The first experiments on trapped rotaxanes are presented, combining collision induced fragmentation and in-trap laser spectroscopy. The intrinsic optical properties of three rotaxanes and their non-interlocked building blocks (thread and macrocycle) isolated in a quadrupolar ion trap are investigated. The excitation and relaxation processes under thermal activation as well as under photo-activation are addressed. The light and collision induced fragmentation pathways show that the degradation mechanisms occurring in the rotaxane are highly dependent on the nature of the thread. In the prospective of operating photoswitchable molecules, photo-activation is achieved in a controlled way by depositing photo-energy in the desired sub-unit of a mechanically interlocked structure.