Breaking Free - February 2022

From the editor

Welcome to the February edition of Breaking Free. Saturday 5th of March is DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) Awareness Day, and for this reason, this month’s edition of Breaking Free explores the concept of dissociation to help build greater understanding for people who experience it and those who support them.

We all dissociate at different times such as when we’re daydreaming or our thoughts wander.  Our lead article explains more about the mechanism of dissociation, and also delves into trauma-related dissociation and how it is initially protective but can become problematic over time.  We outline how you begin to notice when you or another person is dissociating, and some strategies which can help ground you or the person you care about. We have also included a fact sheet which is also available in Plain English and Easy Read version and explains in simple terms how complex trauma can affect a person’s emotions and their ability to manage or regulate them.  This includes how dissociation is triggered as part of a survival response. In the March edition of Breaking Free we will be including an article to further explore Dissociative Disorders and DID.

Dr Cathy Kezelman in conjunction with other presenters working with people with experiences of dissociation will be taking part in a webinar developed to inform people supporting a loved one who is living with dissociative disorders including Dissociative Identity Disorder. It has been specifically designed for members of the general public and non-clinicians. More information including how to attend the webinar can be found here.

We’d also like to acknowledge our partnership with Open Roads Rally, and look forward to working with them to help build awareness around complex trauma and the possibility of recovery across the community.  In partnering with like-minded organisations and interest groups, we can continue to reach people who need our help and support.

Until next time, take care,
Blue Knot team

Understanding Dissociation

Woman Looking at Sunset

What is dissociation?

We all dissociate sometimes. Think about times when your mind just wanders, and you find yourself staring out the window daydreaming. Or when you’re driving along a highway on autopilot, and you’re thinking about something else altogether. When you do that, you are disconnecting from what you are doing in the present and off in another space. It is very common, and we can dissociate for lots of reasons. Yet dissociation is poorly understood.
Dissociation is a term which is used to describe this phenomenon i.e. disconnection between things which are usually associated. Dissociation occurs on a continuum from the daydreaming or highway hypnosis described above to Dissociative Disorders. Many people who have Dissociative Disorders have experienced often severe extreme trauma, usually from childhood.

What is trauma-related dissociation?

Trauma-related dissociation is a process which involves disconnection between our conscious awareness and various aspects of our experiences, thoughts, feelings, memories, behaviours, perception and sense of identity. Dissociation can be seen as a way the mind copes to protect itself from overwhelming stress. When it occurs as a result of trauma, we can understand it is a type of freeze (hypo-arousal) response – a protective survival response. It has been described as the ‘escape when there is no escape’ and a way that a person under threat can be consciously not present or switch out of the situation. The most important thing to remember is that dissociation is a ‘normal response to an abnormal situation’.

Dissociation often occurs at the time and resolves. However, when trauma is extreme, ongoing and occurs in childhood, dissociation can become habitual and last longer. When this happens, it can be frightening for the person as well as for the people around them. People for whom dissociation became more usual as a child can dissociate repeatedly when they feel threatened, as an adult. It is important to validate that dissociation helped them to survive and support them to understand it as much as possible.

Triggers, flashbacks and dissociation

Sometimes people are triggered by a sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or something which is in some way reminiscent of their trauma. This trigger can cause a person with trauma experiences to dissociate. Sometimes triggers can cause a flashback in which people are thrown back into a traumatic experience of the past reliving it as if it is in the present. Sometimes people experiencing a flashback can relive memories, which they had previously dissociated.
Just as people are individuals so people’s experiences of dissociation are individual.

What might happen when you dissociate?

• You might feel disconnected or detached from your body or emotions – as if your body, parts of it or emotions don’t belong to you or as if you are observing it from afar or watching it on TV
• You might feel disconnected or detached from the world around you – as though the world is unreal
• You may feel emotionally numb or not experience physical pain
• You might have gaps in your memory – about things which happened, about particular times in your life, about yourself
• You might travel to another place without knowing who you are
• You might speak in different voices or experience different parts of yourself at different times.
• You might find it hard to identify what sort of person you are and feel as though there are different people inside you

What would another person observe?

It can be hard to tell if a person is dissociating as its signs can be subtle. Most people are not aware that they are dissociating because it is an automatic response.

• May appear vague, numb or spaced out – stare off into space
• May look glazed as if they are off somewhere else or disconnected from the present moment
• May have a temporary lapse in attention or avoid eye contact
• Might lose time
• Might find it hard to remember people and places or details of personal experiences
• May suddenly start to act differently

What can you do?

• Understand that dissociation is the way your mind protected you and that it helped you to survive
• Explore grounding strategies that work for you and which you can use if you are triggered or dissociate, and which can help you reconnect into the present
• Therapy with a trauma-informed counsellor who is experienced in working with clients with complex trauma experiences and dissociation. A therapist can support you to start to feel safe, secure and begin to manage your feelings, as a first step. Often this is with what is called a phased approach
• Self-care although often hard to do including exercise and practising self-compassion can be helpful for us all

Download our fact sheets including our Fact Sheet about Dissociation in Plain English here:

DID Awareness Day - Webinar

Join Dr. Cathy Kezelman AM, CEO Blue Knot Foundation, along with experts from other organisations working with people experiencing Dissociative Disorders, including DID on this webinar specifically designed for members of the general public and non-clinicians.  This webinar focusses on dissociative disorders and how to support a loved one who experiences this condition.

This webinar is jointly presented by ISSTD, An Infinite Mind, Beauty After Bruises, and Blue Knot Foundation.

All proceeds from the webinar will be divided as donations among the presenting organisations.

Registration Details

Date: 3 March 2022
Time: 10-11:30 am AEDT
Register here:

Open Roads Rally

Open Roads Rally 2022

Blue Knot Foundation has partnered with Open Roads Rally to help raise awareness around the impacts of complex trauma, and the possibility of healing and recovery with the right support.  Complex trauma often has multiple impacts including low self-esteem, difficulties with relationships, completing an education, holding down a job, and challenges with mental and physical health.  By partnering with organisations and interest groups like Open Roads Rally, we will continue to reach survivors and their supporters across the community, and let them know that help and support is available.

Thank you Anna Gambrill


Blue Knot Foundation would like to give a big thank you to Anna Gambrill who took part in Sun Run 2022 and raised over $500 on our behalf.  We are humbled by the wonderful support we receive from the Blue Knot Community and people like Anna, who help us make a difference.  Thank you Anna!

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