Social Question

ETpro's avatar

What survival benefit does dissociation serve?

Asked by ETpro (34550points) March 11th, 2011

When placed under extremes of stress, humans tend to react with dissociation. This reaction can leave a person unable to grasp events unfolding around them and incapable of rationally responding to these events. Their ability to process information is diminished or completely shut down. Memory and reasoning become impaired if not completely disrupted.. Perhaps this protects the psyche when conditions are so stressful that it might otherwise be permanently damaged or destroyed, but doesn’t it put survival of the person at risk? Why do you think evolution led to the dissociative reaction to extremes of stress?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

8 Answers

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

It’s a tactic for getting through the immediate crisis, not getting through the next 10 years.

Dissociating isn’t like your brain just shuts off, it’s like the emotion parts and the reality parts shut off, and you go into fight-or-flight mode.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I have unfortunately dealt with several traumas that caused me to dissociate. My first tactic of self-defence (screaming and fighting back when being assaulted) caused my much-bigger and older attackers to escalate. If I didn’t shut down, it might have been “game over” for me in those moments, because my attackers were deadly serious in their rages and my fighting back just made them angrier. When someone’s attacking you, and you can neither get away or fight back, this is the response.

I think that, aside from being a mode of self-defence, dissociation is also a form of “preparation”, just in case you are about to be killed, so that it’s not quite so scary and painful.

filmfann's avatar

I think it is a way to deal with things.
Years ago, a gang fight broke out in front of my house. I had just built a picket fence, and kids were trying to tear off the pickets and fighting with them.
I went out, and stood by the gate, trying to look big and tough. At this point I heard gun shots down the street, then more gunshots from the house on the other side of me. I turned around and laughed, and said “I’m in the middle of a gunfight!”
My friend panically waved me to come back in the house.
My wife and my friend were on the phone with 911. I took the phone, and told the dispatcher to please send some units. They responded by saying the units were there, but they were waiting for the fight to stop before coming in.
Local police are worthless during an incident. They will only help when the danger is gone.

ETpro's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs Good point. When you put it that way, I can see how in many situations, it might help you survive with your personality intact enough to face the future.

@aprilsimnel I am so sorry to hear you had to endure something so horrible, but the experience seems to have prepared you to give a Great Naswer to this question. I am very glad that your initial dissociative reaction helped prevent your having to test your “Preparation for death” theory.

@filmfann Wow. what an experience. Often gun rights advocates express the same concern that police will either be too slow responding or will simply stay out of the line of fire. I’m glad you made it through that.

Ladymia69's avatar

On a long-term basis, it helps you get through daily life without constantly mentally reliving traumas.

I know, because after three very traumatic things happened to me in a row, I lived in a state of almost constant, self-induced dissociation for about 4 years.

ETpro's avatar

@ladymia69 Amen to that. Great answer.

augustlan's avatar

I couldn’t agree more with what’s been said. Both during the event and for years afterward, it can definitely be beneficial. I’m awfully glad I don’t remember every detail of what happened to me. Just knowing it all happened is bad enough.

There is a downside to it, though. I think once you’ve experienced it (maybe not just once, but often), it’s very easy to slip back into a dissociative state. It’s something I’ve struggled with a number of times – when absolutely nothing immediately threatening was happening to me. In my case, it seems to come back when I have bouts of depression. I think there’s a very real possibility that some people never manage to get out of such a state.

ETpro's avatar

@augustlan That was what prompted my interest i it. It is something psychologists have to help people work through after they have been immersec in a cult. Some cult members are at long-term risk, particularly those who fell into cults that use extremes of thought control, abuse, stress, confession, punishment and deliberate attempts to degrade the personality of members in order to gain greater control. Also, PTSD is a form of that.

Answer this question




to answer.
Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther