NLP: ‘Associated’ vs ‘Dissociated’ In Language

NLP dissociatedOne of the most important submodality distinctions in NLP is the difference between ‘associated’ and ‘dissociated’. Each has different emotional and cognitive effects, and are good for different things.

When someone is associated into an internal representation (their viewpoint is located within the representation), they will have access to the feelings in that experience. When they are dissociated (outside the experience), the feelings will be less intense (though they may still have feelings about what they are seeing).

Generally, the more a person talks about an experience, the more they will associate into it. This is useful when you are eliciting resource states – not so useful with unresourceful experiences, as strong negative emotions can shut down thinking processes.

The words we use shape and sequence the internal representations of the listener, so what you say and how you say it can make a big difference to the effect and impact you have. Let’s see how this works. Here’s a list of questions and phrases, and I want you to try each one out in your own experience and check if your internal representation resulting from it is associated or dissociated.

Question/phrase Associated/
This experience
That experience
How does that make you feel?
As you look back at that experience….
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
What is it like when you….?
And then what happened?
And… what happens next?
Looking forward to….
What do you see?

What did you find? Most people will find some phrases elicit an associated internal representation, and others bring out a dissociated one. There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers – this is purely an exercise to bring home the distinction between associated and dissociated representations, and to notice the kinds of language that tend to evoke each response.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

© 2013 – 2019, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.


  1. Peter Hirst

    Well done, Andy.
    Your questions clearly show how easy it is to alter someone’s state regarding this sub-modality.

    1. Andy Smith

      Thanks Peter. It’s going to depend how much they engage with what you’re saying to them, and their subjective internal responses, so it won’t necessarily work like flipping a switch, but it should have a cumulative effect in most cases and a dramatic effect in some.

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