Dissociation and Gigs

Gigs are a confusing place to be when you experience any form of dissociation. For me, there are two likely outcomes. Sometimes I feel the barriers between me and everything else reduce, so I feel closer to seeing the world as a typical person does. But sometimes I instead feel more aware of the dissonance between what I’m perceiving and what I’m experiencing, and so I notice those barriers more acutely.

This isn’t an aspect of dissociation that I’ve talked to anyone about before, but it’s been on my mind recently while I’ve tried to figure out which elements make the good outcome more likely.

So, what is the good outcome? When a gig goes well, it’s practically the only time where my mind is quiet. I think that’s because the sensory input present borders on overwhelming but stops short; chaotic enough to drown out my usual questions and thought-chains but controlled enough to not cause anxiety.

Although I’m not usually a fan of loud sounds, I’m surprisingly ok with live music, at least at the beginning of a set. At the volume gets louder throughout the night, the end of a gig can often exceed what I can tolerate. (Lighting, on the other hand, can be an issue- strobe lighting is one of my few external dp triggers). Finally, another helpful aspect is that gigs are singularly focused- what you’re seeing is what you’re hearing is what you’re feeling. Also, being in a room full of people matters less to me, because everyone is there for the same reason.

And the bad side? Earlier this week, I went to see this guy, Simon McBride. It should have been an immersive experience. But dissociation meant that I watched the majority of the gig as if it was on a cinema screen. An impressive screen, but a screen none the less. (I did get a few minutes of barrier-down time near the end, however.)

Because gigs are such a high-energy environment, I’m more likely to dissociate if I see something uncomfortable or potentially harmful happen. For example, during one show I went to a few years ago, people in the crowd started getting very pushy and rowdy before the main band, Alter Bridge, in a way that made the group of us cluster around the smallest friends to protect them. That created instant dissociation for me. So while I remember seeing the first two bands, Shinedown and Halestorm, I have no memory of the Alter Bridge set, only the knowledge that I did see them.

Even in gigs where I don’t experience any extra dissociation triggers, I can still suddenly become too aware of the contrast between the supposedly- immersive environment and my detached observation.

Again, some external factors help here. I don’t have the same distaste of balcony seating as other people I know, which I think is because balcony seating provides less dissonance between my physical and mental environment. Smaller, more relaxed venues are also helpful; in my hometown of Bristol, I’ve found the Tunnels to be the most enjoyable in contrast to bigger venues like the O2 or Colston Hall.

However, whatever outcome I get from any gig, my memories resemble a movie of the night rather than a first-person experience. As a result, the cathartic mental quietness fades more quickly than I’d like. As annoying as this can be, I also find it interesting.

The experience I have at gigs represents one of the few times where I can concretely verbalise a difference between my perception and a more typical experience, which gives me a rare avenue to explain depersonalisation to someone else through.

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