Breaking Free – February 2023

From the editor

Welcome to the February edition of Breaking Free. In this edition we focus on providing information about dissociation in recognition of Dissociative Identity Disorder Awareness Day on 6 March. In our challenging times, it’s important to understand more about dissociation and possibilities for healing. Dissociation is a common experience that occurs when we detach from the present moment or become absorbed in an activity. However, when dissociation occurs as a protective mechanism of the mind in response to extreme or ongoing trauma, it can lock out overwhelming feelings and experiences, leading to a sense of being disconnected from oneself.

There is no single path to healing from complex trauma or dissociation, but therapy, mindfulness and relaxation techniques, physical exercise, and self-care can all be helpful, for some people at different times. With time and support, many people find that they can build a stronger sense of self and a life with fewer triggers or disruptions.

The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation is hosting a webinar on Tuesday, March 7th at 10 am AEDST to spread awareness on Dissociative Identity Disorder Awareness Day. The conversation will focus on what healing from dissociative disorders looks like, as well as answering your questions about what healing looks like for you. Blue Knot is one of the partners presenting so please book your place now.

We also are highlighting a two-book set, “Our House: Making Sense of Dissociative Identity Disorder” and “Understanding Dissociative Identity Disorder: A Guidebook for Survivors and Practitioners.” These books provide an accessible understanding of dissociation and DID, empowering survivors and educating friends, family, and professionals.

Lastly, we would like to share a podcast episode from the radio program “All in the Mind,” which focuses on dissociation and coping with trauma. The episode discusses the devastating impact that early abuse can have on mental health and reminds us of the importance of understanding dissociation and its role in complex trauma experiences.

Until next time, take care.

The Blue Knot Team

Understanding Dissociation and Possibilities for Healing

We live in challenging times and for many of us, who are already living with our own individual challenges, the lack of understanding about what dissociation is and possibilities for healing from dissociation can make our journey more difficult. That’s why it’s so important to continue to educate the community, including the professional community around dissociation and its role when engaging with people with complex trauma experiences.

We are living through a pandemic, global disruptions and a time in which we are speaking more about issues of trauma which were previously hidden. Trauma is more readily recognised than ever before. However, a true understanding of complex trauma and, alongside it, dissociation lag far behind.

The lack of understanding around dissociation is difficult to fathom because dissociation is familiar to us all. In fact, it is a common everyday experience which occurs in our daily lives. For example think about how we detach from the present moment when we daydream, or check out when we drive on autopilot along a highway or become absorbed in a puzzle or a great book. These are common experiences which are not questioned, and which are dissociative in nature.

Dissociation however extends further than these everyday phenomena. It can be seen as a protective mechanism of the mind, which occurs on a continuum. In the context of complex trauma, dissociation effectively locks out overwhelming feelings and experiences. It guards against the unthinkable and the unbearable.

Not only does dissociation occur in relation to traumatic experiences but more recent research has also established that challenging parent-child dynamics also often underpin dissociation – for example when a parent is unable to be protective or nurturing, or is unpredictable. Often this occurs when a parent has experienced their own trauma or other challenges.

Dissociation is not a conscious process – we cannot dissociate when we decide to. Rather it comes into play when our ‘self’ is under threat, such as when we experience ongoing or extreme trauma. In ‘dissociating’ trauma from our sense of self, the mind keeps the traumatic experiences outside of our consciousness and often compartmentalises our experiences or breaks them into parts. This stops our mind from being overwhelmed and from completely collapsing.

Our minds are ingenious and they keep the potentially overwhelming feelings and experiences out of our conscious mind until we are better resourced or supported. When this occurs, some of the experiences return to our conscious mind – often as fragments of emotions, sensations, and movements relived in the form of flashbacks or memories. When they return we have the opportunity to process each of them, as best we can, as much as such experiences can be processed, and as much as possible, in a safe and supported space.

Just as there is no single path to healing from complex trauma there is no single path to healing from ‘dissociation’. Everyone finds their own way and what works for them. For many therapy can be useful, and often ‘talk’ therapy or psychotherapy is particularly useful as it supports people to explore past experiences and strong emotions and build a stronger sense of self over time. Many people have also found EMDR and other therapeutic approaches of help – there is no one size fits all but more a process of building safety and trialling different approaches.

Mindfulness and relaxation techniques which support grounding and help to reduce distress are also supportive for many. Physical exercise which can be hard to commit to, and self-care overall also help to build resources to cope with stress and triggers. It is about a journey over time in which many people do begin to build a stable strong sense of self and a life with fewer triggers or disruptions. For others, challenges may continue to come and go at different times but it is important to know that people who experience dissociation, or are diagnosed with dissociative disorders can and do go on to live full contributing lives.

DID Awareness Day Webinar - 2023

To spread awareness on Dissociative Identity Disorder Awareness Day, the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation is hosting a webinar on Tuesday 7th March at 10am AEDT. The conversation this year will focus on what healing from dissociative disorders looks like, as well as answering your questions about what healing looks like for you. This webinar is jointly presented by ISSTD, Dr Cathy Kezelman from the Blue Knot Foundation, An Infinite Mind, Beauty After Bruises, and System Speak.

To register and find more information click the link below:

Registration: DID Awareness Webinar

Books About Dissociation:

‘Our House, Making Sense of Dissociative Identity Disorder’, and 'Understanding Dissociative Identity Disorder, A Guidebook for Survivors and Practitioners’

This beautifully illustrated picture book and guidebook set offers a broad introduction to childhood trauma and its legacies, with a focus on dissociation and DID. Written with clinical accuracy, warmth and accessibility to individuals of all ages and backgrounds, it provides a non-threatening understanding of dissociation and DID that will empower survivors and educate the friends, family and professionals who want or need to learn more about the condition.

Find more information and reviews and a discount on these resources at:

Podcast: All in the Mind – Dissociation and Coping with Trauma

This episode from the radio program ‘All in the Mind’ focusses on Dissociative Identity Disorder. Reports from the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse reminded us of the devastating impact of early abuse on mental health. Dissociative Identity Disorder can develop as a protective mechanism against trauma, and we hear the compelling account of a woman who, after a childhood of family abuse, lived with identities too numerous to count—and how she eventually became integrated. The episode also features Dr. Cathy Kezelman AM, President of Blue Knot Foundation and Professor Warwick Middleton who established the Trauma and Dissociation Unit, the first of its kind at Belmont Hospital in Brisbane.

Listen to the Podcast here:

In the News

Taking Care of Ourselves in Challenging Times. The death of Cardinal Pell was unexpected but not so the intensity of polarised responses to his passing.

Parliament to consider bid to strip entitlements of former Australian governors general for serious misconduct

A ‘Lionheart’ to some, a villain to others – George Pell’s funeral proves as divisive as his life

Child abuse survivors condemn delay in case that could defrock Peter Hollingworth

VIDEO: Former GG Peter Hollingworth faces secret abuse hearing

‘Annihilating for survivors’: the Catholic church and its plaques to abuse perpetrators

An economic report into people with disability in Australia estimates the annual cost of abuse and neglect at $46 billion.

‘Mortifying’: Cricket ACT rejects criticism of redress response