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Feeling Disconnected

The first time I experienced feeling disconnected from myself was a period when there were a lot of changes in my life, and I was under a lot of stress. It felt like I was just going through the motions, and everything felt off. I thought there was something wrong with me or that I was losing control of my thoughts and actions because I did not feel grounded.

If you have experienced this, you are NOT alone. That disconnected feeling can actually be a symptom of anxiety or panic attacks and is especially common in times of high stress. It is more formally known as dissociation. What helped me to get through those moments of dissociation was learning more about it and learning tips to manage my stress and re-ground myself during moments of anxiety.  

What is Dissociation?

Dissociation is when you feel a disconnect between your thoughts, feelings, surroundings, behaviour, or identity. An example of dissociation is daydreaming. If you have ever experienced daydreaming, you know the feeling passes and you move on with your day. Dissociation as a symptom of anxiety or stress can stick around a little longer and feel more unsettling than daydreaming. It is completely normal and okay to dissociate, it can just be worth looking into if it is affecting your day-to-day life, lasts for a long period of time, or is causing you to feel distress.

Depersonalization VS Derealization

If you go searching for more information on dissociation, you may stumble across terms such a depersonalization or derealization. Both terms are a type of dissociation. Depersonalization describes when you feel disconnected or detached from yourself, while derealization describes when you feel disconnected from your environment and the things around you.

Why Does This Happen?

There are many reasons a person may experience dissociation. Possible factors can range from past trauma, high amounts of stress, or depression and anxiety. The most important part is to realize it can happen to anyone, there is nothing ‘wrong’ with you, and you are not going crazy. Fortunately, there are also many approaches to help you if you are finding your dissociation is interfering with daily life.

Check out these other resources for other possible causes: Anxiety Centre, Cleveland Clinic

Strategies to Help

Because these feelings can happen with high levels of stress or anxiety, it can help to try strategies that address managing stress and anxiety.

Strategy 1: 5-4-3-2-1


Shift your focus from your inner worrying by directing attention to the environment around you.



5 things you can see (your hands, the sky, colour of the floor)

4 things you can physically feel (your feet on ground, clothes on your body, a friend’s hand)

3 things you can hear (wind blowing, your breath, people talking around you)

2 things you can smell (Fresh-cut grass, coffee, soap)

1 thing you can taste (a mint, gum, fresh air)



Strategy 2: Box Breathing


Move slowly and gently through this breathing exercise.

1.     Breathe out slowly, releasing all the air from your lungs.

2.     Breathe in through your nose as you slowly count to four in your head. Be conscious of how the air fills your lungs and stomach.

3.     Hold your breath for a count of four.

4.     Exhale for another count of four.

5.     Hold your breath again for a count of four.

6.     Repeat for three to four rounds.



Strategy 3: Tell a Loved One or Write it Down


Perhaps one of the most helpful strategies I have found is talking the feelings out. Depending on your comfort level, talking with a friend or a family member on how you are feeling in the moment can help. Sometimes just letting someone know you are feeling disconnected can make it feel not as scary and lonely of an experience. If you are not comfortable or unable to share with a loved one, try writing down how you are felling. It may help draw you to the present moment and allow you to sort out how you are feeling.


Check these other resources out for more ideas on managing stress and anxiety:

·       Mayo Clinic

·       Healthy U blog post on anxiety


Last Thoughts

Dissociation can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be! Most people will experience some form of dissociation at some point in their life and it is normal. If it is affecting your daily life, implementing some stress and anxiety management strategies, or reaching out to a mental health professional are a couple ways to prioritize your wellbeing.

You can feel like yourself again 😊




About the Author

Abby (She/Her)

Hello! My name is Abby. I am a Healthy U volunteer for this academic year. I am currently in my 3rd year of Kinesiology. Health topics that interest me include strategies to manage stress/anxiety, self-care practices, and using movement to improve mental health. When I have some downtime, you can find me taking a dance class or settling down with a cup of tea and a good book!



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