Dissociation and the Body

What is dissociation?

“I heard a shout; starting and looking half around I saw the lion just in the act of springing upon me … Growling horribly close to my ear he shook me as a terrier does a rat. The shock produced a stupor similar to that which seems to be felt by a mouse after the first shake of the cat. It caused a sort of dreaminess in which there was no sense of panic or feeling of terror, though I was quite conscious of all that was happening … This peculiar state is probably produced in all animals killed by the carnivora; and if so is a merciful provision by our benevolent creator for lessening the pain of death.”

 – The explorer David Livingstone, writing in 1857

The purpose of the attached paper is to discuss the relationship between dissociation and bodywork. Some degree of dissociation is very common in people with musculoskeletal complaints: a significant proportion of my work with clients involves negotiation around dissociative states. There is a continuum of responses from feeling slightly numb in one part of the body when focusing on body sensations to feeling completely detached and outside of the body as a basic state. The paper discusses research from psychiatry, body psychotherapy approaches, the physiology of pain, polyvagal theory and the neurology of connective tissue. The main aim is to explain how trauma can cause overwhelm in the autonomic nervous system and to show how this impacts the musculoskeletal system.


You can download full article at this link:   Dissociation v8

A version of this article appeared in The Fulcrum Jan 2008. The Fulcrum is the journal of the CSTA, see www.craniosacral.co.uk

Quotes from the article:

‘Dissociation is very common in people with musculoskeletal complaints.’

‘The essential feature of dissociation is a disruption of the normal integrative functions of consciousness, memory, identity, and perception of the environment.’

‘We have very primitive responses in the presence of any threat to our integrity.’

‘There are clear somatic consequences to dissociation which can be present subclinically.’

‘Trauma is anything that overwhelms our resources.’