What is the difference between meditation and dissociation?

When we teach clients to meditate, aren’t we teaching them to dissociate? And if, dissociation is the problem, then are we not adding to the problem?

Dissociation is created by fear, either chronic or acute.

The sense of self that is associated with the body, leaves the body. It is localized elsewhere, as if looking at the body. For example, a child sex abuse victim saying she watched the abuse from the light fixtures, as if removed from her body.

That is the survival brain at work. The thinking part of the brain, which I think is the cerebral cortex, is not being activated. That is because, in survival the brain doesn’t access thinking, it just reacts and in this case, the mind separates from the body.

The choice to go there is not conscious. It is forced upon awareness by violence that makes staying int he body as the body’s consciousness, not possible. In that moment, it is not a choice, because what it is seeming in the body/mind/human experience is not tolerable, – it is traumatic.

Meditation is relaxing the connection between the self and the body. To de-localize the sense of self and see that it is not integrally attached to the body. The body and the sense of self are not the same thing, however, they always seem to appear together.

When the sense of self separates from the body, there can be a sense of no-self and there can also be a sense of self removed from the body, and in this way, dissociated.

Are these two the same?

In the first case, the ‘re-localized’ self is the result of fear, in the second case (meditation) the ‘re-localized’ self is the result of conscious choice, relaxation and intention.

How are these different.

In the first case, the survival brain is triggered by fear, anger, grief. This results in a sympathetic stimulus response in the autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic freeze response.

It may be that in the second case, the survival brain is accessed by “opening” the brain so the circuits are open and relaxed, allowing for the development of the parasympathetic response, which is para-sympathetic freeze.

It seems to me that it is possible that there are two different types of dissociation, and the second type is helpful to the effective functioning of the human being. In fact, the first type (unconscious dissociation from stress for fear) did serve to assist in the survival of the human being, it’s just that when it happens unconsciously, it can cause difficulties for the person.

Another part of this is the assumption we make that the “sense-of-self” goes with, or is attached to the body. And localized, for all intents and purposes, somewhere within the body.

That may not be true.

Can there be a sense-of-self without a body?
Can there be a body without a sense-of-self?

The sense-of-self (awareness) is the ‘reality’ of the body, in the same way that the ocean is the ‘reality’ of the wave. You can’t have a wave without an ocean but you can have an ocean without a wave.

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  • Amy Paquet

    I used to meditate a lot, but started dissociating when meditating, several months ago. I have CPTSD and have had a really rough go at things, recently. It has been really hard to explain to my meditation partner why I cannot meditate. They state that I dissociate whether I meditate or not, so keep meditating.
    I usually feel loose and relaxed, just after meditating… but become very highly agitated, maybe two or so hours later.
    It’s distressing.
    How do I explain WHY it’s so uncomfortable?

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