Not to be confused with derealisation or depersonalisation, neither of which I have any experience with.
I only figured out I'm autistic in 2022. I'm still learning. Writing these articles is how I learn things. They're all works in progress, to various extents. No-one can speak for an entire minority group. These are just my personal experiences, things I've found out from talking to my friends, and discussions I've seen on autistic forums. Please don't take me as authoritative. I'm not.
Dissociation is when you sort of detach from your senses for a bit.
I rarely leave the house, and one of the few reasons I do go out is to attend modular synthesiser meetups.
It's a pretty intense combination: being driven somewhere (I get intense motion sickness, presumably due to vestibular hypersensitivity); then standing around in a big room all day, listening to a loud cocophony of several dozen synthesisers making completely unrelated sounds while a bustling crowd has hundreds of unrelated conversations; socialising with several dozen of these people, as enjoyable as that is; and forgetting to eat at regular intervals, so far from the kitchen I use to prepare my regular food. Naturally, that combination can be a tad overwhelming.
In hindsight, now that I realise I'm autistic, it's perhaps unsurprising that on one such occasion, towards the very end of the day, something strange happened to me. I entered a weird, dreamlike state, sort of like being drunk. I couldn't talk to people properly anymore. I could barely think or concentrate.
At the time, my partner and I assumed it must have been some sort of painless migraine without the scintillating scotoma (the swirling patterns of bright colours around the periphery of your vision that spiral inwards until you become temporarily blind), brought on by forgetting to eat for many hours followed by a sudden sugar rush. At any rate, after we left, as she was driving me home, I threw up, and suddenly snapped back to reality, as if jolted awake from a dream, except the dream was the same thing, only with that added layer of unrealness. It was one of the stranger things to happen to me.
Since realising I'm autistic, I've discussed this with a few people, and the consensus seems to be that I dissociated. This wasn't a migraine brought on by a spiking blood sugar level. On some level, I was protecting myself from prolongued sensory (and social) overwhelm by simply detaching from my senses somewhat, forming a protective barrier.
Now that I know the actual cause, I'm going to ensure my partner and I take it in turns to have breaks outside where it's calmer and less busy; wear earplugs that somewhat subdue the sounds while still letting me talk to people as much as my APD allows for; and even though this probably wasn't the main issue, bring enough snacks that my blood sugar level won't drop for a sustained period then suddenly spike back up again.
Hopefully I won't need to dissociate again, although it sounds like under the circumstances, it was still preferable to what it was saving me from.