Sleeping, Dreaming, and Dissociative Experiences

dissociativeDissociative experiences may be linked to an influx of too much information, from both internal and external sources.[1] This causes the cognitive system to become overwhelmed, and the memory systems are not able to integrate the information, leaving it to float around.1 With the memories unable to be integrated, they cause issues in waking consciousness in disconnected fragments, such as false stories, false memories, illusions, delusions, and false identities.1

As the information overload escalates, the self becomes inundated and begins to buckle, which is extremely frightening to the individual.1 Nightmares may occur and fail to become integrated, beginning to emerge into waking life until a mental breakdown occurs.1

There are two broad types of dissociative experiences.1 First, there are those that stem from a lapse in cognitive control (dissociative amnesia) and second, there are those that involve a dissolution of the sense of Self (depersonalization, derealization, out-of-body experiences).1

There cause of information overload can be due to the failure of the mental system that normally integrates new information into existing information systems.1 The mental system that integrates this new information into existing systems is sleep and dream dependent.1 Therefore, if the sleep and dream system is impaired, the information processing systems will be impaired too, leading to information overload.1

There are many reasons the sleep and dream systems can fail.1 Emotional trauma, stress, insomnia, physical illness, and many other issues can disrupts sleep.1 Disrupted sleep is associated with increased scores of dissociation inventories.1 Dreams contribute to the dissociation experience, too, due to their participation in the information integration process; however, there are no precise ideas as to how they do so.1 It is likely they reflect memory consolidation processes.1

Episodic memories may not occur in REM dreams as the hippocampal outflow to the neocortex is blocked during REM.1 If the hippocampus contributes to space-time tags or memory fragments, then this information processing cannot happen during REM sleep.1 However, if REM boils over to waking consciousness due to the multiple micro-sleeps in sleep-deprived people, those people are using decontextualized memory fragments to process incoming information that could yield abnormal forms of information and unusual experiences.1

Therefore, it is important for science to derive methods and pharmacologic treatments that can normalize sleep architecture and restore high-quality sleep.1 While some treatments exist already, more need to be developed.1 However, simple sleep hygiene habits go a long way when looking to normalize sleep patterns.1

[1] McNamara, P. (2013, November 3). Sleep, Dreams and Dissociation. Psychology Today. Retrieved December 4, 2013, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dream-catcher/201311/sleep-dreams-and-dissociation

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