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Borderline Personality Disorder and Dissociation

October 31, 2011 Becky Oberg

Many people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and dissociation as a symptom can hop on the Nowhere Express--in a very dangerous fashion. One of the symptoms of BPD, according to HealthyPlace.com, is "transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms" (Description of Borderline Personality Disorder). That's a fancy way of saying that when a person with BPD is under a great deal of stress or anxiety, he or she can dissociate. He or she experiences an "altered state of consciousness characterized by partial or complete disruption of the normal integration of a person’s normal conscious or psychological functioning" (Wikipedia). Translation: detachment or distancing from reality. The Nowhere Express takes borderline personality disorder patients to the land of dissociation, and this can be quite dangerous.

What Does Dissociation with BPD Feel Like?

Dissociation can be part of borderline personality disorder. It's important to know how to handle the silent distress of dissociation. Read this.I have borderline personality disorder and dissociation happens to me often. I simply go to a void in my mind, a place of ultimate nothingness. Only I exist there--a silent blackness surrounds me. Once there, I basically operate on autopilot. I feel like I'm watching a movie. I'm aware of what I'm doing, but it seems distant. I later can not recall what happened.

Symptoms of dissociation can vary. "Dissociation is most commonly experienced as a subjective perception of one's consciousness being detached from one's emotions, body and/or immediate surroundings," Wikipedia notes. Furthermore, "Under normal conditions, consciousness, memory, emotions, sensory awareness, affect, etc., are integrated; with dissociation, in contrast, these traits are discretely compartmentalized to greater or lesser degrees."

Sometimes amnesia is a symptom of dissociation, other times not. What is common, however, is feeling disconnected.

How Can I Stop Dissociation Linked to BPD?

One trait of BPD is self-injury (SI)--often people with BPD in a dissociative state will self-harm in an attempt to reconnect with reality, to feel something instead of nothing. This is a negative coping skill, and we should avoid it. So what other attempts can bring us back once we've hopped on the Nowhere Express?

Our body, in a physiological sense, often needs sensory input to be aware of its place in space. Consequently, anything affecting balance or pressure on joints can serve as a way to reorient the self. Examples of this might be jumping in place, doing wall push-ups, stomping or other heavy motions.

Sometimes a strong sensation might help. An example would be eating garlic, smelling hot sauce, or holding an ice pack on the skin. The sensation can jolt you back into reality--without cutting or burning.

How Can I Face Dissociation With Borderline Personality Disorder?

Facing dissociation means facing trauma. It is crucial--I can not emphasize enough how vital--that anyone facing dissociation has a set of positive coping skills.

The first step is accepting that you dissociate. Dissociation is not, as originally thought, a cognitive weakness resulting in a psychiatric breakdown. It is a way to psychologically numb intense pain. It is a defense mechanism and survival skill. Acknowledge the pain you may not feel right away.

This does not mean you have to like it. For example, I have large gaps in my memory of childhood. I am not happy about this, but I have made peace with it. I have accepted that I went through a series of traumatic events and my mind is blocking it out in an attempt to protect me. I have accepted that when I am in a stressful situation, memories of the trauma try to come back, and I dissociate in an effort to stay safe. While I do not have the ability to face my traumas at this time, that does not mean I never will. I am okay with that.

Second, you need to know the way back. A dissociative episode can be dangerous if untreated. For example, one time I came to my senses in an off-track betting parlor and bar. I've also wandered around downtown Indianapolis at night alone. Thankfully I've been safe, but these are situations that can quickly turn bad. You need to be able to reconnect before something happens. One thing that works for me is playing video games--it lowers my stress level, which helps guide me back to myself.

Finally, you need to accept that what happened wasn't your fault. No one asks to be traumatized, just as no one asks to black out due to a dissociative episode. There is a peace--which I am still struggling to find, incidentally--in realizing that the past only has as much power as you let it. There is a strength in surviving. Find and encourage this strength--then move on. You will find that you don't need the Nowhere Express to survive. Dissociation does not have to be a part of borderline personality disorder.

APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2011, October 31). Borderline Personality Disorder and Dissociation, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 22 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/borderline/2011/10/the-nowhere-express-borderline-personality-disorder-and-dissociation



Author: Becky Oberg

Dana
says:
May, 10 2018 at 11:18 am
Does it mean that when I go for a walk at night that I dissotiate? I live in a small German town, there is basically no crime. Also, there are stressful situations when I see people much further than they actually are, and it takes me a long time when I want to recollect the whole episode, I have to put the parts one by one together.
May, 23 2018 at 6:00 pm
Hi Dana! Thank you for sharing your experience. I'm not the author of this piece but I am the new author of the More than Borderline blog. I can't tell you for sure if you were or weren't dissociating, but a qualified mental health professional should be able to help you sift through if it was dissociation or just a stressful experience. I know sometimes I haven't been sure where that line is, either. Thank you for writing in. -Whitney
GPJR
says:
June, 3 2017 at 4:19 pm
HI. Good read. I have been diagnosed for some years, since I was a kid with who knows what. Bipolar as and adult for maybe ten years as an adult. I had a strange episode about a few months ago that started with a panic attack with no emotions. Just a very flat and sure feeling of death. On the way to work, which was about an hour and a half commute, I dissociated and allowed another personality to take over to handle the panic attack. I had the strangest circular thoughts that related to the situation. There was an awful lot of talking and periods of confusion for me who was in the background. The moment I parked my car at work there were about a total of six that joined the fray. We actually all agreed to suppress two of 'them' because one was just embarrassing and the other was dangerous. They all were talking as if they were gonna be around for awhile and even argued about who was going to the next dominate one. When I actually clocked in and sat at my desk I was aware that I wasn't too sure about what to do and how to do it. The noise level in my mind with all them yapping was pretty distracting but not so much for the one that was at the 'helm', so to speak. It lasted a few hours or so and then it just stopped. Haven't heard from any of them since and the idea of it is so unreal but at the time it all made sense and seemed natural. Anyone know what the hell that was? Anyone ever experienced something similar or am I the only one?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kursty
says:
October, 13 2017 at 8:55 am
Hello GPJR. It sounds like you had a Schizophrenic episode. Voices are a tell tail sign of Schizophrenia. This does not mean that you have schizophrenia but it would be a great idea to see a psychologist and to be proactive with working through the symptoms and keep you on track in hopes that another episode does not present. I am currently taking my masters in marriage and family therapy (psychology/counseling) and I just learned about this disorder and the symptoms. The great thing is from what I learned individuals who have a strong support system and are working have a good 'prognosis.' I hope this helps!?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Jenna
says:
December, 5 2017 at 1:54 am
I know exactly what you are talking about! I literally just had the same thing occur yesterday at work except for the personalities. While I do have other personalities, I'm never aware of any of them being in the driver seat. I fucked up my jobooks so bad, and violated a lot of compliance laws because I simply could not recall them. It was scary. I messaged my supervisor and asked if I could take off early because a "particular disorder of mine" was causing me to seriously mess up. ,you team lead sits next to me and she even noticed how out of it I was. I tried to explain that my brain doesn't work like normal people'say, but my supervisor ignored me. I'm taking today off because I'm still very much dissasociating today.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Debs
says:
September, 17 2018 at 10:09 am
That sounds a lot like Disociative Identify Disorder to me!
Tommy
says:
March, 25 2017 at 1:58 pm
You totally nailed it Becky! One of my coping mechanisms is using opiates; which in turn, has caused more problems I can't even begin to elaborate on. The childhood trauma I relate to. I constantantly stay zoned out...like I'm living in a fairy tale world. Thanks again for the post, it has definately reinforced my thoughts and feelings on this disease.
Rue
says:
July, 31 2016 at 9:39 am
Thank you for this blog. I know it's a few years old but today it has really helped me. I've been disconnected for god knows how long now. It's actually been so long that i can't remember when it started. I'm slowly waking up and this article really helped me understand what's going on.
Donna Hart
says:
July, 27 2016 at 9:14 am
i have BPD and only way i could describe the disassociation was going into a trance and whatever my thought was i would go ahead and do it,unfortuantely i told police i had thoughts about wanting to kill my brother as he did not get done for what he done to me when i was 11-14,then at 18.I was arrested in Liverpool and put in a cell,after this i was charged and bailed until the court case,it is not my fault when i have these episodes but nobody would help me.
jual apartemen
says:
March, 30 2016 at 2:15 pm
Very good blog you have here but I was curious if you knew of any forums that cover
the same topics talked about here? I'd really love to be a part of online community where I can get comments from other experienced individuals that share the same interest.
If you have any suggestions, please let me know.
Appreciate it!
Laura
says:
March, 29 2016 at 7:37 am
I love that you have written this.
I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality from the age of 14, but no doubt had it earlier- I'm 21 this year.
I've dissociated to cope for longer than I can remember, i found originally that I just slipped into it as an immediate coping strategy- I would completely feel as if everything around me was happening but really far away from my eyes. I would be staring 'in space' and no Matter what was going on around me, I wouldn't care because I didn't feel any emotion about it. I would then self harm not just to bring myself back, but also as an immediate 'okay, I can do this, I can face whatever comes at me now'.

For years I was really destructive, and at my biggest destructive and dangerous moments I would dissociate and enter 'fuck it' mode. This was predominately during my 4 year Psychiatric Inpatient stay.

I'm now working full time, live on my own, have a partner etc- and I still dissociate, even whilst in recovery. But it's a lot more 'productive' and beneficial- at work I might dissociate, or if I'm having difficult discussions with people, or I'm struggling with memories randomly, but I'm still aware of what I'm doing , I still zone out and feel like everything is happening and I'm just there, I still completely detach my emotions, but I also feel more in control- I know that I can come back from it, without any form of self harm- and I generally feel that when I am back, I'm slightly refreshed and feel a sense of numb- but mainly to the negatives. I'm able to think rationally and deal with situations appropriately- but I don't get overwhelmed or impulsive with the difficult emotions.

It's definitely still a coping mechanism for me, but it's a very positive and non destructive one now.
Amy
says:
March, 21 2016 at 4:27 am
I am 34 years old and I have dealt with dabilitating dissociation since I was 16! Childhood sexual abuse is the trauma I suffered!! I have had diagnosis of PTSD, major depression, and a few years ago Borderline Personality disorder! It seems like when I used the word dissociation to mental health providers they acted like they had never dealt with anyone with those symptoms!! I have gone years thinking I was the only one with this problem!!
When dissociating I completely disconnected from myself!
Jack
says:
March, 16 2016 at 12:25 pm
Am I the only one who has BPD and experiences being with another version of myself in my head when I dissociate? It feels like there are multiple of me, each with different personalities. I had BPD but I'm starting to feel like I might have DID. Idk though because it's so hard to put the pieces together when I don't remember so much of my life and switching between alters. But my friends have noticed that my personality often will significantly change when I'm feeling dissociative.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Wilma
says:
April, 2 2017 at 10:46 am
Omg yes!! I've been seeing a therapist for 5+ years but still haven't had the courage to tell him this yet... i don't want him to put me in a psych ward...

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

GPJR
says:
June, 3 2017 at 4:43 pm
wow. just had this happened to me and was feeling like I was the only one. Did any of you all kind of miss them because you didn't feel so alone?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Stephanie
says:
July, 3 2018 at 1:59 pm
Ive recently started hearing just one voice besides my pwn im my dissociative states. Shes cruel, evil tells me to hurt myself. I almost drove off the road with my boyfriend in the car because she told me i was so numb i wouldnt feel it. I was able to talk myself down but how long before i cant? I have no control over these states they come and go as they please.
Lafy-rae
says:
February, 22 2016 at 1:09 pm
Thanks for the inspiration. i wrote a poem based off your blog.
Lori Bres
says:
October, 10 2014 at 2:36 pm
I happily lived in a dissociated state for years, possibly decades. I wish I could live in it again right now as I am experiencing intrusive thoughts and flashbacks and trauma. However, in between, I lived in reality. For a long time I lived in denial of what was happening in an emotionally abusive relationship and was (on the surface, mostly) happy with my life. Now that I am divorced, I see that living in reality is the best choice. My awareness came when I realized that I had a choice between a healthy, but not often happy truth or living in an unhealthy, but pretty lie. Truth or lie. That is the basic decision for me. I've picked truth. I'm having many intrusive thoughts now and would often love to dissociate, and often do escape into a fantasy world, but I can't stay there anymore and I know that - if I can find the coping skills- it is better for me to live in reality.
lib
says:
October, 5 2014 at 7:32 pm
I think im reasonably good at appearing like im listening, i give the appropriate body language and facial expessions, but then sometimes i encounter that look that tells me they asked me a question and are anticipating my answer and its not a standard "yeah, that sucks" "nod and smile" etc. What bastards, it feels invasive to me.
lib
says:
October, 5 2014 at 7:34 pm
Am I the only one who enjoys dissociation and doesnt want to cope with it by cutting or otherwise in effort to reconnect but instead wishes they could live in this disconnected state 24/7 and is annoyed at people who try succeed at interrupting it, or make you feel guilty awhen they realise you're not really there and pressure you to interact properly instead of on auto pilot? I hate it. I wish I had my nothing world at all times.
http://tinyurl.com
says:
April, 13 2013 at 2:57 pm
“The Nowhere Express: Borderline Personality Disorder and
Dissociation | More Than Borderline” ended up being a great posting.

However, if it had alot more pictures it would be even much better.
Take care -Casimira
Heather ward
says:
January, 8 2013 at 3:48 am
i think dissociation would be a welcome symptom in BPD due to it is the only escape from the agony and distress, times i go emotionally numb are welcome, even though at first i felt abnormal, but now it doesnt bother me cause even if someone is in terrible pain the mind can cut it off and go numb this is the same when someone's emotions get too out of hand and the stress becomes intolerable then the mind cuts it off and goes numb to deal with it. it used to be so automatic especially in the aftermath of an arguement but now i have to force it cause it comes less often and not so automatic i just clear my mind but it does cause pressure on top of the head and fontenelle area like someone pushing down and it's scary at first but when the numbness comes it is such a relief.
Jackie Maltby.com
says:
June, 25 2012 at 5:52 pm
Hi,

I just want to say thank you for expressing what it's like... Maybe I can show my family and church leader someday so they can maybe understand, and not judge so harshly.

Jackie
My
says:
May, 27 2012 at 2:38 pm
I enjoy your blog entries. They help.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Becky Oberg
says:
May, 29 2012 at 7:33 am
Thanks. That's why I do this.
Nora
says:
April, 26 2012 at 10:55 pm
Omg, wow. This has helped me so much. I've been so confused. I had a strong feeling like what I was doing was dissociating. This article has helped me understand myself a lot more! Thanks so much!!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Becky Oberg
says:
April, 28 2012 at 11:47 am
You're welcome. Thank you for reading the blog.

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