Dissociative Fugues


I have just now realized that I am in one of those stuck positions. For a person with PTSD their brain has become highly compartmentalized, sectioned off and coordinated along narrowly entrenched connections. The mind will shut down reasoning, conscious processing and engage the unconscious reflexive mechanisms. This controller switch enables the person to react to traumatic situations without filtering sensory information through our conscious mind. Through this defensive mechanism we can survive situations that would otherwise overwhelm us if we had to process the traumatic event in the moment. By the severity of the situation this connection gets heavily imprinted, thus enabling the PTSD sufferer to shift into a stuck position or zoning out. This cognitive binding can be triggered by situations that require emotional response, trusting issues, and really just about anything that requires thinking.

I was just reading an article by Penny Coleman AlterNet. The article is about…I have also been reading in the PTSDForum.org, both the article and the forum thread have been talking about using a drug called Propranolol. The drug is a beta-blocker, it blocks nerve impulses, which seems to have a benefit for PTSD sufferers. I AM NOT ENDORSING THIS DRUG, I am still looking into its affects and effects.

Now, I was talking about my stuck position, I just started an online class yesterday. I have been also trying to write a post for this blog. I have three drafts…I am sitting here going through my rituals of emotional blocking…closing my eyes, putting my right arm across my stomach with my left arm resting on my right. Then I use my hand to run down my face, starting from my forehead then down to my nose…I have been focused on my nose for about three days now, I have been picking at the skin until it is raw. I cannot forget the pausing that I go through when I am in this dissociate position. I zone out for several minutes at a time, I can loose hours if I do not try and meditate or pray…So does this post seem kind of disjointed? Thats because I am trying to relate how PTSD effects my life. During stressful times I run through dissociative states and this ritual cycle of zoning out and wiping my face, rubbing my nose and forehead, closing my eyes, rocking back and forth and a myriad of differing affects. Back in the day this would set me up for an anxiety or panic attack. Before I learned how to manage my attacks I was on clonazepam for about two years.

So, in the forum posters were talking about being in a stuck position and that is what triggered my discussion of dissociative states, which made me realize that I was going through one myself right now, still. For two years or so after Desert Storm I had a more severe form of dissociative fugues, a deeper level on the dissociative spectrum, where a total separation of identity comes into play. I remember one time that I was at work in a sheet metal shop. I was running a CNC machine that cuts and punches angle iron. I was entering data into the computer on the machine. Numbers reading and rapid eye movement back and forth along with highly “busy” areas will trigger a fugue. So, I was entering the data, I started to get confused and kept having to reenter the data. Then I was staring at the screen and realized that I had no idea what I was doing. I looked around at the shop and knew that it was familiar, but could not identify what it was or why I was there. It was like I was dropped off on a alien planet and I could see some things that looked similar to what I know but yet was totally alien in form. Then I tried to access information about me and was denied the information. I tried to think of my name and could not, my identity was foreign to me. I did not know who I was or what I was doing in this place, but I do remember that the place was familiar. I do not know how long this episode lasted, but all of a sudden all of the information came back to me in a rush.

I had several more of these types of fugues, I would be walking down the isle of the grocery store and experience a fugue. I do not know why, but a grocery store would send me into a crying fit of guilt and a deep extreme sadness. I would cry for hours and could not be moved, lying in the isle of the store just crying with my wife holding me. Other times in a store I would just wonder around not knowing why I was there and wondering what it was that I was supposed to do. My wife would have to come to the store and get me after having been wondering around in the store for hours. The episodes were triggered by areas that had a lot of numbers, letters, colors, areas of high visual traffic. This went on for about two years after the war.

Reading the forum and article made me remember what it was like to be in an extreme state of mental illness. I could of used something to take this kind of episode out of my experience. The medicine Propranolol may of helped, but I do not see this treatment as a long term fix. Maybe in the short-term along with therapy and counseling to aid in the processing and reintegration of the emotions and experiences that have been separated from one another. After the traumatic experience is over, after the soldier comes out of the combat zone and transitions home. PTSD rewires the brain, it changes its landscape, alters its coping mechanisms and permanently turns on the primitive survival mode. Throwing in the medicine during the time combat to deny the brains response could complicate the soldiers coping mechanisms further.

After all, PTSD is the result of such mind numbing, or psychic shift in the first place. In response to the trauma of combat, the person needs to make a mental detachment to do what needs to be done. I remember in the Gulf War when that cognitive fracture, or dissociative reorganization happened for me. It was at night, I was watching our long range rockets and artillery barrage launching to rain down on the enemy. It was surreal, beautiful, terrifying, the most intense fireworks I had ever seen filling the entire sky illuminating the battlefield, I was in awe. It felt like I was one with the universe, out among the everything, feeling all and knowing all. I heard over the distance of what seemed like eternity, “Move out”. I realized that I was no longer inside of my body, the instant that I heard that order and made that connection I was paralyzed as I slammed back into my body. In that same moment, I had this switch that went off or turned on. This mode of operation was no longer a thinking thing, it was a reacting thing. My field of vision opened up completely, it was like my central focus point had widened to include my whole field of vision. I was aware of everything without having to look at it. I was more alive than I had ever been, except that there was no conscious processing of information and a total lack of emotion, absolute detachment. Time had suspended itself for me, I was eternal, I had accessed a part of me that was omnipresent.

Taking this medication before combat would only be doing what the brain is already capable of doing, shutting off reasoning functions and turning on a wholly basic instinctual response. It appears that it would harm the brain more than it would do good. Consider that the dissociative states might be entrenched further into the mind and promote the dissection and partitions of the brain relative to PTSD. PTSD is the breaking of the toggle switch that enables a person to vacillate between a fundamental reflexive reaction to danger signals and the reasoning of common experiences. I do not think that our troops and veterans should be some kind of guinea pig any more than they have been already.


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