Loose association involves jumping from topic to topic with seemingly no connection between two ideas. It can be a feature of several mental health conditions, including schizophrenia.

Have you ever met someone who jumped from idea to idea quickly, where it was challenging to make sense of what they were saying or thinking? Have you ever found expressing your feelings or thoughts difficult because your brain moves so fast?

If so, what you’re experiencing may be related to a concept called loose association. Loose association refers to a disconnection between ideas. It might also be referred to as associative looseness or derailment.

You may start a story or have several ideas at once, but when you try to express them, they come out as many disconnected fragments.

Loose association occurs when someone lacks a connection between different ideas. While loose associations can occur due to many mental health conditions, it’s typically seen in those with schizophrenia.

It’s often considered a thought disorder, a blanket term for a group of symptoms that disrupts the connection between ideas.

A large study that looked at the differences in learning styles between those with schizophrenia and a control group found that compared to the control group, those with schizophrenia had difficulty with associative learning.

Associative learning is learning about the relationship between two stimuli, such as:

  • events
  • objects
  • locations

A small study conducted in 2017 suggests thought disorder, including loose association, may be identifiable in preschool-aged children with certain mental health conditions, including ADHD.

Dealing with associative looseness may depend on the underlying cause.

In those with schizophrenia, treating the underlying psychosis may help with the thought disorder. Treatment for schizophrenia usually involves medications, talk therapy, or a combination of both.

In children or adults with ADHD, a combination of medication and therapy can also help to reduce symptoms, including loose association or other thought disorders.

Loss of association includes difficulties organizing thoughts into coherent verbal expressions. People who experience this condition often have challenges recognizing connections between one thought and another.

If you need help locating a therapist near you, consider using the FindCare tool or the PsychCentral guide to find a therapist and mental health support.