Since the launch of social media, users have crowded various platforms to share their thoughts or experiences to a worldwide audience. The younger generations have spent the majority of their lives online as they make up the majority of social media users. Spending time online means interacting with groups of people, sharing your interests, and learning about the social aspect of society. However, social media can be misleading and someone’s online persona can differ significantly from their in-person personality. Adolescents are easily influenced by popular creators or trends, and spending excessive time online can distort one’s sense of identity. Their traits could be adopted from others and not truly developed from themselves. These instances can likely lead to development of dissociative disorders. Dissociative disorders are characterized by inconsistencies in identity, personality, memory, etc. (Nester et al., 2022). The growth of adolescents is significantly shaped with online usage, where they have access to a large community.
Excessive internet usage could be caused by several factors. Adolescents who experience mistreatment or bullying may seek shelter in the social atmosphere of the internet (Lung & Shu, 2021). Although the internet is not inherently a good place for fostering mental health, it does create a space where adolescents who have experienced trauma or bullying can cope and regulate their moods (Lung & Shu, 2021). The internet’s addicting quality can be attributed to its vast community of users, who use various platforms as outlets that represent their interests. Whether it be a community of users who collectively make up a fanbase of a television series or a popular sports team, such interactive communities provide support to those who do not have access to such in everyday life.
Becoming engrossed in the online community and world is fairly common especially when they provide emotional support. However, becoming excessively absorbed in these communities to the point of not being able to separate the online world from reality is a trait commonly observed in dissociative experiences (Lung & Shu, 2021). This trait is quite common and can be compared to when you “zone out” during a conversation (Cummins, 2020). In a study conducted by Lung and Shu, they observed how problematic internet use and the self-absorptive trait of dissociative experiences were related. The study found that more adolescents who excessively stayed online were more likely to have been bullied than those that have not been bullied. Escaping to the internet serves as a medium for victims of bullying or trauma, where they can seek connections to those alike. They may find their virtual persona more appealing than their reality, fostering this absorptive trait of dissociation. In addition, these adolescents may find correlating symptoms of depression and anxiety (Lung & Shu, 2021). The online world has been transformed into an immersive space that possesses a dangerous appeal.
The best way to treat and prevent these dissociative qualities is to destigmatize dissociative disorder and to make treatment accessible (Nester et al., 2022). Lung’s study also proposed parental guidance to set rules on internet usage for adolescents that experience this detachment from reality due to excessive use. The internet can serve as a place to mediate emotions and help foster connections, however, it must be done in moderation.
Cummins, E. (2020, March 3). Our Screens Are Making Us Dissociate | by Eleanor Cummins | OneZero. OneZero. https://onezero.medium.com/our-digital-devices-have-sparked-a-dissociation-pandemic-46cc18ae0b5b
Lung, F.-W., & Shu, B.-C. (2021, November 12). The Self-Absorptive Trait of Dissociative Experience and Problematic Internet Use: A National Birth Cohort Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(22), 1-10. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph182211848
Nester, S., Hawkins, S. L., & Brand, B. L. (2022, February 17). Barriers to accessing and continuing mental health treatment among individuals with dissociative symptoms. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 13(1), 1-7. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/20008198.2022.2031594