late 14c., distracten, "to turn or draw (a person, the mind) aside or away from any object; divert (the attention) from any point toward another point," from Latin distractus, past participle of distrahere "draw in different directions," from dis- "away" (see dis-) + trahere "to draw" (see tract (n.1)).
Sense of "to throw into a state of mind in which one knows not how to act, cause distraction in, confuse by diverse or opposing considerations" is from 1580s. Also formerly sometimes in a stronger sense, "disorder the reason of, render frantic or mad" (1590s). Literal senses of "pull apart in different directions and separate; cut into parts or sections" are from late 16c. but are rare or obsolete in English. Related: Distracted; distracting.