Journaling and Dissociation: A Wandering Mind

A woman ponders the many emotions pulling her in different directions

By: Stormy Stewart

As the connection between dissociation and trauma becomes clearer, many clinicians suggest journaling as a method to re-contextualize memory. With dissociation often comes a disconnect from reality, the mind removing itself from the current moment’s sensations, emotions, or behaviors. Journaling presents the opportunity to reconnect to one’s emotional reality and soothes the turmoil of traumatic memories.

What is Dissociation? 

A perfect definition of dissociation does not exist, but the general consensus is that dissociation, as a trauma response, refers to the division of an individual’s cognition or characteristic mental and behavioral actions. When faced with a traumatic event, a person’s mind will dissociate as a coping mechanism, disrupting the memory. Many cases of traumatic dissociation are linked to childhood abuse, but there are instances cited well into adulthood. There are multiple recognized disorders within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, or the DSM-V, some claiming dissociation as a symptom while others are born from it, most notably the highly contested being dissociative identity disorder. Whether a person suffers from a dissociative disorder or simply experiences dissociation as a symptom, it is incredibly disorienting to become disconnected from one’s surroundings.

The Power of Writing 

Studies have shown that journaling about specific traumatic events provides relief in many ways; whether it be expressing emotions once kept suppressed or incurring a sense of desensitization to a previous trigger. Writing returns control to survivors of trauma, no longer relegating them to victimhood. Instead, journaling allows survivors to create the shape of their healing, build boundaries, as well as express their pain in an environment entirely designed by them. For others, journaling or writing has been known to ground the person experiencing a dissociative episode. By allowing the mind to express itself unguarded, it slowly finds its path back to a centered consciousness. 

Trauma and Memory

With dissociation’s direct impairment of memory, it is often difficult for trauma survivors to piece together the timeline of their lives. However, through expressive writing, the veil begins to lift, and memories that were once too painful to engage with or otherwise entirely buried begin to fall into place, providing continuity in the thread of a life. Many survivors find this comforting, often allowing them to finally work through suppressed emotions and feel a level of validation for their emotional suffering or turmoil. 

Ultimately, the ability to reconstruct the shape of a life allows survivors to feel once again in control. They find themselves at the helm of their healing, regaining control of the narrative. Allowing oneself to be vulnerable is powerful, and once written, memories can find their place in one’s personal story. Writing has the ability to expose the root of painful emotions, and such exposure is often uncomfortable. However, it is truly an empowering way to create and engage with one’s own narrative. To begin your own journey of healing, follow the link below and join our team of expressive writers in journaling sessions, as well as activities to aid your self-discovery.  

Begin Journaling Here


Greenhoot, A. F., & Sun, S. (2014). Trauma and memory. The Wiley Handbook on the Development of Children’s memory, 774–803. Wiley Blackwell.

Nijenhuis, E. R. S., & van der Hart, O. (2011, June 11). Dissociation in trauma: A new definition and comparison with previous formulations. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 12:4, 416-445.

Ullrich, P.M., Lutgendorf, S.K. (2002, November 3). Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression. University of Iowa, The Society of Behavioral Medicine Ann Behav Med. 24, 244–250.

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