Hi, In the past month my girlfriend experienced something strange four times.
She was in a manipulative/emotionally abusive relationship that lasted 9 years, and ended recently. She’s been struggling because of it, and I’ve been helping her. She self-harmed, had suicidal thoughts, and attempted suicide. When things got overly stressful, she had anxiety attacks where she would convulse(?)–still conscious, barely being able to talk, but her entire body tensed up and standing still, especially her feet and hands. They lasted around 10 minutes, and she’d feel sore afterwards. She’s been getting better, being happier as time passes and able to deal with things better.
But just recently, when something that reminds her of traumatic experiences happened, she’d go in a “trance.” For example, I accidentally said something her ex would say, and she took it the wrong way, as if it was manipulative and blaming her for something I did.
She started staring into nothingness. When trying to talk to her, she’d either not react, or barely say anything. When trying to touch her, she’d look very scared and pull away, telling me not to touch her. When asking her to tell me my name, she’d say her ex’s name. When doing nothing, she’d just stare into nothing, staying still. When getting too close, she’d react rashly to get away and tell me to stay away. After a while of trying to snap her out of it, she’d walk away into another room, often the bedroom. Last time, she went to the washing machine, then the bedroom, and told me to stop asking her what my name was, that I always do that, even though it was the first time during that “trance” that I asked. So she’s at least minimally aware of her surroundings, and the trances may be connected?
During those four times, she was unconscious, seemed extremely traumatized, and thought I was her ex.
It lasts 15-20 minutes. She snaps back (once after I made her say my actual name a few times, another after I kept telling her I loved her she shed a tear and snap back, the last one after she fell asleep for a couple of minutes) and doesn’t remember anything whatsoever. She feels empty, but in an okay mood, like nothing happened.
I’d like to now what’s happening, and if it’s dangerous in any way.
Thanks for your time.

A. It’s possible that you are describing dissociation. Dissociation involves periods of disconnection from reality. It is a common response to severe trauma. It’s not dangerous per se but not being fully conscious and unaware of one’s surroundings is potentially dangerous.

One aspect of this situation for you to consider is that your girlfriend only “recently” ended a long-term abusive relationship. It may be too soon for her to be in a new relationship. She’s evidently dealing with the aftermath of the abuse. It is preoccupying her mind to the point where it’s sometimes difficult for her to function. It may not be in her best interest or yours to be in a relationship at this time.

You might be forgoing your needs which is not healthy for you and ultimately destructive to your relationship. It’s typically the case that one-sided relationships don’t last very long. You might be okay with not having your needs met at first but after a short while you may begin to feel resentment. It is good to support her but realize that a relationship might be too much for her to handle at this time.

It’s highly recommended that she consults a mental health professional who specializes in trauma. They can assist her in identifying whether or not these episodes are dissociative in nature and prescribe the most appropriate treatment. You and she might do this together or not; the therapist can help to determine the best type of treatment for her. If you have additional questions, please write again. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle