Beyond Daydreaming: Unpacking Dissociation’s Impact on Professional Life : Future Focus Counselling & Consulting


Dissociation is a psychological phenomenon that manifests as a disconnection between thoughts, identity, consciousness, and memory. People often experience dissociation as a coping mechanism, especially during high-stress situations, allowing them to detach from immediate emotional or physical pain. In the workplace, this can surface subtly, influencing an individual’s performance, engagement, and interaction with colleagues.

Understanding Dissociation

What is Dissociation?

Dissociation encompasses a range of experiences, from mild detachment, like daydreaming, to severe disconnection, such as dissociative identity disorder (DID). It is a complex response that helps individuals endure and navigate traumatic or stressful situations by creating a psychological distance from the distressing event.

Types of Dissociation

The spectrum of dissociative experiences includes:

  • Derealization: Feeling detached from one’s surroundings, where the world seems unreal.
  • Depersonalization: Experiencing a sense of detachment from oneself, feeling like an observer of one’s actions, thoughts, or feelings.
  • Dissociative Amnesia: Having gaps in memory, including events, personal information, or periods of time.
  • Dissociative Fugue: A rare form of amnesia involving unexpected travel or wandering, often accompanied by confusion about one’s identity or the assumption of a new identity.

Causes and Triggers

Dissociation often develops as a response to trauma or continuous high-stress environments. It can be triggered by events that overwhelm an individual’s capacity to cope, including workplace conflicts, excessive workload, harassment, or a lack of support.

Dissociation as a Survival Mechanism

Historical and Psychological Perspective

Historically, dissociation has been linked to survival in extreme conditions, such as during traumatic events. Psychologically, it serves as a defense mechanism, helping individuals to distance themselves from experiences that are too emotionally or physically painful to absorb fully.

Coping with Stress and Trauma

In the context of work, dissociation allows individuals to continue functioning in demanding or toxic environments. It can enable them to maintain productivity and fulfill job requirements despite underlying stress or unresolved emotional issues. However, while it serves as a short-term survival strategy, chronic dissociation may lead to longer-term psychological difficulties and can impact overall well-being.

Recognizing Dissociation at Work

Symptoms and Signs

Dissociation in the workplace can be subtle or overt, manifesting through various symptoms such as:

  • Lapses in Concentration: Difficulty focusing, frequent daydreaming, or losing track of conversations and tasks.
  • Memory Issues: Forgetting meetings, deadlines, or previously learned information.
  • Emotional Numbness: Lack of emotional response to situations that typically elicit emotions.
  • Physical Detachment: Feeling disconnected from one’s body or experiencing the world as unreal or dreamlike.

Impact on Job Performance and Relationships

Dissociation can affect an individual’s productivity, leading to missed deadlines, errors in work, and difficulty managing responsibilities. It may also strain professional relationships, as colleagues might perceive the affected person as aloof, disinterested, or inconsistent.

Personal Stories of Dissociation at Work

Anecdotal evidence highlights the diverse ways dissociation manifests in professional settings. For instance, a healthcare worker might dissociate when dealing with the continuous pressure of emergency situations, functioning on autopilot to cope with the stress. Another example could be a corporate employee who experiences depersonalization during high-stakes meetings, feeling detached and observing themselves from outside their body.

Coping Strategies

Immediate Actions

When feeling dissociated at work, it’s crucial to recognize the signs and take immediate steps to ground oneself. Simple actions include:

Long-term Strategies

Managing dissociation involves addressing underlying stressors and emotional concerns through:

  • Therapy and Counseling: Professional help can be essential in understanding and mitigating dissociative experiences.
  • Work-life Balance: Ensuring sufficient rest, recreation, and personal time to reduce overall stress.
  • Support Systems: Building a network of supportive colleagues, friends, and family members to provide emotional backing and understanding.


Dissociation at work is a complex phenomenon that serves as a survival mechanism during periods of high stress or trauma. Recognizing the signs of dissociation, such as lapses in concentration, memory issues, emotional numbness, and a sense of detachment, is crucial for timely intervention and support. Personal stories of dissociation highlight its prevalence across various professions, underlining the need for awareness and understanding.

Additional Resources

Here is a great video explaining what disassociation is and how we do it more than we think, especially in high-stress and traumatic moments.

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I am licensed to practice in Washington State and the following Canadian Provinces: Yukon, British Columbia, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland.