Survivors of car accidents experience serious mental or psychological side effects following a severe crash. How could they not? Car accidents are traumatic—noise and pain and confusion and disorientation leave invisible scars on our sense of well-being. It may take days, weeks, or months, but car accident survivors can end up feeling like their bodies are no longer their own, as though they’re watching their own life through a camera lens.
The phenomenon is called “depersonalization” or “derealization,” but it’s most commonly known as disassociation. It’s the brain’s self-defense response to trauma—but, unfortunately, it keeps accident survivors from feeling fully at home in their own lives.
By the end of our blog, you’ll know the signs—and what you can do to cope.
If you need practical, concrete ways to deal with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, read "9 Ways to Deal with the Daily Effects of PTSD" today.
Depersonalization is often described and referred to as an out-of-body experience. This means that the individual views themselves from a different perspective, seeing their own body from above. This disorder causes an individual to feel disconnected from their body and thoughts. It is associated with incidents when individuals are involved in catastrophic events and creates a perception that the accident didn’t happen to them. An episode of depersonalization can last a few minutes, sometimes longer.
Symptoms of depersonalization include:
- Feeling emotionally and physically numb
- Memories lack emotion
- Not in control of your movements or speech
Depersonalization occurs when the mind experiences disruptions, breakdowns of the memory, consciousness, awareness, identity, or perception. This can greatly affect an individual’s ability to communicate socially and accomplish their work.
What Is Derealization?
While derealization is not an out-of-body experience, it still gives the victim the feeling that they are detached from surroundings, giving them the impression that they are dreaming. It becomes easy to feel as though the incident is unreal and many victims don’t believe it’s happening. It is also associated with decreased emotional intensity and severe stress. Both derealization and depersonalization make individuals feel a sense of disconnection from thoughts, feelings, actions, and memories.
Symptoms of derealization include:
- Feeling unfamiliar with your surroundings
- Emotionally disconnected from loved ones
- Distorted time perception
- Distortions in size and shapes of objects
How is Dissociation Diagnosed?
If symptoms of either derealization or depersonalization disorders are present, the doctor will begin an evaluation by performing a complete medical exam. There currently aren’t any lab test that specifically diagnoses disassociation. However, there are tests that help determine if an individual suffers from them, which helps determine which is the best treatment—whether it is meeting with a psychologist or other healthcare professional who treats mental illnesses.
How Long Does Dissociation Last?
The duration of dissociation varies depending on the severity of the incident. For some, dissociation is as common as highway hypnosis when they daydream while driving. Moments like this can last only a few moments. For others, such as the survivors of serious car accidents, people drift in and out of dissociation for years, impacting their ability to function.
Long-Term Impact of Disassociation
Severe disassociation causes stress, detachment, depression, or even an unclear sense of identity. This can impact a person’s work life, relationships, friendships, and more. In some cases, dissociation can lead to suicidal thoughts and other mental health issues. It’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible if you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Unfortunately, trauma is a common result of experiencing an accident. Victims shouldn’t have to suffer from an often-debilitating disorder because of someone else’s negligence. Our firm works to help clients seek justice. Victims deserve compensation to help with the resources they need to cope with an accident. We’re here to help from start to finish.
HHR helps accident victims get back on their feet. Give us a callto learn what you'll need to put your life back together.