unstable relationships
- Having a distorted self-image or sense of self
- Exhibiting impulsive or dangerous behaviors, which is especially true when it comes to sexual behavior and alcohol or substance abuse
- Engaging in self-harm
- Exhibiting suicidal thoughts or ideations
- Having volatile outbursts or the inability to control one’s anger
- Having feelings of dissociation, such as feeling cut off from oneself, observing oneself from outside one’s body, or feelings of unreality
It is this last symptom of dissociation that we will discuss at greater length.
Severe dissociation, like that which is often associated with borderline personality disorder, can be broken down into five specific classifications. These types are depersonalization, derealization, amnesia, identity confusion, and identity alteration.
Depersonalization is a type of dissociation in which the individual feels separated from their body. They can feel detached from reality, and often experience a “dreamlike” state, in which the individual is viewing themself outside their own body.
This form of dissociation is one in which the individual has trouble identifying what is real or not. This detachment can make normal surroundings or objects feel unrecognizable or strange. As you can see, there is some crossover between derealization and depersonalization, which makes sense as they often occur in unison.
This amnesia is not to be confused with the more often thought of amnesia of forgetting personal details for a prolonged period of time. The amnesia — often referred to as dissociative fugue — associated with BPD refers to the feeling of losing time. Even though the individual is awake, they may be unable to recall where they were, who they were with, or what they were doing.
#4. Identity Confusion
Identity confusion is a variety of dissociation in which the individual struggles to understand who they really are. They may have trouble differentiating themselves from others or have trouble identifying themselves in relation to those around them.
#5. Identity Alteration
The last form of dissociation to discuss is identity alteration. This type of dissociation involves exhibiting behaviors that are abnormal to the individual. While it is normal to act unlike ourselves at times, for those experiencing this with BPD, this is out of their control, and they are often unaware that they are even partaking in it.
Now that we have a better understanding of dissociation and BPD, it is important to understand that it is absolutely treatable. While there is no guarantee in mental health recovery, there are several evidence-based treatment modalities that can help someone control their BPD symptoms.
Treating Dissociation and Borderline Personality Disorder
The most common treatment for borderline personality disorder includes a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and traditional therapies. One particularly effective treatment for BPD is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
Dialectical Behavior Therapy
DBT is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that has a greater focus on emotional stress management, creating tools to regulate behaviors in real-time, and creating coping mechanisms and exercises, such as grounding, to better handle dissociation when it occurs.
Achieving Long-Term Recovery
The primary goal of treating BPD is being able to mitigate the symptoms to the point where “normal” day-to-day life can go on unimpeded. Here at The Phoenix Recovery Center, we understand that for those struggling with BPD, the future can feel uncertain and perilous.
We want you to know that BPD and dissociation do not have to control your life moving forward. Let us help you get past the symptoms of BPD so you can get back to living the healthy, well-balanced life you and your family deserve.
While daydreaming, zoning out, and getting lost in thought are common occurrences among most people, for those struggling with borderline personality disorder it is quite different and can feel devastating. When a disconnect from thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and perceptions becomes prevalent in someone’s life, it can be a sign of something more significant going on.
Here at The Phoenix Recovery Center, we have the personalized approach, clinical tools, and therapeutic resources to help you or someone you love manage your borderline personality disorder. There is no guaranteed cure, but there are highly effective evidence-based treatments available. If you are noticing dissociation impeding your everyday life, please reach out for help. For more information, please call The Phoenix Recovery Center today at (801) 438-3185.