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Home arrow Leaving a Cult? arrow Coping With Trace States: The Aftermath of Leaving

Coping With Trace States: The Aftermath of Leaving

Trance states, derealization, dissociation, spaceyness ... What are they?  What strategies can we use to cope with them?

Trance states: By trance states, we mean dissociation, depersonalization and derealization.

In the group we called it spacing out or higher/altered states of consciousness.

All humans have some propensity to have moments of dissociation.  However, certain practices (meditation, chanting, learned processes of speaking in tongues, prolonged guided imagery, etc.) appear to have ingrained in many former members a reflexive response to involuntarily enter altered states of consciousness.

Even after leaving the group and ceasing its consciousness-altering practices, this habitual, learned response tends to recur under stress.

For some former members this can be distressing and affect their functioning.  When this happens, it tends to impair one's concentration, attention, memory and coping skills.

Many former members coming from prolonged consciousness-altering groups find that the intensity, frequency and duration of the episodes decrease when they deliberately and consistently use the strategies outlined below.

It is important to note that when one is tired, ill, or under stress the feelings of spaceyness, dissociation, depersonalization and derealization may temporally return.

By developing the ability to immediately label these states and attempting the following strategies, one can return to consistent state of mental functioning.

DEFINITIONS from Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III):

Dissociative Disorders: The essential feature is a sudden, temporary alteration in the normally integrative functions of consciousness, identity, or motor behavior.  If the alteration occurs in consciousness, important personal events cannot be recalled.

If it occurs in identity, either the individual's customary identity is temporarily forgotten and a new identity is assumed, or the customary feeling of one's own reality is lost and replaced by a feeling of unreality.  If the alteration occurs in motor behavior, there is also a concurrent disturbance in consciousness or identity.

Atypical Dissociative Disorder (300.15):  Trance-like states, derealization unaccompanied by depersonalization, and those more prolonged dissociated states may occur in persons who have been subjected to periods of prolonged and intense coercive persuasion (brainwashing, thought reform, and indoctrination while captive of terrorists or cultists).

Depersonalization Disorder (300.60):  The essential feature is the occurrence of one or more episodes of depersonalization that cause social or occupational impairment.

The symptom of depersonalization involves an alteration in the perception or experience of the self so that the usual sense of one's own reality is temporarily lost or changed.  This is manifested by a sensation of self-estrangement or unreality, which may include the feeling that one's extremities have changed in size, or the experience of seeming to perceive oneself from a distance.  In addition, the individual may feel "mechanical" or as though in a dream.  Various types of sensory anesthesia and feeling of not being in complete control of one's actions, including speech, are often present.

Associated features:  Derealization is frequently present.  This is manifested by a strange alteration in the perception of one's surroundings so that a sense of the reality of the external world is lost.  A perceived change in the size of shape of objects in the external world is common.  People may be perceived as dead or mechanical.

Other common associated features include dizziness, depression, obsessive ruminations, anxiety, fear of going insane, and disturbance in the subjective sense of time.  There is often the feeling that recall is difficult or slow.


  • Maintain a routine.
  • Make change slowly: physical, emotional, nutritional, geographical, etc.
  • Monitor health, including nutrition, medical checkups.  Avoid drugs and alcohol.
  • Daily exercise reduces dissociation (spaceyness, anxiety and insomnia).
  • Avoid sensory overload.  Avoid crowds or large spaces without boundaries (shopping malls, video arcades, etc.).
  • Drive consciously without music. 
Reality orientation:
  • Establish time and place landmarks such as calendars and clocks.
  • Make lists of activities in advance.  Update lists daily or weekly.  Difficult tasks and large projects should be kept on separate lists.
  • Before going on errands, review list of planned activities, purchases and projects.  Mark items off as you complete them.
  • Keep updated on current news.  News shows (CNN, Headline News talk radio) are helpful because they repeat, especially if you have memory/concentration difficulties.


  • Try to read one complete news article daily to increase comprehension.
  • Develop reading "stamina" with the aid of a timer.  Increasing reading periods progressively.

Sleep interruptions:

  • Leave TALK radio/television, news programs (not music) on all night.  (Preferably not Rush, though.)
Don't push youself.  Dissociation is an acquired habit, so it will take time break.