Virtual Reality and The Dissociative Spectrum

Studies of people who use Virtual Reality as their primary form of entertainment show a spectrum of dissociation.

This idea of a spectrum of dissociation emerges as virtual reality becomes increasingly immersive and the dissociative process becomes more complete and easier to see.

Clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle suggests that users of virtual reality are in a transition from “…a modernist culture of calculation toward a postmodernist culture of simulation.”

When Turkle made these observations in 1996 immersive virtual reality was not available to average users

Turkle wrote: “Windows have become a powerful metaphor for thinking about the self as a multiple, distributed system…The self is no longer simply playing different roles in different settings at different times. The life practice of windows is that of a decentered self that exists in many worlds, that plays many roles at the same time.” Now real life itself may be, as one of Turkle’s subjects says, “just one more window.”

A couple of studies suggest that virtual reality increases dissociative behavior and reduces one’s sense of presence in objective reality.

This is from the 2013 paper Sanity and Mental health in an Age of Augmented and Virtual Realities, by Gregory P. Garvey:

“In virtual worlds like Second Life, ‘residents’ may have multiple avatars having different genders through which they enact very different personalities. Such role-playing fits with the description of Dissociative Identity Disorder in the DSM-V. Users of Second Life have experiences akin to depersonalization, de-realization or even dissociative identity disorder.”

Garvey conducted a survey of 110 users of Second Life based on the Structured Clinical Interview for Depersonalization–De-realization Spectrum.

“Many users have multiple avatars, which enact distinct identities or personalities, and this fits the criteria for dissociative identity disorder. To experience any of these disorders in real life may be considered undesirable, even pathological. But for users of Second Life such dissociative experiences are considered normal, liberating, and even transcendent.” Gregory P. Garvey, Dissociation and Second Life: Pathology or Transcendence?

For healthy people the controlled use of the dissociative process is liberating; and virtual reality gives us new ways to express ourselves and learn.

But pathological dissociation compromises the brain’s ability to differentiate
the real from the imaginary.

To dissociate pathologically is to lose ones place in time.

Photo of a male avatar walking in the rain against the backdrop of a black and white snapshot of public housing
in the projects

 

(c) Rob Goldstein 2015-2017
First posted 2/28/2015

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“Home”

Dire Straits/Sultans Of Swing
1977,

And Harry doesn’t mind, if he doesn’t, make the scene
He’s got a daytime job, he’s doing alright
He can play the honky tonk like anything
Savin’ it up, for Friday night
With the Sultans
We’re the Sultans of Swing

A Flight of Ideas: Secret Obscenities

My life ended and sent me into crisis.

An arm around my shoulder, a doctor gives counsel:

He says, if I take my pills, I will forget my grief, I will be happy.

He says, the Lord is in my heart, if I search it, I’ll find him, he’ll
save me.

He says, if I climb the right steps, I’ll be normal, if I talk about it:
this grief I can’t mention.

My lies are those of one who doesn’t trust, and so I fear
that unless the lying stops, I will —

Become the prank who attends his own funeral, mingling
with the mourners, and whispering secret obscenities.

(c)text Rob Goldstein 1984, image Rob Goldstein 2017