June 14, 2024

What is ADHD dissociation?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, characterizes dissociation as a disruption, interruption, and/or discontinuity of the normal, subjective integration of behavior, memory, identity, consciousness, emotion, perception, body representation, and motor control. Three types of dissociation can include dissociative amnesia, dissociative identity disorder, and depersonalization/derealization disorder.Dissociation may be associated with high levels of stress or previous trauma and may be common for people experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as ADHD. For both childhood and adult ADHD, increased stress can be a common symptom, and high levels of stress may impact a person’s executive function or ability to focus. Individuals with ADHD may have differences in neural mechanisms that can increase the likelihood of experiencing dissociation or having a comorbid dissociative disorder.For individuals with ADHD, experiences of dissociation may extend beyond daydreaming or “zoning out.” While everyone may “zone out” from time to time, dissociation is typically more severe and may be a result of trauma or a specific event.

Signs and symptoms of ADHD dissociation

People with ADHD may experience symptoms of dissociation in conjunction with ADHD symptoms. In some cases, ADHD symptoms, such as inattentiveness, may lead to dissociation or a general feeling of disconnectedness from time or space. If you are a person with ADHD, some signs and symptoms of dissociation that you may experience include the following:Inattentiveness and spaciness – Individuals with ADHD dissociation may experience periods of fogginess during which they may struggle to focus. During these episodes, individuals may sense that they are mentally distant and disconnected from their surroundings. Tasks that require sustained attention or cognitive effort can become particularly challenging, potentially leading to difficulties with completing work or academic responsibilities. Feeling disconnected from reality or oneself – Feeling disconnected from reality or oneself can be a severe type of dissociation that may be experienced by individuals with ADHD. This symptom can arise as a sense of being detached from one’s surroundings, emotions, or even one’s own identity. It can lead to feelings of confusion, disorientation, and a distorted sense of time.

Distortion of memory 

Memory and time perception can be impacted by dissociation in individuals with ADHD. During dissociative episodes, individuals may have difficulty forming new memories or recalling past events, possibly leading to gaps in their memories. This may contribute to a sense of confusion and disorientation and make it difficult to keep track of time or remember important details.

Distortion of time  

Time perception can become distorted, with minutes seeming like hours or vice versa. This can make it challenging to plan and prioritize tasks, leading to difficulties with meeting deadlines and managing daily responsibilities. If you have been diagnosed with ADHD and you are experiencing these symptoms regularly, it may be beneficial to connect with a mental health professional. A therapist may be able to identify the causes or triggers of your dissociative episodes and provide you with coping strategies that can reduce or improve these symptoms.

Causes of ADHD dissociation

The causes of dissociation as they relate to ADHD are not yet well known. However, studies have shown that neurological factors related to ADHD may cause an increase in dissociative episodes. Changes in the neural network for individuals with ADHD can make it more challenging to stay present in the moment, which can manifest as dissociation in some cases. ADHD and associated dissociative episodes may be impacted by environmental and lifestyle factors as well. Disruptions to a person’s daily routine, added stressors, and a hectic work or home environment can increase dissociative episodes in some individuals.

Coping strategies for ADHD dissociation

Managing ADHD and associated dissociation disorders or symptoms can be a complex and multifaceted undertaking. However, by working with a mental health professional to develop coping strategies and lifestyle changes, a person experiencing ADHD dissociation may see a reduction in symptoms for both dissociative episodes and ADHD. Some coping strategies and lifestyle changes are discussed below.

Utilizing mindfulness and grounding techniques

Research has shown that improving mindfulness may decrease ADHD symptoms as well as symptoms of dissociation. Mindfulness strategies generally help a person stay grounded and focus on the present rather than the future or the past. Techniques that improve mindfulness while preventing dissociation and ADHD symptoms can include journaling, meditating, and practicing yoga. These practices may focus the mind on reality before symptoms start.

Developing a structured routine

The triggers for many people with ADHD dissociation tend to include stress and anxiety. To combat these triggers or reduce their frequency, a person may develop a structured daily routine around maximizing focus and attentiveness and reducing stress. Setting a schedule and developing a routine can reduce the number of choices they must make each day, which can decrease stress. For example, a person might lay out their outfit for the following day the night before. At work, a person might choose to answer emails only at the start and end of the day to avoid having their focus interrupted every 10 minutes with a new email. Small changes like these can reduce daily stress and anxiety, and, in turn, can reduce ADHD and dissociation symptoms.

Making lifestyle adjustments

For individuals who are taking medication for ADHD or dissociation, it may be important to continue to monitor and manage their medication use. As with any medication, it can be crucial to follow your doctor’s recommendations and communicate with them if you believe a change in dosage may be needed.

Seeking support from mental health professionals

Managing ADHD and dissociative disorders alone can be challenging. By working with a mental health professional, you can focus on new coping strategies and reduce ADHD dissociation symptoms with expert guidance. One way to attend therapy may be through a virtual platform.

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