Have you you ever felt like you were not connected? With your mind, your body, yourself, the world around you? Following is an extract from my memoir, "Raccoons Respect My Piss But Watch Out For Skunks":
It's a profoundly overwhelming world out there, very difficult to negotiate, and most of the time—very frankly—I don't want to be in it. Certainly, I spent a good deal of my childhood wishing I was very far removed from it. I found refuge, instead, in my own inner world. Over time, I succeeded in tuning out just about the whole world around me. Engage me in a conversation, and sooner or later you will pick up an odd mannerism: My eyes glaze over, I'm unresponsive. I am not present. Literally—I am somewhere else.
This planet is simply a challenge for me. Always has been. Sometimes, my mind has to flee. Where it goes I have no idea, no recollection. I like to think it's back to the planet of my birth, a place where I belong.
A kind lady beneath a tree beckons me. She serves up a plate of Thai noodles. I help myself to some watermelon chunks. You're safe here, says the look on her face. Welcome home.
I am describing a relatively mild form of what is known as dissociation, which comes in two varieties - depersonalization (detachment from self) and derealization (detachment from our surroundings). Dissociation affects all of us to some degree - a feeling of not being there, of not being anchored. On more harmless levels, we may momentarily tune out our surroundings or lose track of the conversation or of events. Then we snap back to reality and make a lame joke about having a senior moment and nobody thinks we’re weird.
I have a bit more trouble explaining myself. Actually, I can’t. I just have to hope that people take me in stride - a quirky guy who is nevertheless fun to be around. This was not the case when I was younger. There I was, off in space, the object of endless ridicule, from kids my age, from my teachers, from my parents.
Others are not nearly so lucky. In its more severe forms, there is the feeling of being Keanu Reeves sucked through the matrix, not knowing which reality we have just landed in. Try faking normal - much less harmless - when your world(s) won’t cooperate with you. To outsiders, one is likely to come across as the weirdo who never recovered from the bad acid at Woodstock.
At the extreme end is dissociative identity disorder, where certain people take on new identities, often totally unaware of their previous ones.
Dissociation is a favorite theme of novelists and dramatists and film-makers, but maybe because there is no pill for it you don’t hear too much about it in psychiatry. Indeed, psychiatry defaults to schizophrenia or another diagnosis. From the DSM-5 (which comes into effect next year), under the entry “Depersonalization-Derealization Disorder”: