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I read this in an article of The Atlantic:

We walk into a pitch-black, freezing-cold building and discover there are youngsters lurking about—they’re tiny, but older, something weird, like trolls, filthy, stinking. We open a door and find a population of ‘cretins’—now it’s known as congenital iodine deficiency syndrome; untreated hypothyroidism stunts growth and brain development. There were children with underlying genetic disorders lying in cages. You start almost to disassociate.

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    What did a dictionary say, and how have you tried to apply that to this context?
    – Jim
    Jun 23, 2020 at 3:49
  • @Jim It doesn’t make sense when the meaning offered by a dictionary is applied here.
    – ZaneHsu
    Jun 23, 2020 at 4:09
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    If you assume that the author is using the term correctly, then one of the definitions must fit. If none of the definitions fit, then the author is misusing the word and it would be impossible for anyone other than the author to say what it means.
    – Jim
    Jun 23, 2020 at 4:11

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The usual spelling is dissociate. In its use in psychology as a mental action, state, or event, Wikipedia gives its definition as follows:

Dissociation is any of a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experiences. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis.

The usual dictionary definitions focus on separating one’s self from people, organizations, or views with which one does not wish to associate.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissociation_(psychology)

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  • In other words, the writer is saying I can't be here. Jun 23, 2020 at 14:04
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    @YosefBaskin Yes, maybe not even consciously. The Atlantic excerpt is apparently based on Romania 30 years ago—discarded & unwanted children.
    – Xanne
    Jun 23, 2020 at 15:31

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