Dissociation at Work: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments and Coping Methods

Last Updated
March 7, 2023
Dissociation at work. lady sitting with her head in her hands looking stressed

Impact of Dissociation
Coping Method To Stop Dissociation
Helpful Products

- Decreased productivity
- Difficulty in task completion
- Impaired communication
- Strained relationships
- Increased stress and burnout
- Job dissatisfaction
- Poor performance evaluations

- Seek professional help
- Grounding techniques
- Establish a routine
- Take breaks
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle
- Stay organized
- Limit distractions
- Communicate with your supervisor
- Social support
- Practice self-compassion

Do you often emotionally check out at work – or even zone out completely? Do you go into a state of "flight" and feel disconnected from what's happening around you? If so, you may be experiencing dissociative symptoms in the workplace.

Dissociation is a common experience, yet it can become an issue if it hinders your productivity at work. In this blog, we'll explore the common signs of workplace dissociation, and how it impacts your workplace. We discuss the causes, signs, and symptoms you should look out for, as well as some tips to help manage dissociation and strategies for managing it.

What is Dissociation?

The American Psychiatric Association has defined dissociation as a disruption to the usual integration of behavior, memory, identity, consciousness, emotion, perception, body representation, and motor control. This interruption can result in fractured experiences that may feel disconnected from reality or normal life [1].

Dissociation can range from mild to severe, and most people experience dissociation to some degree in their daily lives[1]. Examples of mild dissociation include daydreaming or feeling "checked out" while driving long distances.

If a person experiences an on-set of dissociative symptoms for a long time, they may be suffering from an underlying mental health condition known as Dissociative Disorder [1].

According to American Psychiatric Association, there are five types of Dissociative Disorders[1].

  • Dissociative Identity Disorder (this is formerly known as multiple personality disorder)
  • Dissociative Amnesia
  • Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder
  • Other Specified Dissociative Disorders
  • Unspecified Dissociative Disorder

Helpful tip

Learning grounding techniques, seeking therapy, practicing self-care, and utilizing mindfulness exercises are effective ways to regain connection and gradually get out of dissociation.
A girl with posttraumatic stress disorder

Understanding Types of Dissociative Disorders and How They Manifest



Depersonalization is a dissociative experience where individuals feel detached from their own bodies and thoughts as if they are observing themselves from an external perspective.

Common symptoms:

Emotional numbness, feeling disconnected from one's body, feeling like an observer of one's own life, and difficulty recognizing one's own reflection.


An employee experiencing depersonalization may find it challenging to connect with their emotions during a team meeting or feel as if they are watching their workday unfold from an outsider's perspective.



Derealization involves feeling detached from one's surroundings as if the external world is unreal, distorted, or dream-like.

Common symptoms:

Distortions in perception, such as seeing objects as blurry or distorted, feeling like the world is flat or two-dimensional, and experiencing a sense of time distortion.


An employee with derealization may struggle to concentrate on their work tasks, as they feel like their office environment is an illusory or dream-like space.

Dissociative Amnesia


Dissociative amnesia is characterized by an inability to recall important personal information or specific events, often related to a traumatic or highly stressful experience.

Common symptoms:

Memory gaps, difficulty recalling certain events or periods in life, and confusion about personal identity.


A worker with dissociative amnesia may have trouble remembering important deadlines or project details, potentially impacting their job performance and team collaboration.

Identity Alterations


Identity alterations involve a disruption in one's sense of self, which can manifest as multiple personality states or identities (also known as Dissociative Identity Disorder).

Common symptoms:

Switching between different personality states, memory lapses between identity shifts, and differences in preferences or abilities among the various identities.


An employee experiencing identity alterations may display inconsistent work habits, fluctuating between periods of high productivity and disorganization, depending on the active identity state. [7]

Fun fact: Dissociation serves as an unhealthy coping mechanism because it hinders long-term healing and integration.

A girl with a mental health issue

The Link Between Stress and Dissociation

The human brain is equipped to handle a certain amount of stress. However, when stress becomes overwhelming or chronic, the brain might use dissociation as a coping mechanism to protect itself from emotional distress. This response can be both adaptive and maladaptive, depending on the circumstances and the severity of the dissociation. [8]

Causes of Dissociation

Wikipedia states that several causes of dissociation exist. These include but are not limited to trauma (especially early life traumatic memories or physical abuse), anxiety, neurobiological mechanisms, and psychoactive drugs [2]. 

. [9]

A man struggling to deal his dissociative experiences

Workplace Culture and Dissociation

A toxic workplace culture can contribute to the experience of dissociation at work. Factors such as high-pressure deadlines, unreasonable expectations, constant criticism, and workplace bullying can lead to chronic stress, increasing the risk of dissociation in employees.

Childhood Trauma and its Long-Term Effects

Childhood trauma refers to any adverse experience during one's early years, such as abuse, neglect, or witnessing violence. These experiences can have long-lasting effects on an individual's mental health and emotional well-being. Research has shown that children exposed to trauma are more likely to develop various psychological issues, including dissociation, in adulthood.

A woman struggling with dissociation

The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Dissociation

Neurobiological Factors

The human brain continues to develop throughout childhood and adolescence, making it particularly vulnerable to the effects of trauma. Studies have shown that traumatic experiences can alter the brain's structure and functioning, particularly in areas associated with memory, emotion regulation, and stress response.

These changes can increase the likelihood of dissociative symptoms in adulthood, as the brain struggles to process and integrate traumatic memories.

Attachment Theory

Attachment theory posits that secure attachments to caregivers during childhood are crucial for healthy emotional development. Children who experience trauma may develop insecure or disorganized attachment styles, leading to difficulties in forming healthy relationships and regulating emotions in adulthood.

Dissociation may serve as a coping mechanism for individuals with insecure attachment styles, helping them manage overwhelming emotions and maintain emotional distance from others.

Dissociation as a Survival Mechanism

For children exposed to trauma, dissociation can serve as a protective mechanism, helping them escape from the immediate emotional pain and distress associated with the traumatic event. By detaching from the traumatic experience, children can maintain a sense of safety and control in an otherwise chaotic and unpredictable environment.

However, this adaptive coping strategy can become maladaptive in adulthood, as individuals continue to rely on dissociation to manage stress and emotional distress, leading to persistent dissociative symptoms. [10]

Important: Coping mechanisms are adaptive strategies that help individuals manage stress and navigate challenges, while defense mechanisms are unconscious psychological processes that protect against anxiety by distorting reality. Understanding the distinction between coping and defense mechanisms can promote healthier emotional regulation.

A man struggling with post traumatic stress

Signs of Dissociation at Work

WebMD refers to several dissociation symptoms and signs, which include [3];

  • Out-of-body experience, including feeling like a different person at times
  • Emotional numbness and detachment 
  • Decreased sensory perception
  • Altered sense of time
  • Tunnel vision or limited field of vision 
  • Catatonia or physical immobility and loss of motor control  
  • Absorption in a fantasy world that seems incredibly real

In the workplace environment, some of the most common signs and symptoms of dissociation include:

  • Impaired memory or confusion during tasks 
  • Difficulty concentrating on work-related activities 
  • Problems with decision-making and problem-solving 
  • Slowed reaction time or impulsivity in responding to events, stimuli, or tasks 
  • Inability to comprehend complex instructions or thoughts 
  • A feeling of being disconnected from one's body or environment during work-related activities

If you experience any of these signs, you should talk to a mental health professional to help identify the underlying cause because dissociation can sometimes be a symptom of a number of mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or anxiety [5].

A man struggling with his post traumatic stress disorder

Impact of Dissociation at Work

Although your employer can not discriminate against you due to a mental illness, the effects of dissociation can have serious impacts on your ability to do your job[4]. Dissociative symptoms can make it difficult to focus, concentrate and stay on task. Memory deficits can lead to missed deadlines or mistakes in work. Dissociation can also cause a decrease in motivation, a lack of energy, or fatigue and lead to work absenteeism.

These can lead to negative relationships with co-workers and supervisors, as well as potential disciplinary action. So, even though you have mild or infrequent symptoms, it is important to tell your manager and seek support in the workplace.

Treatment Options for Dissociation

Treatment options vary depending on the type of dissociation and the severity of the symptoms. Treatment typically includes psychotherapy and medication used to treat other mental disorders like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety[6]. Psychotherapy treatments include;

  • hypnosis - to help disconnect senses from memories of the traumatic event;
  • cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) - to challenge false beliefs;
  • creative art therapy - to help express feelings.

Medications include antidepressants, antianxiety, and sleep medications [6]. Your mental health provider will assess your symptoms and decide the best treatment plan for you.

Fun fact

The benefits of therapy are vast and include improved self-awareness, enhanced coping skills, emotional healing, personal growth, and the cultivation of healthier relationships and behaviors.
A woman learning to deal with dissociation

Coping Methods For Dissociation 

While the best treatment for dissociation is therapy and medication, there are some things you can do on your own to cope with this condition. Here are a few coping methods that you can try:

  • Practice deep breathing: Take several deep breaths and try to focus on your surroundings. You can try looking around the room and counting the things that you can see, things that you can touch, etc. This can help you stay grounded and in the present moment.
  • Distract yourself: If you feel like you're losing touch with reality, try to do something that will keep you in the present moment. Listen to music, take a walk, or do an activity that requires focus.
  • Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness and meditation can help you gain control over your thoughts and feelings. Focusing on the present moment helps you to stay in tune with reality and can help reduce anxiety.
  • Reach out for help: Talk to someone that you trust, such as a friend, family member, or therapist. Sharing your experiences with someone who understands, can help you feel less alone and may provide helpful insights.

Creating a Supportive Work Environment

Employers can help employees who experience dissociation by fostering a supportive and inclusive work environment. This may include providing reasonable accommodations, offering flexible work hours, promoting open communication, and providing access to mental health resources, such as OnlineTherapy.com.

When to Seek Professional Help

If dissociation at work is significantly impacting your daily functioning, it is essential to seek professional help. Mental health professionals can help you explore the underlying causes of your dissociation and provide guidance on coping strategies and treatment options.


Experiencing dissociation in the workplace can significantly hinder your efficiency and concentration, making it essential to remain attentive and anchored. We've touched upon the triggers, indicators, and manifestations to be vigilant about, in addition to offering guidance on handling dissociation. If the sensation becomes too intense or unmanageable, don't hesitate to consult a therapist for assistance. We invite you to share your insights on online therapy in the comments section below, and let's foster a constructive, conversation around this vital topic.


What triggers dissociation?

Dissociation can be triggered by a variety of different factors, including trauma, stress, psychiatric disorders, and substance abuse. An individual's environment or lifestyle can also be a contributing factor.

How long does dissociation last?

The length of time that dissociation lasts can vary depending on the individual. Some people experience it for a few seconds, while others may feel disconnected from reality for several hours or even days.


  1. Dissociation debates: everything you know is wrong
  2. Dissociation (psychology)
  3. What Is Dissociation?
  4. Depression, PTSD, & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights
  5. Dissociation in relation to other mental health conditions
  6. Dissociative Disorder
  7. Research Gate: Evaluation of the Evidence for the Trauma and Fantasy Models of Dissociation
  8. Research Gate: Cognitive Processes in Dissociation: An Analysis of Core Theoretical Assumptions
  9. Research Gate: Trauma-related Dissociation in the Workplace

Subscribe to our newsletter

We’ll never send you spam or share your email address.
Find out more in our Privacy Policy.

Leave a Reply

April 11, 2024
ADHD Breakthrough: Bionic Reading Unlocks New Levels of Focus

Bionic reading transforms the reading experience for ADHD individuals by guiding the eyes for focus and understanding. Dive into the world of bionic reading.

Read More
April 11, 2024
The Best Shopping Addiction Workbooks

Find the best shopping addiction workbooks to guide your journey to recovery, offering structured programs, practical tools, and empowering strategies.

Read More
April 11, 2024
The Best Verbal Abuse Books

Discover the best verbal abuse books for understanding, coping, and healing from this damaging behavior, offering expert guidance and support.

Read More
April 10, 2024
The Best Books on Bullying

Explore our curated list of the best books on bullying, offering insights and strategies to understand, prevent, and address bullying effectively.

Read More
ADHD Breakthrough: Bionic Reading Unlocks New Levels of Focus

Bionic reading transforms the reading experience for ADHD individuals by guiding the eyes for focus and understanding. Dive into the world of bionic reading.

Read More
Is Postpartum Depression Hereditary? | Exploring the Genetic Factors and Risk Factors

Explore the complexities of postpartum depression and genetics in our blog 'Is Postpartum Depression Hereditary?' for insights into maternal mental health.

Read More
Trauma Responses In Relationships: The Importance, Types & Effects

Explore 'Trauma Responses in Relationships' and learn to navigate emotional challenges in intimate partnerships for stronger, healthier connections.

Read More


Colorful face with gears representing brains logo for shrinks-office.com

Subscribe to our newsletter

Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice.
We always recommend speaking to a professional when it comes to your mental healht.
As an amazon affiliate and other affilate agent. We list affilate programs and links in our website.
Seraphinite AcceleratorOptimized by Seraphinite Accelerator
Turns on site high speed to be attractive for people and search engines.