S3 E27

“Dissociation is a big way that we keep from feeling the pain of whatever we’re about to experience when we’re caught <by a predator>. Dissociation is a normal defense mechanism that helps us cope during a traumatic event. And so it’s really natural to experience it when you’re in a natural disaster, an invasive medical procedure, or in a traumatic event- abuse of some kind. But it becomes problematic when the environment is no longer life threatening, when it’s no longer traumatic but our body is reacting as if it still is.”

-Elisabeth Kristof, Founder of Neuro Somatic Intelligence Coaching and BrainBased.com

Have you ever driven somewhere on autopilot or lost track of a conversation that you’re in the middle of with someone? 

Have you lost childhood memories?

Do you experience body dysmorphia, inner critic or perfectionism? 

Have you experienced body violations?

Do you struggle to feel pain- physical or emotional?

Do you engage in avoidance behaviors like scrolling social media, anxiety, numbing out after work or overeating? 

If so, then we have Dissociation in common and you’re in the right place! We’re so glad you’re here to listen to our intimate discussion about Dissociation. 

Dissociation is a protective and reflexive response that our body and nervous system use to keep us safe. It has a wide spectrum of ways that it can show up in your life. As you listen, please remember to hold yourself with grace and love and keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with you for experiencing Dissociation. 

We’ll be sharing our personal experiences with Dissociation in this episode along with the following highlights to give you a clear and deep understanding:

  • Elisabeth explains what’s happening in our brain- specifically the thalamus and amygdala- when we move into Dissociation and how it affects our memories
  • How Dissociation blocks our interoceptive system and the long term physical and emotional consequences 
  • Elisabeth uses a bike riding example to explain how the interoceptive systems works
  • The relationship between the Freeze trauma response and Dissociation
  • How body dysmorphia and being in survival mode can lead to an abusive relationship with our body
  • How you can reconnect to your body and healing using Neuro Somatic Intelligence tools like vagus nerve decompression, upregulating the sympathetic nervous system and intentional movements
  • The importance of using minimum effective dose with nervous system tools
  • The hierarchical role that the Visual System plays in body dysmorphia and Dissociation   

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Listen to more episodes of Trauma Rewired HERE

[00:00:00] Elisabeth: The other day I was walking through the state park by my house and I lost my keys. I searched for them everywhere, I couldn’t find them, and then finally I realized I’d absentmindedly left them in the bathroom. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but for me, it is a flag that I am in a dissociated state. That I’m moving into dissociation at least. And it used to happen to me all of the time. I would leave my wallet, my cell phone, my keys, my purse, everywhere and anywhere. Because I was living in a state of chronic dissociation. 

And this moment for me of being able to recognize that was really powerful. Because I was able to pause, look at myself and my surroundings with altitude and then drop into my body for a moment and realize, yeah, I don’t really feel my body. I can’t really feel my feet. And I realized that in my mind, there were all these thought loops going around. I was really stuck in a Freeze state of a lot of indecision and a lot of overwhelm.

[00:00:56] And then I knew what I could do about it. I had neuro tools to start to make it safe to come back into my body. And then to process some of the emotions that were going on underneath that maybe that dissociation was protecting me from. Luis Mojica, a Somatic Practitioner that’s been on the show before, says, “self regulation is when my conscious mind finds safety within my body.” And dissociation is really the opposite of that. When our nervous system and our body are protecting us from feeling what’s going on inside by moving into that well worn reflexive path of dissociation. It occurs on a spectrum all the way from social media scrolling and daydreaming a lot to being completely out of body or having a dissociative episode.

[00:01:38] And it’s really important to look at this and understand it so that we can be Present, so that we can be embodied and so that we can get the most out of all of our healing practices. I think you guys are going to really enjoy this episode today where Jennifer and I take a deep dive into dissociation. It’s one of our most popular episodes. We look at the neurology of dissociation, how to recognize it and what are some practical, actionable things you can do to start to re-pattern this response. 

[00:02:08] Elisabeth: Welcome to Trauma Rewired, the podcast that teaches you about your nervous system, how trauma lives in the body, and what you can do to heal. I’m your co host, Elisabeth Kristof, founder of BrainBased.com, an online community where we train the nervous system for resilience, behavior change, trauma re-patterning and to improve performance in all areas of life. 

[00:02:27] Jennifer: And I’m your co-host Jennifer Wallace. And I specialize in preparing your nervous system for peak somatic psychedelic healing experiences, and then integrating those messages into your everyday life and into your nervous system. I’m also a Junior Educator at the Neuro Somatic Intelligence Coaching Certification. 

[00:02:47] Jennifer: Okay, today we are recording something that we are all too familiar with and really quite good at actually disguising. And that’s dissociation, the protective output of dissociation.

[00:03:01] Elisabeth: Yep, this one is one that I am intimately familiar with and excited to talk about today because I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about dissociation. I think people might find themselves in it more than they think. I think people often think of dissociation as something that’s really severe, like having multiple personalities or losing large chunks of time, but it’s really on a spectrum, right?

[00:03:25] Elisabeth: And there are many times in my life where I dissociate. Where I am somewhere, I’m speaking, I’m talking, I’m Present with you, but I’m really disconnected from my body. I might have trouble remembering that later. I can’t feel the sensations that are in my body. Like you’re doing a presentation and you check out of that experience a little bit because it’s overwhelming.

[00:03:44] Elisabeth: Or you’re having a difficult conversation or maybe an intimate conversation, with someone and you just feel detached, you feel a little bit emotionally numb, you lose a little bit of mobility, you’re lost in some other world and thoughts and maybe don’t even remember how you got somewhere. Even daydreaming can be a mild form of dissociation.

[00:04:07] Elisabeth: And so there’s lots of ways that it can show up. And I think that it’s just such a big spectrum. It’s also important to remember too that there’s nothing wrong with you if you dissociate. It’s just another protective, reflexive response of a body and a nervous system that’s trying to keep us safe.

[00:04:25] Jennifer: Yeah,  it is really fascinating and I really want to explore the spectrum of it because it can happen just when you’re driving and you get on that autopilot or it can be as severe as losing real time. And we’ve talked about it here before that we feel like we’ve lost years of our lives, especially our childhood years. I’ve said before there, I can’t remember what my childhood bedroom really looks like. I don’t think if there were pictures to prove I was there, I don’t even know that I would remember it. And sometimes I get confused on the memory of the picture and the memory that lives in my mind. And I can tell you, it can trigger some real feelings of guilt and grief. Like when my friends will remember something and they’ll laugh and be like, Oh my God, remember this? And it’s like, I try and fake it. And then in the end, because the memory goes on and on, I’m like, I’m sorry, I can’t remember that. And I feel bad about that.

[00:05:22] Elisabeth: Yeah, I think that that’s a very common phenomenon for people who experience a lot of dissociation is to have limited memory of blocks of time, of certain ages of life, and we’ll talk a little bit more about what’s going on in our brain and why that is, but just a big picture wise for people. General definition of dissociation, because it’s a really complex, diverse phenomenon. So it’s broadly defined as a disruption or discontinuity of the normal subjective integration of one or more aspects of our psychological functioning. So that could include your memory, but it could also include your identity, your consciousness, your perception, or even your motor control.

[00:06:06] Elisabeth: So we start to lose the ability to integrate and to see, to take in, to our cognitive mind, certain parts of our senses. And this can have a wide range of symptoms. It could be like depersonalization, emotional numbing, memory fragmentation, but it can also lead to bodily symptoms too. Like the inability to feel pain, feeling really lightheaded, feeling out of your body.

[00:06:31] Elisabeth: And so there’s a lot of different ways that this can show up. But all of these are things that are happening at a survival level in our brain. Our brain is making a decision that the stimulus coming in is not safe. And so there’s a part of our brain, our thalamus, that’s our gatekeeper of all of the sensory information that comes in. Because remember, there’s a lot of information coming in all the time. And that part of our brain decides what to send up to our cognitive mind, what’s important for our survival. And also what’s too threatening, what we can handle. And so it may make a decision to block out some of that stimulus because it feels too threatening.

[00:07:14] Elisabeth: And so we really are not taking in that sensory stimulus in our cognitive mind and our higher order thinking systems when we’re in a dissociative state. And so, yeah, we can’t remember because it didn’t make it up to our cognitive mind. It was blocked because it was too threatening. It was too much. 

[00:07:31] Jennifer: My God, that is like, it’s pretty wild actually to kind of think about that as it is a protective mechanism to think that your brain and your nervous system have that level of intelligence to completely, like you said, it could be physical, it could be emotional. And what about the interoceptive system? Does that have something to do also with dissociation?

[00:07:56] Elisabeth: Yeah, absolutely. So let’s dive a little bit deeper into this as a protective mechanism. I think it’s really important for people to understand these responses. Like you said, there is a natural intelligence there and it is maybe what saved us in certain moments from nervous system overload. From too much dysregulation of the nervous system, especially when you’re a young child and you’re in a situation where you’re not going to be able to Fight, you’re not going to be able to flee, so you Freeze and you often go into the trauma responsive Flop. And part of that is dissociation because experiencing that event, that traumatic event, that huge amount of stress would be so painful, so emotionally painful, perhaps physically painful and the amount of stress and dysregulation would be so severe that it’d be really hard for a small developing nervous system to process and discharge.

[00:08:52] Elisabeth: And on top of that, it might mean severing the connection, the attachment bond, with the caretaker and that we also need for our survival. And so our system really is doing the most adaptive thing to keep us regulated, to keep us safe and to keep us alive. So when we talk about the interoceptive system, this is the system that allows our brain to know what’s going on inside of our body, right? All of our organs are sensory. Our brain takes in all of that information about our body temperature, what’s happening in each of our organs, our respiration, and all of this is called your interoceptive system, the signals coming from inside. So when we’re in a dissociated state, a lot of times those signals are the signals that are getting blocked by the brain from making it up to our cognitive mind.

[00:09:44] Elisabeth: And we start to, with time, if that happens frequently, we start to lose that skill, that interoceptive skill to be able to feel and understand what’s going on inside of our body. Because as we continue to disconnect from it, those neuropathways, we don’t use them and we start to lose them. They become less efficient, more difficult for our brain to feel into, and so we start to lose interoceptive skill, the ability to feel things inside of us, and interceptive accuracy. A lot of times we then start to predict too much threat to the sensations inside of our body where they’re isn’t really any. So we lose interception ability and we also start to develop a problem with the accuracy of our interoceptive system. 

[00:10:35] Jennifer: What does it look like to be taking an inaccurate interoceptive information? Can you give us a little bit more detail about that? And then how do we start to retrain our interoceptive system to bring us out of states of dissociation? 

[00:10:52] Elisabeth: So our interoceptive system is predictive. It takes in information and it integrates that information primarily in our insular cortex. That’s what takes that information in, and it integrates it, and then it makes a prediction, and then it uses that prediction to start generating an output in our body, inside of our body. So say you’re riding a bike and you see a big hill up ahead. Well, your interceptive system is taking in that information from your eyes, primarily from your eyes, but maybe you’re feeling it too in that gradual incline, right? The amount of force needed is starting to build up. It starts to prepare your body for that challenge ahead. It starts to increase your heart rate. It starts to generate more force in your muscles. Your respiration is going to start to speed up. So your brain takes in the information, it integrates it, and it generates an output.

[00:11:45] Elisabeth: And part of that output is what’s happening inside of your body in terms of your heart rate, your breathing, your muscle tension, your digestion, all of that. When we lose our interceptive accuracy, we can start to predict too much threat where there isn’t any. Remember, our bodies are primed for survival, and if big, life threatening things happen to us frequently, it’s actually more adaptive to prepare for those big life threatening things to happen. Because if we don’t, and they happen again, then we’re dead, right? Like, you know, they talk about this in pain neuroscience, right? If you’ve been bit by a snake, and that was life threatening, and then you see a stick, and you think it’s a snake, it’s a more adaptive for your body to have the big reaction of assuming it’s a snake, because that’s what it experienced before, and it was life threatening. And if you don’t make that assumption, and it is a snake, it only takes one time of not making that assumption. You get bit by the snake and you die. So your brain is actually really looking out for you. And especially when it’s had these big life threatening experiences, it’s now primed to be hypersensitive to threat.

[00:12:56] Elisabeth: So our interoceptive system, which is predictive, starts to feel the sensations inside of our body and it can predict too much threat where there isn’t any and so we start to receive a lot of activation of our nervous system when we feel those sensations moving into maybe a higher heart rate, quicker respiration, and we start to feel that physiological sensation of panic, of stress.

[00:13:27] Jennifer: We had our conversation about Freeze, and do you think that these two things, if you are stuck in a state of Freeze and you haven’t come out of that dissociation must be way easier to get into, because you’re already in that frozen state of kind of immobility where you might be emotionally or physically kind of starting to numb out anyway. So it’s just kind of easier to be out of the body at that point. 

[00:13:58] Elisabeth: Yeah. Dissociation is a part of Freeze response. You don’t necessarily have to experience dissociation when you’re in Freeze response, but it is highly linked to Freeze response. Often when people are cycling through Freeze response over and over again, or in Flop or in tonic immobility, they will dissociate, right?

[00:14:20] Elisabeth: Remember, we think back to the episode we did about Freeze, we Freeze when there’s no way out of the situation, right? Or at least you experience tonic immobility and flop when there’s no way out of the situation. If you’re an animal, think of it as like you’ve been caught by the predator and now you’re going to kind of collapse on yourself and dissociation is a big way that we keep from feeling the pain of whatever we’re about to experience when we’re caught. And so dissociation is a normal defense mechanism that helps us cope during a traumatic event. And so it’s really natural to experience it when you’re in a natural disaster, an invasive medical procedure or in a traumatic event, you know, abuse of some kind.

[00:15:05] Elisabeth: But it becomes problematic when the environment is no longer life threatening, when it’s no longer traumatic, but our body is reacting as if it still is, right? That’s that interoceptive inaccuracy or that hypersensitive amygdala or threat detector, hypersensitive thalamus, which is the gatekeeper letting in that sensory information. And so if these things are hypersensitive, really attuned to looking for threat, then we keep reacting as if the environment is life threatening. And we keep moving into that response of dissociation, even though maybe in that moment, there’s nothing life threatening or really traumatic going on. 

[00:15:46] Jennifer: It really is interesting when you think about, it’s a complete takeover of the survival brain. And then your cortex, your prefrontal cortex, which we talk a lot about, so it’s more being like the human part of us, that expansive part of us. It gets completely shut down. So like you were saying earlier, the memories never really kind of make it up to the front. And also because the limbic system, what we think of as like the emotional part of the brain, the ‘am I loved’ part of the brain, it becomes kind of less refined. It doesn’t have a, what’s the word I’m looking for, a balanced state necessarily. And emotions and memories are so connected. And the limbic system touches all parts of the brain. That’s, I guess, where that loss of memory really comes from. 

[00:16:34] Elisabeth: BrainBased is an online community where we work together to train the nervous system for resilience, to reduce stress, and to really create lasting behavior change, trauma resolution, and expansion in all areas of life. We meet live on the site. You can work with Jennifer and myself and our other experts in applied neurology, somatics, and vagus nerve health live and in community to start to create real positive change in your nervous system. You also have access to our on demand library with hundreds of classes and thousands of tools to help your nervous system create positive adaptation to really change from that foundational level. We would love to work with you on the site. You can get a two free week trial at rewiretrial.com

[00:17:23] Elisabeth: When we think we’re under threat and we’re operating from that survival mode, our body will actually reduce blood flow to areas of the frontal lobe, to parts of our cerebral cortex, to our front brain, which is again, where our thinking, analytical, rational part of our brain is, but also a lot of where our memory is stored as well as in the limbic system, and it increases activation and blood flow to our backbrain, just like you were saying, the survival part, and so what we experience is an inability to act from those higher order thinking systems and to feel and to move and to interpret and process and remember things that are happening when we’re in a dissociative state.

[00:18:11] Elisabeth: And like I said, it’s appropriate sometimes when we’re in a really life threatening situation. where we’re about to be really harmed and we’re about to experience a bunch of pain. Yes, we don’t necessarily want to stay in the body then, but it becomes problematic when we get really conditioned, when it becomes a really learned response that gets activated over and over again in our normal day to day life. Because then we’re having that reaction, we’re turning off those thinking systems. We’re not able to have good cognitive function or memory or to inhibit our back brain because we’re moving into that state when we don’t really need to anymore. 

[00:18:45] Jennifer: And this also really affects our amygdala too, because it kind of gets over… way overactive and it starts to kind of like hijack, if you will, amygdala hijacking is a term. It starts to kind of hijack our experience, processing everything more through a fear state. And when you’re stuck in that chronic Freeze situation, you’ve got all that tension in your muscles, nothing to do with it. It just all kind of starts to turn inward. And a lot of that muscle tension, would your brain be reading that muscle tension, that overactive muscle tension as a threat also in the body, and then it kind of doesn’t understand why, because the amygdala is hijacked and all over the place. Everything is threat, everything is fear, and it rearranges the memories.

[00:19:31] Elisabeth: Yeah, it does. And I think like, like you were saying, it can be really overwhelming to think about this. You know what I mean? It can be really like, Oh, okay. I have this hypersensitive amygdala. I have a hypersensitive thalamus. I’m disconnected from my frontal lobe and this is happening to me all the time. We can start to feel really hard on ourselves It’s important to remember that it’s just a, it’s a learned conditioned response that happened for your survival and it is possible to start to create a different reaction to those same triggers by working with the nervous system, by providing new stimulus, by giving your frontal lobe some activation, by making these triggers less active, inactivating some of our survival neurotags.

[00:20:21] Elisabeth: And you know, that that’s possible and that there’s nothing wrong with you for having developed this response. It’s just, it’s the best way that your system knew how to deal with some situations that might have been really, really bad. Really tough. 

[00:20:38] Jennifer: Something came up in our Neuro Somatic Intelligence course last night. One of your students asked a question about body dysmorphia. And I immediately thought of myself, because I’ve said so many times, I don’t feel like I’m in the right body. My body doesn’t match the internal state of like how I feel. When she asked the question about body dysmorphia being attached to, specifically she was referring to the inner critic. My first thought was, that’s dissociation. And I think from, you know, obviously from early childhood trauma, sexual trauma specifically, and learning that my body, I don’t see my body accurately because of how it was preyed upon. And how it has been all of my life. I think a lot of women are gonna recognize themselves in that. Like we are, body boundary violations are just a constant kind of part of our construct as we have grown up.

[00:21:41] Elisabeth: I say a huge part of dissociation is the disconnection from the body. And then it can also lead not only to that, and like you were saying, then having a skewed perspective of your body because you’re disconnected from it. But it can also lead to the inability to feel pain. And I mean both emotional and physical pain. So this can lead us to, you know, having kind of an abusive relationship with our body where we ignore our own pain signals because we really don’t feel them. We don’t feel them that intensely. So we can overtrain, we can push through a lot of the softer, subtle signals of our body that we’re under too much stress to get things done. And then we can also push through emotional pain, because again, when we’re in that highly dissociated state a lot of the time, we don’t really feel the severity of the emotional pain that we’re in, which can lead us to stay in some really sometimes dangerous situations or relationships that are abusive or highly stressful, you know, there’s been times of my life where I’ve been in situations for months and years on end that people on the outside, when I finally would talk about it with people, they would be like, Oh, my God, I can’t believe that you stayed in that situation for so long. I can’t believe that that’s how you were living. But I was dissociated, I didn’t feel the extent of the emotional pain and or the physical pain signals that my body was sending me and so it makes it more likely to stay in those situations when we don’t have the ability to accurately read those signals.

[00:23:15] Jennifer: Yeah, you don’t have the accurate ability to feel the signals, but you also can’t make a good cognitive decision about the situation that you’re in because the cortex has been shut down. 

[00:23:28] Elisabeth: Yeah, you’re not really fully experiencing what’s happening to your body, your emotional body, your physical body. And, yeah, and you don’t have the, you’re in survival mode. And so you’re just going through, making it through the day. You don’t have the altitude or the cognitive ability to evaluate the situation and make the decisions that you need to take care of yourself. I think is important to touch on is that avoidance behavior is highly linked with dissociation.

[00:23:58] Elisabeth: So avoidance behavior is like a behavior that you use to escape or distract yourself from anything that’s super stressful. So it could be social media, scrolling, it could be eating, it could be self sabotage, you know, avoiding actually things that you want, like new job opportunities, career advancements, healthy relationships, social situations, it’s usually like a maladaptive behavioral response because that thing is causing so much fear and anxiety and stress because of all the other things we’ve talked about that are associated with complex PTSD, social anxiety, the inner critic, perfectionism. And so a lot of times dissociation is a really extreme form of avoidance in like checking out of the situation and it is also connected to a lot of avoidance behaviors like when you come home and you numb out and you totally detach after a very stressful thing.

[00:24:56] Jennifer: Actually, you just reminded me of something is perfectionism. When I’m in deep states of perfectionism, I’m completely dissociated, like everything. And then you have this vision of what it’s supposed to look like. So you keep going for that vision and pushing through into that vision, but pushing through into that vision of what you want to happen or what you think something is supposed to look like is a complete disregard of your emotional and physical state.

[00:25:22] Elisabeth: Yes, absolutely, absolutely. And as you were talking, I was thinking too, circling back to the interceptive accuracy thing, that accuracy can go two ways. It can go with interpreting too much threat and moving into sort of a panic response, but I think it can also go the other way too, where we detach from the signals and don’t read that something is not okay for us or it’s too much stress because we’ve learned to mute those signals as well and interpret them with less attention and awareness than maybe would be healthy. And I think when we talk about using the tools. So we use a lot of tools to come out of dissociation, both of us are people who have experienced a bunch of dissociation, and when we talk about the tools, it is important to remember minimum effective dose too. Because when you’re starting to come out of being someone who dissociates regularly and starting to feel these signals again, it can feel quite painful, it can be a little bit overwhelming to start to come back and feel sensations and can then lead you to dissociation kind of shut yourself down more. So if you think about it, if you’re completely frozen, if you were like a block of ice and you started to thaw out, there would be sort of like some pain associated with that, some burning, some pain, some tingling. And sometimes that is what we experience when we start to reconnect, to feel our emotions, to feel our physical sensations, to come back to the body. And so it is something that can be done little by little. over time in a way that feels safe and manageable for you. 

[00:27:01] Jennifer: But there are some good tools that we use in functional neurology to bring people back. When i’m thinking of my own dissociation and that not feeling at home in my body one of the things that I associate that i’ve trained so much is It’s the vagus nerve training to bring me back into my body and start to retrain my interoceptive system because your vagus nerve is so linked to that and delivering all that sensory information from your organs and internal state of your body back up to the brain.

[00:27:32] Elisabeth: Yeah, we do a lot of vagus nerve training. A lot of vagus nerve decompression is really good or just you can do simple things to help activate your vagus nerve. You can do some vocal scales, you know, just going down really low and taking your voice up really high to get your vocal cords to have a big range of motion. You can do tongue circles, running your tongue over your teeth, underneath your lips, and making big, slow circles with your tongue. The vagus nerve activates at the back of the throat, and so that’ll give your vagus nerve some stimulus. And then remember too, like, this is a highly parasympathetic state, and so sometimes we do need to decompress the vagus nerve and have it function better, but sometimes we don’t want to increase our parasympathetic activity when we’re in a state of dissociation.

[00:28:19] Elisabeth: What you really want to do is actually upregulate the sympathetic system. You want to move, you want to do some strong forceful exhales and move and shake your body and whatever capacity you can move, even if the movement is really small, like doing something intentional movements with your hands or intentional movements with your feet, anything that’s intentional, precise movements that’s going to make your motor cortex get more active and that’ll bring more fuel and activation up towards the frontal lobe. And kind of start to get you out of that state of immobility. 

[00:28:56] Jennifer: The sensory stimulus and proprioceptive work is really a great way to feel into your body as well. As someone, I mean, the vagus nerve is such a hot topic and everyone thinks you need this stimulation, but sometimes you don’t need that activation and you need to down regulate the vagus nerve. We have so many other systems that can help us do that. 

[00:29:18] Elisabeth: Yeah. It’s really always important to assess and reassess how something is affecting your body, especially when we’re doing things from the lens of Neuro Somatic Intelligence tools to really look at, you know, making sure that you’re being the expert of your own nervous system and, you know, trying some of these drills, maybe try some tongue circles or you try some vocal scales or gargling some water, these kind of general recommendations for the vagus nerve. And then make sure that you do something to test beforehand, test a range of motion, test a movement that you have trouble with, and then reassess after you do whatever it is that you’re doing and see did your range of motion get better or worse? Did you feel stronger? Was your movement capability better? Did the exercise feel easier? 

[00:30:05] Elisabeth: Because change at the level of the nervous system is instantaneous and we can use range of motion, we can use our body, to tell us if something is affecting the nervous system positively or negatively. You can gauge that and you can take these broad recommendations for like Here’s great things to do for vagus nerve health, cold shower, sensory stimulus, humming, singing, all these kind of big, broad, general recommendations that you see out there, and then test them out for yourself and see how your nervous system responds, and if they help you, great, use them when you’re feeling that onset of Freeze or immobility or dissociation.

[00:30:39] Elisabeth: But if you reassess negatively, know that that’s okay too, that not everything is going to work the same way for everyone. And that’s why it’s important to start to cultivate a big toolkit and learn different exercises to work with your nervous system. 

[00:30:53] Jennifer:  And getting back to the body dysmorphia, when that came up in our class last night, the visual system seemed like a really important system to train because you’re also not seeing what’s really there. Like it’s a hard time identifying like what’s real. 

[00:31:10] Elisabeth: Yeah, there’s actual studies linking visual deficits, deficits in your visual system, your eyes, and the way that they relay information to your brain with body dysmorphia. So people with extreme body dysmorphia, there is a correlation between having body dysmorphia and having deficits in your visual system. And so from a NSI perspective, that’s a great way to, from the system, start to change the input to experience a different output. If I can train my visual system to provide new inputs into my nervous system, then I can change that output of body dysmorphia instead of cognitively trying to talk myself out of seeing my body that way. Can I work differently to look at the input systems to create a new output that way? 

[00:32:00] Jennifer: Yeah, I found that when I’m thinking about visual system, and I’m thinking about like how your brain scales your sensory inputs, and I’m thinking of the the space that your visual system takes up in your brain and then like the space that your hands take up in your brain and like your thumbs live next to your eye and it’s just a really interesting way to think about your brain’s hierarchical scale and that you can train all these. It’s really neat that you can train all these systems and think you can actually see the world differently. You’ll experience the feelings in yourself differently. You will see yourself differently, and then you will then experience and see others differently as well.

[00:32:44] Elisabeth: Yeah,  what you’re talking about is sensory and motor homunculus. And it’s these visual representations of the areas of our body that our brain takes in information from, and it makes the areas that our brain gets a lot more sensory or motor input from much bigger in the representation, so you see this image of this crazy looking little man with like huge hands and feet and a big tongue because these are big areas where our brain gets sensory information from.

[00:33:12] Elisabeth: And so if we can work on rehabbing, training deficits in those places where there’s a lot of important information coming into the brain. Then again, our brain gets higher quality information coming in on a second by second basis and that thalamus is taking in all those sensory inputs and deciding how much threat you’re under.

[00:33:33] Elisabeth: And one of the things that’s really threatening to the thalamus is when that information is unclear. And that will push your nervous system into a higher level of threat, leading you to experience more of these protective outputs, more of these threat responses. And so if we can work to rehab the deficits in your nervous system to make these sensory input systems function better and give clearer, more accurate information to your brain, whether that’s your interceptive system or your proprioceptive system or your visual system or your balance system, then we’re reducing the threat of your nervous system on a second by second basis, and it becomes much more possible to move out of that dissociative protective reflexive response when our baseline level of stress is lower in the nervous system.

[00:34:21] Jennifer: And it allows you for a greater capacity, like the clear, accurate information allows for a greater capacity for you to excuse yourself out of the way your body is supposed to look and perform. You start to return to your own expression. Expression of movement, emotional, behavioral, like all of the ways that we can move.

[00:34:46] Elisabeth: Yeah, because it is very threatening and scary to go against the normal paradigms of what we should look like, how we should be, what our bodies should be like, how we should move, all of this, right? Because there’s deep, deeply ingrained societal structures that we carry around inside of ourselves, ideas of body hierarchy and inside of us. And to start to go against those is tough because we’re social animals and we’re conditioned to want to fit in with the herd and to start to buck those ideas and find our own expression and our own connection to our body as it is, however different it is from that system is a little bit threatening to the brain and to the nervous system.

[00:35:33] Elisabeth: And so it’s really important to have tools to work with your nervous system to make that safe so that you don’t have to live under the stress of that constant need to fit into a certain mold that is projected on us from a very early age and that we really identify with being safe, being loved, being able to survive.

[00:35:55] Jennifer: Healing is so radical. And just like the system is threatening for us and our nervous systems, our healing is radical to the system because it disrupts the whole thing. The social expectations, the judgments, the body hierarchy that you’re just speaking of. It is radical of you to embark on a healing journey where you start to dismantle those systems of oppression internally so that the world externally that you see and experience changes. And that threatens the system. 

[00:36:31] Elisabeth: It does. Scary. And so, like, it takes a lot of regulation, it takes a lot of tools. Because it’s like this whole Catch 22, because it’s scary to buck that, and to feel comfortable in your own skin, and to practice self love and self acceptance and embodiment. It’s scary to do some of that stuff. Like I was saying too, it’s also like, as you start to feel things and experience things as you come out of dissociation, it’s scary.

[00:37:01] Elisabeth: And also, it’s stressful and harmful not to do those things, right? It’s stressful and harmful to stay in that paradigm where you’re never enough and your body should look a certain way and it’s not okay to not be perfect. Like, that is equally and more stressful than starting to dismantle the system. And so it’s really important for our health, for our life, for everything, that we have the tools to be able to make that, to make it possible to start to move out of that paradigm without leading ourselves to self sabotage, exhaustion, burnout, further dissociation as we try to do that. 

[00:37:43] Jennifer: You just said a word that is kind of a super big buzzword in the healing industry right now. And that’s embodiment, right? There’s embodiment coaches.

[00:37:54] Elisabeth: (laughing) We can’t be embodied if we’re dissociated, and that’s just the thing, right? I mean, dissociation, like I said, it’s on a spectrum, but it’s pretty much anytime we’re in dissociation, we’re not going to be able to be fully embodied, because one of the fundamental things is kind of that sense of leaving the body. And so, yeah, if we are going to. be embodied human beings that express and feel our emotions and express our mindset in an embodied way and all of these beautiful things that we strive toward, we do have to have tools to help our nervous system and our body be able to do that. And because, especially if we are people who have experienced a lot of trauma and move frequently into this reflexive protective response, it can be really overwhelming to try to take that on without having any understanding of what’s going on in your body that keeps you from being able to and without having any tools to help make that safe and doable for your body and your nervous system. 

[00:38:58] Jennifer: Yeah, safety. Feeling safety and being able to relax and surrender into a safe nervous system can be really threatening for someone who is not used to experiencing that. Getting back to the live conversation that you and I had about the integration of peak somatic experiences. 

[00:39:16] Elisabeth: Yeah, it’s very easy, very, very, very easy to get pushed into dissociation with a big peak somatic experience. Because you are, for the first time, maybe in a very long time or maybe ever, feeling these big emotions that have been repressed, allowing your body to express and move that emotional energy. It’s been held in for a long time for your, for your survival because your brain thought it was too much. Too much to take in, too much to process, too much to move through. And so when we do some somatic practices like breath work or plant medicine or different embodiment practices, and we experience those emotional states for the first time, we can end up leaving that situation pretty dissociated because the brain’s like, Oh, red flag, threat, check out.

[00:40:09] Elisabeth: There is one more form of dissociation that is something that I am very familiar with that I think it’s important for people to think about because I experienced this with a lot of my clients as well, which is intellectual dissociation. Which is where you start to intellectualize everything that you’re experiencing and feeling rather than actually experiencing or feeling it both in your body and your mind. And it is very common for me to understand and be able to talk about what is happening in my body, what is happening in my nervous system. I could explain it to you very, very well, but I can’t actually experience it myself. And I can talk about what happens with people with trauma. And I know all of this information, but it’s a whole different ball game, allowing myself to feel safe enough to process it, to experience it, and to actually do the things like emotional expression. I think it can be an avoidance behavior, that overly intellectualizing everything, and it’s a way to keep ourselves from having to experience and feel things.

[00:41:27] Elisabeth: And again, that’s not necessarily bad. Sometimes we really need it, sometimes the things really are too much, but again, as a coping strategy, it can also get to the place where it harms us because then we’re not able to feel, to express, to process in a really true way. We can think about processing it, we can tell you what that would be like, but we can’t actually do it. The body, the nervous system needs to actually do it, not just talk about it. And so it can be an adaptive coping strategy that becomes maladaptive because it starts to hold us back from really making progress in our healing. 

[00:42:08] Jennifer: Yeah. Fascinating. Just the protection that dissociation, whichever level you’re experiencing at back to that, you know, internal innate wisdom and knowledge that our bodies have and how we are this intelligent system, you know. People think, Oh, I’m here to like, leave this legacy or do this big thing. And it’s like, no, you’re here to just survive on a second by second basis. It’s just a bonus. All this other stuff is just a bonus to the world. (laughing)

[00:42:39] Elisabeth: Yeah, absolutely. And yeah, survival and safety come first for the brain and the nervous system and everything else builds on that foundation. And dissociation, like all these other things that we talk about are, you know, like we talk about how binge eating is a protective survival response. We talk about how addiction can be a protective survival response. So it’s dissociation and there’s nothing inherently bad with it. It’s our brain and our body’s best way to survive and cope in a world that is sometimes very dysregulating and hard. Yeah, it’s just another strategy that sometimes it’s helpful and it serves a purpose and sometimes it’s time to move beyond it and give yourself new tools so that you don’t have to experience it over and over again.

[00:43:28] Elisabeth: Yes. Thank you guys for being willing to dive into this big, important topic with us today. This one can be a little heavy. It’s a lot to think about. So if you can get some movement after this episode, whether you just shake around a little bit, play a song and dance, or go for a walk, try to mobilize a little bit after taking in all this information.

[00:43:47] Elisabeth: And then very real talk, when I’m finding myself easing into that dissociated state. When it’s starting to come up for me, I feel some brain fog. I feel indecisive. Maybe I’m losing my voice a little bit. Honestly, I log on to the site and I click the class topic of dissociation and just follow along and do some tools because it’s hard for me to think in that moment about exactly what to do and I prefer to be just guided by somebody else.

[00:44:16] Elisabeth: So if you want to join us on the site and get a two free week trial to experience some of these tools for yourself and to have that resource that you can just go in there and click on that and have somebody else guide your nervous system through working through this response, we’d love for you to join us at rewiretrial.com

[00:44:35] Elisabeth: Presence is the next episode coming and it’s really interesting to explore these two together because in a lot of ways they are the opposites. As we start to re pattern our nervous system to be able to take in more stimulus, whether that’s emotional or physical or just inputs coming in from the world and not move into that patterned responsive dissociation, then what we’re really doing is cultivating the skill of Presence so that we can live a big full embodied life. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week.