Tag Archives: dissociation

Childhood emotional trauma can cause brain changes

Changes in the temporal lobe may cause temporal lobe epilepsy which can include a variety of symptoms that are less obvious than a seizure. Feelings of disorientation from temporal lobe epilepsy can include “mind-body dissociation—the feeling that one is watching one’s own actions as a detached observer.”

These studies suggest that child abuse may alter development of the left hippocampus permanently and, in so doing, cause deficits in verbal memory and dissociative symptoms that persist into adulthood. ”

The left hemisphere is specialized for perceiving and expressing language…

The research suggests that children who experience trauma may have lasting damage occur in their left temporal lobe which is a part of the brain that contains the smaller hippocampus. Temporal lobe epilepsy is uncommon but is more of a risk for children who suffered trauma of some sort. It doesn’t cause seizures that are as obvious as those that occur in other types of epilepsy. Diagnosis can be difficult also because the patient would need to be having an EEG performed while having a temporal lobe seizure.

Symptoms may include: “Because these areas constitute a sizable, varied part of the brain, TLE has a veritable catalog of possible symptoms, including sensory changes such as headache, tingling, numbness, dizziness, or vertigo; motor symptoms such as staring or twitching; or autonomic symptoms such as flushing, shortness of breath, nausea, or the stomach sensation of being in an elevator. TLE can cause hallucinations or illusions in any sense modality. Common visual illusions are of patterns, geometric shapes, flashing lights, or “Alice-in-Wonderlandlike” distortions of the sizes or shapes of objects. Other common hallucinations are of a ringing or buzzing sound or repetitive voice, a metallic or foul taste, an unpleasant odor, or the sensation of something crawling on or under the skin. Feelings of déjà vu (the unfamiliar feels familiar) or jamais vu (the familiar feels unfamiliar) are common, as is the sense of being watched or of mind-body dissociation—the feeling that one is watching one’s own actions as a detached observer. Emotional manifestations of temporal lobe seizures usually occur suddenly, without apparent cause, and cease as abruptly as they began; they include sadness, embarrassment, anger, explosive laughter (usually without feeling happy), serenity, and, quite often, fear.4

*I find this information interesting because I have had some of these symptoms in the past and my migraine headache pain was always greatest in the same spot on the left side of my head.

Ways to help protect the infant’s brain /may/ include rocking the baby (probably-gently) from side to side (based on animal research) as it seems to be calming for the brain’s cerebellar vermis which is a section that may help control electrical activity and prevent seizures. Infant rats who were handled by humans for just five minutes or those whose mother (rat) spontaneously licked and groomed them all showed lasting changes in their development,  behavior, and response to stress later in life.

ADHD like symptoms are common for people who had a childhood history of trauma and a smaller size of the cerebellar vermis is common in ADHD: “Interestingly, one of the most reliable neuroanatomical findings in ADHD is reduced size of the cerebellar vermis.”

Successful treatments are not that common which makes prevention of child abuse and neglect important for protecting children’s longterm quality of life. EMDR treatment is discussed in the article. I did find the cognitive therapy technique helpful for my own trauma history. The difficulty with traditional ‘talk therapy’ for issues that developed during early childhood is that verbal reasoning might not have been present when the trauma occurred. EMDR is a type of relaxation technique that can help the patient access deeper emotionally charged memories that aren’t based in words.

I wrote about the EMDR therapy technique in this post:  Talking about trauma with kids; PTSD, neural mapping, EMDR and reframing

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

Spiritual gardening for the dissociated soul

Trigger warning: This post is about recovery from sexual assault.

Sometimes a book can speak to you like a good friend, heart to heart, soul to soul, sharing secrets you never imagined anyone else had thought or experienced. The author wrote words many years ago but may have imagined that there would be a reader in need of the wisdom learned from hard experience.

Dissociation is a way for the mind to cope with pain or fear or with other overwhelming emotions or events. Children who experience trauma may have coped by allowing their minds to dissociate or separate from feeling the physical sensations or from being mentally present during the traumatic event. Dissociation is a natural reaction to intense experiences but it can become a lesson that is too well learned, a strategy for coping that becomes too much of a habit for the rest of life. Recovering a sense of connection to self and with the world can be difficult for the survivor of childhood trauma.

Dissociation became a habit for Karla McLaren, the author of Rebuilding the Garden: Healing the Spiritual Wounds of Childhood Sexual Assault (1997). [1] She experienced ongoing sexual assault beginning at age three. The culprit was caught but the dissociation remained for the author as a feeling of being incomplete and disconnected during her youth and young adult years.  The book grew from her personal discovery and exploration of an inner sanctuary that can exist within our minds whenever we care to imagine it and visit. She describes the inner sanctuary in terms of a garden with herself as the gardener. Sexual assault occurring during childhood violates boundaries and can take away an inner sense of self.

“Since the lasting wound of sexual assault occurs in a quiet spiritual center that no one ever mentions, it is very hard for assault survivors to understand why they don’t get better.” [page 5, 1]

The assault destroys the inner sanctuary but the survivor is not the ruined garden but is instead the gardener who can rebuild boundaries that protect and heal. Assault during childhood teaches the survivor that they have no boundaries and are open to invasion. Later in life the adult survivor may have problems relating well to others. Some survivors may be overly controlling of every aspect in their lives while others may seek stimulation and act out of control. Normal sexual relations may be difficult for some survivors.

“Many assault survivors become excellent puppeteers when sex is “happening” to them; they pull the right strings and make the right noises, but they are not present at all. They are off in a dream world, or up on the ceiling.” [page 57, 1]

Meditative relaxation is somewhat similar to the strategies described but the visualization exercises in the book delve more into the energy of the chakras and auras. The author describes the dissociated self in terms of being split. The visualization exercises are varied but aim to help the reader reconnect with their fragmented self and with the world around them.

“Not going anywhere in life, not living in peace, not truly knowing how to behave around people, relying on relationships for inner peace: these are just some of the characteristics of people who come to me for classes, and when I see them, they are often at the end of their ropes. People usually don’t come to psychic healers first.” [page 36, 1]

Seeking guidance from someone who self designates as a psychic healer may not be a first choice for most people but dissociation is the mind or psyche separating itself from the body’s present. The visualization strategies the author shares are designed to help restore a sense of an inner core that is always safe and to help reconnect to the world.

A lifelong habit of dissociation isn’t treatable with a pill. Anti-anxiety medications may be provided to help cope with anxiety if that is also present. Cognitive therapy, retraining the brain, is the most effective strategy used currently for treating people with dissociative disorders. But for that you would need an appointment with a therapist who believes in dissociative disorders. So in the meantime, there’s always Amazon. Finding an author who believes in the problem and believes that recovery is possible is at least a place to start even if it’s not a first choice. [1]

Gloriosa greets the day in the cheerful way, that daisies all share.

Gloriosa greets
the day in the cheerful way,
that all daisies share.

/Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./