Autism and Dissociation: Is There a Connection?

Autism and Dissociation: Is There a Connection?

People with ASD can typically exhibit a trait of social withdrawal from others. This will look like detachment along with a powerful need for a substantial amount of alone time.  

In distinction, dissociation is marked by a separation of 1’s ideas or character from a selected atmosphere.

All of us expertise dissociation at one time or one other, resembling once we drive on autopilot on our each day commute or daydream throughout the day. Nonetheless, dissociation and autism can current a number of distinctive challenges.

One in all these obstacles is catatonia, which is marked by withdrawal from others, staring, staying nonetheless for extreme intervals, and a lack of information. A secondary concern with ASD and dissociation is a excessive degree of hysteria and trauma that results in withdrawal from others within the type of dissociative behaviors.

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Understanding dissociation

Dissociation is a psychological well being time period by which a person disconnects from thought and consciousness. This will likely contain:

  • an total feeling of being disconnected from one’s physique, 
  • reminiscence points, or 
  • a radical change from typical conduct and character.

Usually, behaviors of dissociation are the results of defending one’s self emotionally from trauma or excessive anxiousness. Not all dissociation appears the identical, nevertheless, as a number of variants exist beneath this umbrella.

There are 4 forms of major dissociation formally acknowledged: 

  1. Depersonalization
  2. Derealization
  3. Amnesia
  4. Id confusion or alteration

Depersonalization is a sense that somebody is outdoors, or indifferent, from bodily expertise. For instance, chances are you’ll mindlessly interact in a process time and again.

Moreover, derealization is a thought course of through which one sees their atmosphere as unreal. For instance, should you ever really feel you’re in a dream state throughout your waking hours, you could have skilled derealization.

Most of us are accustomed to the time period amnesia referring to forgetting vital details about oneself. That is typically used to erase from reminiscence a traumatic occasion in a single’s life. 

Id alteration and/or confusion refers to when a person shifts part of their identification or character. That is typically seen in what we name a number of character issues, the place somebody has differing personalities to deal with extreme trauma inside their lives.

What’s dissociation in autism?

Individuals with autism could expertise dissociation in a different way. Generally, it’d appear to be “freezing up” or catatonia. They may even have bother understanding and expressing feelings, a situation often called alexithymia.

Moreover, they may discover it exhausting to acknowledge their very own physique indicators, like feeling hungry or drained (interoception). They may additionally battle with realizing the place their physique is in area or recognizing faces (proprioception and prosopagnosia).

For instance, once we consider zoning out and staring blankly for an prolonged time period, it may be a results of a catatonic state. A medical skilled ought to distinguish this from seizures, which may parallel such a problem.

A young boy staring blankly and zoning out

After we take a look at alexithymia, a person can not label how they really feel a couple of specific scenario. For instance, in a battle with a peer, they might not have the ability to distinguish in the event that they really feel anger, disappointment, or pleasure.

In interoception, youngsters could get annoyed or indignant with out realizing it’s due to a bodily concern like feeling sick or drained.

Most of us can stroll with out desirous about it or contact our noses with our eyes closed, however these with proprioception points discover these duties troublesome.

Recognizing faces is one thing many people do simply, however for these with prosopagnosia, telling faces aside is hard, which may make them keep away from social interactions.

Causes of dissociation in ASD

Probably the most prevalent causes of dissociation is interpersonal traumas (these will be bodily, emotional, or sexual abuse). Moreover, points with social anxiousness and difficulties in relating with others could create traumatic or anticipatory anxieties, resulting in dissociative behaviors.

People with ASD typically have a heightened degree of sensitivity to sound, contact, and environmental stimuli. In consequence, when their nervous system turns into overtaxed, dissociation could also be a kind of “circuit breaker” to separate consciousness from the surface world.

Many people with ASD discover it troublesome to understand or deal with emotional discord, which may result in excessive stressors of emotional dysregulation and dissociative behaviors. 

How does dissociation have an effect on individuals on the spectrum?

Whereas individuals with autism share some similarities with the final inhabitants by way of dissociative traits, additionally they face distinctive challenges. As an example, 44% to 97.8% of youth with ASD are affected by bullying. These experiences can contribute to their tendency to dissociate.

Moreover, 20% to 57% of kids with autism battle with increased ranges of social anxiousness, making it tougher for them to speak with friends. Feeling remoted or dealing with discrimination resulting from their variations can even result in dissociation.

In consequence, it might be simpler for them to retreat into their very own imaginary world quite than confront the challenges of their actuality.

Many people with autism battle with sensory points. To handle these sensitivities, they may make use of coping mechanisms, together with dissociative behaviors resembling repetitive actions. They’ll act as a method to distance oneself from overwhelming sensations or to alleviate bodily discomfort.

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On high of that, immersing oneself in creativeness is usually a technique to keep away from social conditions that really feel difficult resulting from difficulties in social abilities.

Having sturdy feelings is usually a significantly uncomfortable expertise for these with ASD.
When confronted with conflicts, youngsters with autism typically cope by briefly disconnecting from their environment, which helps cut back the rapid influence of the scenario. This dissociation acts as a type of psychological break from what’s stressing the kid.

Nonetheless, in relation to duties requiring government functioning – like planning, organizing, reminiscence, and versatile considering – autistic people typically encounter challenges. Dissociation presents a method to take a break from these cognitive calls for throughout annoying occasions.

Find out how to handle autism and dissociation

Although it’s useful to know why ASD people dissociate, how can we handle autism and dissociation? First, take into account different points that mimic dissociation, resembling seizures or PTSD. Every of those points can worsen or be the first explanation for conduct.

Moreover, serving to the person to remain current is beneficial. You possibly can obtain this by serving to them observe mindfulness abilities resembling: 

  • specializing in respiration, 
  • listening to bodily sensations round them, and 
  • recognition that they’ll safely navigate inside their current atmosphere.

Different efficient methods embrace: 

  • cognitive behavioral remedy (serving to to acknowledge and alter unproductive ideas),
  • dialectical behavioral remedy (studying abilities to deal with sturdy feelings),
  • eye motion desensitization and reprocessing (using cognitive behavioral remedy with visible workouts). 

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Navigating the challenges with help and understanding 

It’s vital to grasp that every individual with autism is exclusive, so the methods used to deal with their points will differ. Remedy would possibly take time as the person learns to belief and address their fears.

These round them want to indicate empathy and endurance. It’s pure to need to step again from robust conditions, however caregivers should understand that progress could also be gradual. The purpose isn’t perfection however regular enchancment.

With the help of these round them, they’ll confront a lot of their fears with out resorting to dissociation. This entails figuring out triggers, sticking to a routine, and training mindfulness. By doing this, they’ll understand that the world outdoors of dissociation is stuffed with brightness and heat, the place they’ll really feel protected and comfy.


Q: Is dissociation widespread with autism?

A: Dissociation is a standard concern for these with ASD.  It’s believed that roughly 10-15% of people with ASD concurrently have dissociative points.

Q: What does autism dissociation really feel like?

Dissociation varies for people with ASD, relying on its kind. Catatonia seems like ‘freezing up’ or getting misplaced in ideas. Alexithymia isn’t understanding feelings, just like being abroad with out realizing the language. Interoception is feeling indignant with out realizing it’s resulting from starvation or lack of sleep. Proprioception is clumsiness resulting from a scarcity of self-awareness of 1’s physique. Prosopagnosia is problem recognizing faces or recalling names.

Q: Can autism be brought on by trauma?

A: Although we’ve got no particular single origin for ASD, dissociative behaviors can, certainly, be brought on by trauma. In lots of circumstances, the trigger for trauma in neurotypical people is trauma that may be bodily, emotional, or sexual abuse. Sadly, these with ASD are at a a lot increased threat for points as effectively, which may contribute to dissociative reactions.

Q: Can autism trigger psychotic episodes?

A: Though ASD can not trigger psychotic episodes, these with autism can even have issues resembling schizophrenia or bipolar dysfunction. Such psychological well being points would make them extra susceptible to concurrent psychotic issues. Analysis signifies that these with ASD do have a better incidence of those issues when put next with the final inhabitants.


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