Disentangling Animal Defenses From Dissociation: Part III

My unvarnished opinion is that the dissociation literature’s discussions of animal defenses (1) routinely conflate different kinds of immobility (freezing) and (2) fail to appreciate crucial differences between trauma and biological survival. I have been reviewing that literature lately. The most complete accounts are provided by Ogden, Minton and Pain (2006) and Scaer (2005).

Animal Defenses in Humans

Today, I will try to lay a foundation for a deeper analysis of animal defenses and how they operate in humans. To do this, I will discuss animal defenses simultaneously from three points of view: behavior, the autonomic nervous system (i.e., sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems), and the three levels of the brain (i.e., neocortex, limbic system, and brainstem). Discussions of animal defenses in the dissociation literature routinely focus on freezing. Each author, however, defines and classifies freezing in different ways. In what follows, I discuss 6 important biological, hard-wired phenomena — 4 of which involve immobility.

1. Immobility I (Orienting reflex): When an unexpected or novel event (a sound, sight, etc.) occurs (but is not extreme enough to provoke the startle reflex), the organism will reflexively become immobile for a few seconds, with its sensory organs focused intently on what just occurred. This is a deeply biological, normal reflex. And, as Pavlov (1927) said, “The biological significance of this reflex is obvious” (p. 12).

In humans, the immobility often ‘freezes’ the person in mid-motion, leaving him or her with arms or whole body frozen in mid-movement. To borrow a term from the attachment literature — a term that seeks to reference a very different kind of freezing — the orienting reflex is marked by “behavioral stilling.”

The immobility of the orienting reflex is accompanied by a rapid deceleration of the heart (i.e., bradycardia), an event that is driven by the parasympathetic nervous system. To be more precise, experimental evidence (see Sokolov & Cacioppo, 1997) indicates that orienting involves both an increased activation of the sympathetic nervous system and an even greater activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (that culminates in cardiac deceleration). Even reptiles have an orienting reflex (albeit one that is not accompanied by cardiac slowing). This means that the ‘machinery’ of the orienting reflex lies in the brainstem — the reptilian brain. In humans, the  orienting reflex is rapidly followed by a conscious, higher-brain decision (about whether to continue to attend, and so on).

2. Immobility II (Unconditioned, instinctive freezing): The research literature on animal defenses calls this immobility “freezing.” Such freezing is classified as a post-encounter defense because the animal freezes just after it detects the presence of a predator in its environment. Thus, “Freezing is is an unconditional reaction to an encounter with an innately recognized predator” (Fanselow & Lester, 1988, p. 194). Unlike the immobility of the orienting reflex, however, this kind of freezing is not instantaneous. It is prompt and tactical. The animal freezes in a location and body position that is optimum for concealment from the predator.

Respiration is shallow and rapid. The animal is hypervigilant and hypertensive (elevated blood pressure). Fear is present, as is fear-induced opioid analgesia. Muscle tension increases as the predator comes nearer. In short, the sympathetic nervous system is increasingly activated as it prepares for fight or flight. Research (Vianna et al., 2001) suggests that this “reactive immobility” is an integral component of the active (mostly circa-strike) defenses that are organized by the dorsolateral PAG (dlPAG). Finally, this kind of freezing is a hard-wired, ‘instinctual’ reaction to an innate threat to life. As such it is not a conditioned response; it is an unconditioned response that is not based on previous experience.

3. Immobility III (Conditioned fear response –> freezing): This freezing is a conditioned fear response to cues that are associated with past pain and trauma. In fact, I suspect that it would be even more accurate to say that this kind of freezing is associated with past experiences of helplessness in the face of inescapable pain and abuse. My current intuition is that this is where Martin Seligman’s (1975) learned helplessness fits into the scheme of things.

Conditioned freezing is clinically very important; it repeatedly occurs in some survivors of abuse when they encounter a cue that is associated with previously inescapable abuse. This freezing involves intense fear, helplessness, a sense of weakness and defeat, and a general inability to take any self-protective action. The inability to protect the self implies that the dlPAG (the organizer of active defense) is inhibited or somehow ‘knocked offline.’ This freezing is driven by a different part of the PAG — the ventrolateral PAG (vlPAG).  Conditioned freezing is probably characterized by a simultaneous activation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, but the parasympathetic nervous system is dominant. Despite this parasympathetic dominance, conditioned freezing is not the same as tonic immobility’s frank paralysis (see below).

I suspect that when a person experiences conditioned freezing, he or she is very much aware of all that is happening, but is unable to muster any clear, problem-solving thinking that could lead to action.

Finally, in a rather technical point for this blog, Vianna & Brandão (2003) have suggested that

“it is wiser to propose a dissociation of dlPAG and vlPAG as mediating responses to immediate and cued danger, respectively, than one based on the conditioned-unconditioned dyad” (p. 563).

I disagree with this proposal because, as a trauma/dissociation clinician, I am all too familiar with complex trauma survivors who not only freeze when they encounter cues that remind them of their past abuse, but remain passive (i.e, are unable to activate their dlPAG) when a stranger leads them out behind some building and rapes them.

4. Flight: Flight is the first of the three circa-strike defenses. Prior to flight, as the predator comes nearer, the animal is in a state of growing, hyperalert tension. At this point, the animal has a hair-trigger readiness to explode into action. At the last possible moment, if escape seems possible, the animal explodes into flight. Needless to say, the parasympathetic nervous system is inactivated and the sympathetic nervous system is highly activated. Flight is organized and driven by the dlPAG in the brainstem. Forebrain or cortical input at this point is minimal. De Oca, DeCola, Maren, and Fanselow (1998) suggest that the dlPAG can inhibit forebrain structures.

5. Fight: Fight is the second of the circa-strike defenses. The dlPAG switches to fighting if physical contact with the predator is unavoidable. The views of De Oca and colleagues about the dlPAG’s contribution to  fighting are even stronger than their views about its contribution to flight:

“the role of the dlPAG emerging from this work is that of a structure that can inhibit activity in the forebrain structures during times of extreme risk, such as elicited by shock and predatory attack.” De Oca et al., 1998, p. 3432, emphasis added)

“Thus, it may be necessary for the amygdala to be inhibited in order to engage in active defensive behaviors like circastrike attack. It may be that in times of physical contact between predator and prey, the defensive needs of the animal are best served by complete midbrain control and activation of circastrike behaviors.” (De Oca et al., 1998, p. 3431, emphasis added)

Recent research has shown that De Oca and colleagues are quite right about this. Mobbs and colleagues used fMRI to study brain functioning during a game that involved a realistic virtual predator. The results were clear and dramatic:

“As the virtual predator grew closer, brain activity shifted from the ventromedial prefrontal cortex to the periaqueductal gray [PAG].” (Mobbs et al., 2007, p. 1079)

6. Immobility IV (Tonic Immobility): While the animal is fighting for its life, the sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive. If the animal’s fight is successful, it breaks free from the predator and flees to a place of safety. On the other hand, if the animal is unable to escape, a dramatic shift in behavior and functioning takes place. The animal collapses into total stillness and paralysis. It becomes totally unresponsive to the predator and seems to be dead.

This remarkable change is brought about by a complete shift from dlPAG dominance to vlPAG dominance. The sympathetic nervous system remains active, but it is now strongly suppressed by a massive activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Powerful vagal control of the heart produces bradycardia, hypotension, and hyporeactivity (Depaulis, Keay, & Bandler, 1994; Porges, 1995). Evolution and natural selection have demonstrated that tonic immobility significantly increases survival when an animal is seized by a predator.

In my next blog post, I will discuss in detail the various possible outcomes (for humans and other animals) of tonic immobility. I hope to show that remarkably different outcomes may ensue when the predator is a human.

A reminder: Some of the most interesting and insightful information is not contained in my blog posts, but in the Comments and conversation that you collectively contribute to each post. So, don’t forget to click on Comments below to read these contributions (and consider clicking on RSS – Comments on the right side of the a blog post if you want to automatically receive the Comments that are submitted by others). This reminder especially applies to reading the Comments that follow the last blog post (from a few days ago).


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23 Responses to Disentangling Animal Defenses From Dissociation: Part III

  1. Karen Schwarz says:

    It seems clear to me that a conditioned freezing is adaptive by stilling the body and fogging the mind. In abuse situations, the body is hurt, and the mind and emotions are also assaulted, so the response is geared to protect both body and mind.
    In the wild, an animal or person attacked by a predator is being physically attacked, so the numbing of the body with clarity of mind would give the best chance of survival.
    In abuse situations, both the body and the mind need to feign death, and so, they do.

    • Hi Karen,

      Welcome to UnderstandingDissociation.com! Well, I’m afraid that I disagree with you. You said that conditioned freezing is adaptive when it stills the body and fogs the mind because, in an abuse situation, “both the body and the mind need to feign death.” I think that conditioned fear/paralysis is the human equivalent of Seligman’s dog that is afflicted with learned helplessness. Seligman’s helplessly passive dog doesn’t look very adaptive to me. What do you think? Can you expand your point of view and make your case for the adaptiveness of the two defeat/paralysis incidents that were recently described by dissociationstation?

      • Karen Schwarz says:

        Actually, I don’t think we’re that far apart. Learned helplessness is the result of the experience of trying to fight or flee and failing in both. If neither fight nor flight is an option, then the body and mind would be best served by conserving energy and blocking out pain, both physical, and in abuse situations, emotional.
        I know of many survivors who fought and fought and fought, and have all the scars to show for it, on their bodies, in their minds, and in their lives. I’ve heard them tell of others who died fighting. So, I’ve come to think that the ability to ‘leave’ the situation, by fogging out or dissociating, is ultimately an attempt to adapt to an unbearable, potentially lethal situation that is familiar.

        • Hi Karen,

          If a person cannot escape a predator, and if fighting the predator is likely to lead to worse abuse or death, then YES, it makes most sense to go away and to see and feel nothing.

          Brief aside, just to be sure. We know that many women have been castigated by cops, friends, and even themselves for not fighting a rapist. Please know that neither I (nor, I hope, anyone else in our discussion community), thinks that going away during an assault (and not fighting) is the wrong thing to do. Nor is it a blameworthy thing to do. Just wanted to be clear about this point.

          Now, back to our apparent disagreement. You and I are focused on two different points in time (and perhaps two different situations vis-a-vis a predator). You seem to focus on the point in time where the person is being abused, again, by a predator who cannot be escaped. In contrast, I am focused on the point in time where a person encounters a cue that has been associated with past inescapable abuse — and automatically freezes into passivity and inability to think or act in a self-protective way. dissociationstation has presented us with two such situations. In each case, the freezing incapacitated her from taking self-protective action in situations that, arguably, were escapable. We see exactly this same situation with Seligman’s dogs. A ready escape was a foot away, yet the dog did not get up and move off the shock pad. The dog just lay there, getting shocked again and again.

          When I was a graduate student and first heard about Seligman’s experiments, I was fascinated, horrified, intrigued, and deeply puzzled. I never was able to arrive at a satisfying explanation of why that dog just lay there being shocked, when escape was so easy. Here and there, over the years, I have encountered half-hearted comparisons of Seligman’s learned helplessness to trauma victims. For the first time, I feel like, maybe, I am close to figuring out how learned helpless fits into the complicated picture of complex traumatization.

          • It feels like something is missing in all this, but I’m not sure quite what it is. I think it has something to do with how I perceived the “offending” person in relation to myself, because there have been other situations where I was anything but helpless.

            For myself, it seems that if I saw the other person as someone with authority over me whom I was likely to have to deal with on a longterm basis, I had a “do not fight” response. However, if it was someone I had no reason to believe I would have to be with in the future, I had (have) a “kick ass” response.

            Soon after leaving high school, I was hired to train polo ponies and manage a stable for a wealthy man in northern New England. To me it was all about the horses. I soon found, however, that my employer and at least one of his rich/famous buddies wanted me to ride more than just horses.

            If I hadn’t had at least 2 other really good job offers available, I probably would have been much more vulnerable. As it was, the day my employer tried to grab my fanny in the farmhouse kitchen, he got his bare foot stomped on with my riding boot and a dead serious, “Don’t you ever do that again,” spit 2 inches from his eyeballs. He behaved after that.

            But apparently he neglected to warn his friend, who was the owner of a famous Italian restaurant in NYC. That guy came up behind me while I was bent over in the feed bin scraping grain out for the horses. In the blink of an eye I flipped him upside down in the feed bin and slammed the lid down on his ass. He laughed about it later and tried to hire me to work for him in NY, but there was no way.

            There are quite a few other similar situations that come to mind, but the common theme seems to be that my reactions were quite different depending on the nature of my relationship with the person. Strangers and people I didn’t feel compelled to obey for whatever reason, I could handle quite effectively. If it was someone I felt I had to please or obey, however, I would just kind of collapse and accept whatever abuse they threw at me. It was so ingrained in me that I couldn’t even wonder why until many years later.

            • Hi dissociationstation,

              This is an important point. For you, cues about abuse do not control your reaction. Instead, when those cues occur, your relationship to the person/perpetrator determines how you react and what you can do. I wonder if others can contribute to this point.

          • Holly Gray says:

            “You seem to focus on the point in time where the person is being abused, again, by a predator who cannot be escaped. In contrast, I am focused on the point in time where a person encounters a cue that has been associated with past inescapable abuse — and automatically freezes into passivity and inability to think or act in a self-protective way. ”

            The key word, as I see it, is “inescapable.” I see this passivity existing throughout my own life, my whole life. It’s maddening because just like you, I can think of no rational excuse for not taking escape that’s a mere foot away. But the word inescapable, in my opinion, explains why. My sense about this is that people who behave like the dog – who passively submit to abuse, before it’s even begun – believe without a doubt that the escape that’s a foot away is a TRAP. Their brains have acquired plenty of evidence, evidence that hasn’t been refuted in their lifetime, that if they move toward that apparently accessible escape, they will suffer far more than if they don’t fight.

            I rehearse scenarios in my mind regularly – someone is breaking in, what do I do? a man just put a gun in my back as I’m walking on the trail, what do I do? On and on and on. I can’t help it. And over and over I see the escape. In my mind I am fierce, I am a warrior, and I am able to protect myself. But my life is testimony to the fact that fierce warrior I certainly am not. I want to believe I would take that escape and not sit there getting shocked. But so far I have proven that sit there getting shocked is probably precisely what I’ll do. Why? Because I’ve been shocked before. I know what that’s like. It won’t be a surprise. But my body knows if it tries for that escape – the one that looks tantalizingly possible – I will hurt in ways I can’t begin to imagine.

            Logically, I know that’s probably not true. But I think my body, which includes my brain, is like a computer, a machine. It absorbs information and learns, based on what has happened before. And it responds according to what it has learned is the surest course. The escape has never proved successful. Not once. Why would an efficient machine like the human brain take the route that has repeatedly failed instead of the one it recognizes and has good reason to believe it will survive?

            In the real world, not making for that escape route seems rather stupid. In the PTSD brain’s world, however, what’s stupid is trying for the escape.

            • Hi Holly,

              From my point of view, you have put your finger squarely on the crucial issue — inescapability. I am convinced that multiple abuse experiences of genuine inability to escape generate the kinds of passive/helpless reactions that you have described.

              Your thoughts about your helpless passivity, which you described in detail, are a curious thing all by themselves. We all believe that our thoughts determine what we choose to do. In this case, I am not so sure. I wonder [WEIRDNESS ALERT!] if your thoughts are just window dressing — just your effort to make sense of what you are experiencing. I suspect that the deep effect of the previous experiences of inescapable abuse is to render you genuinely unable to escape or protect yourself later on. Period. I don’t think your thoughts about what to do, about why you don’t escape, have anything at all to do with the helplessness. I think it exists at a deeper, more basic level than your conscious thoughts.

  2. Linda Heller, LCSW says:

    This is all very interesting to me. I too, am a therapist who has been working with adult survivors of childhood trauma. Something I haven’t seen mentioned (though I am a newcomer to this discussion) is the intentional use of a form of a trance state. While I have some clients who dissociate rapidly when triggered and find it very disruptive, I also have had some clients, all who had chronic, violent, multi-forms of abuse, with no protective adults they could go to in the home, who intentionally and knowingly put themselves into a self hypnotic form of trance state. In some cases they continue to utilize this ability in their current adult life, in some cases in healthy ways eg: having extensive dental work without any sedation or medication.

    • Hello Linda,

      Welcome to UnderstandingDissociation.com! Yes, I have certainly seen adult survivors of childhood abuse who intentionally put themselves into a self-hypnotic trance state. I am curious. Could describe a few of these situations? I think that a clear description of the circumstances at that moment will shed some helpful light on the meaning and adaptiveness of such voluntary trancing.

  3. Linda Heller says:

    Good morning, thanks for your reply. In my clients who intentionally put themselves into trance, they described, for instance, hearing the footsteps of the perpetrator on the stairs and that was their cue to “disappear”. I would observe a similar process with one of them whenever I would attempt to talk with her about something she wasn’t ready to talk about, or wasn’t otherwise resourced enough to talk about. She would stare at a tree outside my window and go into trance.
    On another note, in the early years of my career before there was much help for those of us in the field observing our early life trauma clients, I used todescribe dissociation as a trauma based experience, not unlike what, for example Shirley MacLaine described in one of her books explaining instructions she received from a psychic to teach her “out of body” travel, which included instructions on how to return to your body when you were done traveling. I sometimes would say to some of my clients that their minds automatically discovered how to do what Shirley had to pay big bucks to learn. Shirley however had the benefit of a guide and they had to discover the territory on their own. A few of them found this somewhat helpful, I believe because it de- toxified something they had so much shame about. Thanks, Linda

    • Shifting into a trance state seems so natural to me that I never thought it was “unusual” until my doctor hypnotized me in my late teens and commented that I was “extremely hypnotizable.” I didn’t know it was a trance until she explained it to me; it was just as automatic as breathing for me. After a few sessions with the hypnosis I realized there were ways I could control and direct it consciously, which simply hadn’t occurred to me until then.

      For example, I was absolutely terrified of having a cavity filled – not because of the pain but because I was afraid of being rendered helpless by whatever shot the dentist would give me. I flat freaking would NOT let anyone near me with a needle for a few years there, which my family doctor didn’t believe until he had to pick himself out of his own office wall for trying to force the issue one day. (I now know he triggered an alter. At the time I didn’t know what happened, just all of a sudden there was a kind of explosion and the doctor was halfway through the wall, and the next thing I knew I had RUN 4 miles across town barefoot in one of those stupid little gown thingies and hid in the woods behind my house. Not a good day.) The dentist was a more patient, more reasonable man, which led to much better results.

      He offered me a deal. He said he could try to drill and fill the cavity without anesthetic, on 2 conditions. One, once he started with the drill I had to allow him to finish, even if it meant taking the shot to get it done. And two, I had to promise not to scream because it would make him a nervous wreck for the rest of the day and scare the patients in the waiting room. I agreed.

      I didn’t even have to consciously plan what to do. I can “feel” my way into a trance state almost instantly. From there I automatically kind of put up a mental wall between “myself” and the dental procedure. I was still aware of it, and knew it might hurt, but I knew I could distance myself more or “spin” the pain if necessary. The “spin” is something I’d done as long as I could remember, kind of mentally spinning a painful experience into a cotton candy sort of lump and then putting it in a mental garbage can once it was over.

      I wasn’t completely numb. I was aware of pain, but it was tolerable – far more tolerable than the fear of being incapacitated by a shot and having who knows what done to me. I felt I was still in control and could have reacted pretty quickly if needed. The dentist kept talking to me, constantly asking if I was okay, if it hurt, if he should stop. Nothing like trying to reassure a worried dentist when he’s drilling in your mouth. “Uh huh. Uh-uh. Mmm-hmm…” Before it was over I’d decided he was okay and that next time I’d probably let him give me the damned shot because it would much easier on him.

      I did something similar after my son was born and I needed to go to the doc to get stitched up. (I gave birth at home all 3 times.) My midwife had a pretty cool ob/gyn for a backup doctor. When I asked him to try to get the stitching done without anesthetic he said it would probably hurt too much because so much time had elapsed since the birth (we lived an hour’s drive north of his office) but if that’s what I wanted, he’d try it. Same thing, I automatically shifted inside and distanced myself from the pain. It did sting a bit but no biggie. He was rather surprised.

      Another time, I had my knee broken in an accident with a horse, ending up with my lower leg bent outwards at a right angle to my body. That hurt WAY worse than any labor pain! I actually would have welcomed any form of pain relief for that one, but I had a 3 month old baby to nurse at the time. I was afraid of what effect any kind of meds might have on him through the breastmilk, so I refused everything, even Tylenol. The emergency room doctors were freaked, saying they’d seen football players screaming in agony with an injury like that. It hurt, but my way of dealing with the pain was sufficient, for me.

      But mostly I think I’ve used this ability to escape emotional pain. Historically it wasn’t a consciously planned tactic – it was automatic – although in more recent years my therapist taught me to shift into a trance and use some visualization techniques when overstressed. At times it seems I don’t have much choice: either I do it in a controlled way to deal with the stress or at some point I’ll sort of “snap” with an uncontrollable shift. Hello dissociation.

      • Hi dissociationstation!

        Well, you and Linda have definitely launched a new subthread that I haven’t even blogged about — the intentionality or controlled nature of dissociation vs. it happening to you. I think (and hope) that this subthread will provoke some helpful thoughts and realizations in other ‘insiders.’ My experience as a clinician is that dissociative folks definitely can learn to take control of their own dissociation — which is a wonderful thing for a person who has had far too many things ‘happen to them.’ Being able to control your own dissociation is wonderfully empowering.

        Anybody else want to comment on this?

        • Holly Gray says:

          The trance state is an enormous comfort. I’m not sure I could get through a day without “leaving” for a while, at least once. Most of the time, it’s not a conscious decision. Like switching, it just happens and usually I’m not even aware of it. Other times, I purposefully choose to disappear: when in physical pain, like dissociationstation describes; when in emotional pain; when I’ve had a busy day that has required me to be interacting with a lot of people and I desperately need a break; when I’m in danger and cannot see a viable way out.

          But I don’t see that as empowering at all. I wish I did. It doesn’t feel like I’m using dissociation in a positive way, though. Rather, it feels pathological and counter-productive. I need it, I have to have it. In a way the trance state is like a drug. My dependence on it, choice or not, doesn’t feel empowering. On the contrary, it feels like evidence of an inability to cope with life.

          I might feel differently if dissociation had allowed me to refuse pain meds for an injury that would have had a tough-guy athlete screaming in pain. 😉 I think that’s something I could feel proud of.

          • Hi Holly,

            Less than 2 years ago I would have expressed much the same feelings about dissociation. My perception has changed, perhaps largely due to my therapist’s approach to this. Instead of treating dissociation as a “problem” or “abnormality” she treats it as a “resource” and “normal” (based on my particular circumstances).

            At first I thought *she* was nuts but over time I’ve comed to share her perspective more and more. I could have turned to drugs or alcohol like my mother did, to cope. I’m actually grateful nature steered me towards other options. One of her points to me has been that this isn’t an “inability to cope” but a “way to cope” – a natural resource that gets us through until other resources become available.

            Or even if I continue to dissociate, if it’s supporting rather than detracting from my life, it wouldn’t make sense to condemn it just because it’s not “normal” behavior to others. Her attitude is basically, “Here are the cards you’ve been dealt. Let’s work on how to play them to the most benefit.”

            There definitely are days when I suck at this game. (Today has been one!) But more and more I feel like I’m starting to understand it and maybe I’m even getting better at it.

            • Holly Gray says:

              Thank you for sharing that with me, dissociationstation. I reread my comment and realize I came off rather negative. (I focus relentlessly on normalizing dissociation and sometimes I exhaust myself and give voice to my baser feelings about dissociation and DID.)

              I think if dissociation didn’t interfere so profoundly with my life, I would feel a little differently about it. As it is, it feels like adaptive functioning run amok. And while I really do believe dissociation is normal and even DID is just an amplification of what everyone experiences, I can get pretty frustrated by the problems it causes.

              But it also solves quite a few. Reading your comment reminded me of that. Thank you.

            • So, is dissociation a blessing or a curse? A symptom or a talent?

              It can be all of these things. Put simply, dissociation is an ability that only some people have. If you have this ability, you may access it spontaneously during intolerable pain or abuse.

              But, you have to learn to direct this ability. You have to develop your skill. Absent that, your dissociative ability may ‘get out of hand’ so that it spontaneously takes action without any direction or control from your conscious mind.

    • Linda,

      You initially raised the issue of voluntary, intentional trance (and going away). What do you know about the intentionality of different patient’s trancing? Do they all do it on purpose? Do they feel uncomfortable and it ‘just happens?’ Does it come from out of the blue so that they get ‘pulled into trance’ (and silenced?)? And so on.

      • Linda Heller says:

        Hello, and apologies for not getting back to those who commented on my comments. Between a slow, very old computer with dialup internet, and
        and a busy practice, I think the reality is I will only be able to be an occasional visitor. Believe it or not, this is my fist ever “blog”. I particularly want to than “dissociation station” for her thoughtful personal account. I will continue to read as often as I can and am delighted that this dialogue is possible. Right now, work calls! Thanks again, Linda

  4. Holly Gray says:

    “I don’t think your thoughts about what to do, about why you don’t escape, have anything at all to do with the helplessness. I think it exists at a deeper, more basic level than your conscious thoughts.”

    Yes, I do operate under the assumption that my thoughts determine what I choose to do. So the point you’ve made above is incredibly interesting (and oddly validating) to me. Thank you. I’m going to be chewing on that for a while.

  5. Scrappy says:

    But, you have to learn to direct this ability. You have to develop your skill. Absent that, your dissociative ability may ‘get out of hand’ so that it spontaneously takes action without any direction or control from your conscious mind.

    I agree BUT… trying to figure out how to control dissociation can be kind of like trying to figure out how to control your own heartbeat. Which brings us back to the subject of animal defenses. Or forward (some day) to the subject of other parts of your mind, which you may not consciously direct, having control that you may lack when it comes to certain reactions or behaviors.

    • Scrappy,

      I certainly agree that learning to control your own dissociation is difficult — especially, if you are trying to do it on your own. This is where a good therapist comes in handy. And, this is where a good DID therapist can make all the difference (as opposed to a generally-competent therapist who is, nevertheless, new to DID and dissociation).

      • Scrappy says:

        I absolutely agree with that. I tried “bossing it around” myself and well… FAIL. Our therapist has been extremely helpful.

        By the way, this is dissociationstation. Changed the posting name to Scrappy so y’all don’t have to type out such a long name for me 😉

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