Your sense of identity, your perceptions of reality and your sense of continuity of time, experiences and life depend on your thoughts, sensations, feelings, perceptions, sense of body, sense of self, behaviours and memories etc. being mostly connected to each other. Dissociation disrupts this connectedness to a greater or less degree depending on the individual natural ability to dissociate, the nature and frequency of the experience(s) that trigger the dissociation, when in the lifespan these occur, and the post-experience response from others. Thus we see a continuum of dissociation whereby everyday alterations of consciousness type of dissociation are not usually maladaptive, but moving along the continuum the severity and complexity of dissociation and its effects gradually increases.
Thus, when dissociation is used frequently to survive multiple and/or complex traumas over an extended time period, particularly during early childhood (when the brain and personality are developing), the separation and fragmentation of the various aspects of so many experiences shape the developing neural pathways. As a consequence your sense of who you are, how you experience your ‘personhood’, your memories and access to them, together with the way you see things around you, can become chronically fixed in a disjointed, fragmented (i.e. dissociative) pattern. The frequent use of dissociation also disrupts your personal narrative, prevents the normal developmental integration of self which occurs in childhood and may leave you with significant gaps in your personal time-line. Dissociation, so adaptive and necessary to survive such a traumatic childhood, ultimately becomes maladaptive. It can leave you with unintegrated and severely fragmented memories, an unintegrated sense of self and/or your environment. The neural pathways developed under the influence of dissociation and trauma are also not optimum for living a fulfilling trauma-free life as an adult. Further, they make resolution of the traumas more difficult, but certainly not impossible, to achieve.