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Dissociation

Posted Feb 15 2011 6:11am
The brain is an extraordinary thing isn't it? A blob of jelly swinging around inside our heads with very little to hold it in place except a few strands of artery and nerve. It has evolved over millions of years into an incredibly complex control centre, keeping our bodies functioning via thousands of different processes, recording every event, originating emotion, reasoning, thought, and - something I find quite amazing - language. The brain is part of the central nervous system which also includes the optic nerve and the spinal nerve. All of the central nervous system is housed in bone. (I learned this by listening to the radio the other day). The peripheral nervous system is pretty well everything outside of this and it all connects up into the central nervous system and brain with "complex neural pathways". Did you know, for example, that some nerve cells are many feet long?

If you think about it our bodies are one big neural net, a large sensing machine. I think I'm right in saying that we react to danger, say touching something hot, seven times faster than thought itself. If we relied on thought alone we just wouldn't survive. This big sensing machine records everything that it encounters, every touch, every little pain, every smell; it has memory. And this process of recording evolved long before we developed language. The so-called primitive brain is a very sophisticated piece of kit.

Even more amazing things happen when we re-encounter danger. The primitive brain tells our higher brain functions to stop. It tells it to "shut up for a minute while I organise your body to get out of this situation" - seven times faster than thought remember. This is why people often have little memory of an accident or other traumatic situation. If that neural net has experienced a number of insults it ups its game. It feels it hasn't done enough to protect the body so it notches up the vigilance to the point where even the tiniest trigger can provoke the dissociation response. Then the body becomes, in an instant, ready to do any or all of the following and more or less in this order: fight, flight, freeze, flop, feed (or not feed) f*ck (or not f*ck), fart (or belch). Of course, if you happen to be in the office and someone startles you, you're hardly in a position to deck them with a left hook - but you've seen that anger response when someone gets taken unawares. I know I have, and I've experienced it myself too.  


I've had a great deal of trauma stored in my body and it is only recently that I've been able to really focus on individual symptoms such as aches and pains and ask them what they mean. The answers that come are often unbelievable and it takes a while to accept. If I deny what my body is trying to say, the pain or symptom increases until the full memory 'breaks'. This is an extraordinarly difficult process. In order to do it I've had to surmount my own conditioning and massive cultural dissociation. This ranges from 'you mustn't tell or I'll kill you' to 'child abuse doesn't exist' or even 'you're making it up'. The last one is a very handy one to tell yourself and these days I even expect to tell myself I'm making it all up a couple of days after something has emerged. It's a way of coping. 


More later - I'm fading. Need a break.
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