DISSOCIATION is a mental process of disconnecting from one’s thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity.
Previously seen as a sign of mental illness, DISSOCIATION is now understood as a normal and universal part of the STRESS RESPONSE. Researchers throughout the world have documented how severe childhood abuse is associated with severe DISSOCIATION which interferes with emotional regulation and daily function.
DISSOCIATION can be as simple as “spacing out” when tired, bored or overwhelmed – or can include DEPERSONALIZATION (feeling odd changes of one’s experience of self – feeling detached or disconnected from one’s body) or DEREALIZATION (when the world feels unreal or distant).
Kratzer (2021) Co-occurrence of severe PTSD, somatic symptoms and dissociation in a large sample of childhood trauma inpatients: a network analysis. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci Study of 665 patients found a strong association of chronic or recurrent pain in patients with childhood trauma and dissociation - particularly headache, back and muscle pain.
King (2020) Childhood maltreatment type and severity predict depersonalization and derealization in treatment-seeking women with postraumatic stress disorder. Psychiatry Res. Evaluations of 106 women with PTSD and dissociation found that emotional and physical abuse, especially if severe, were association with dissociation (depersonalization and derealization).
van Huijstee and Vermetten (2018) The Dissociative Subtype of PTSD: Research Update on Clinical and Neurobiological Features. Curr Top Behav Neurosci The dissociative subtype of PTSD is associated with high PTSD severity, predominance of derealization and depersonalization symptoms, a more significant history of early life trauma, and higher levels of other mental suffering.
Schimmenti (2016). Linking the overwhelming with the unbearable: Developmental trauma, dissociation and the disconnected self. Psychoanalytic psychology
Lanius R, Vermetten E, Pain C. The Impact of Early Life Trauma on Health and Disease. Cambridge Press, 2010.