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articles on dissociation and dissociative identity disorder

What is chronic dissociation?

From Dissociation Resource Guide


Some researchers believe that everybody experiences dissociation to a degree, and that dissociation exists on a continuum, ranging from mild to severe.

At the mild end of the spectrum the mind ‘dissociates’ unimportant information so that we can concentrate on the task in hand.  This is a narrowing of attention to focus only on what is essential.  Getting lost in a book is a choice to ‘dissociate’ away from external distractions.  Similarly, ‘highway hypnosis’ is the name often given to the kind of lost-in-thought state that people can fall into when driving a familiar route.  Consumed with their thoughts, they are driving perfectly safely and are ready to respond immediately in an emergency, but while ‘on autopilot’ their attention is focused inwardly on what they are thinking about rather than on the scenery.  As a result they may miss their turning or arrive at their destination thinking, “How did I get here so soon?”

In both of these examples, this is not a response to threat: in fact, it is the direct opposite, as it only occurs when the threat-level is low and there is a relative sense of ‘safety’ in the environment.  For that reason some researchers do not think that this is the same kind of dissociation as is caused by trauma and which can lead to dissociative disorders.  But many people do see it as existing on the same continuum as more problematic forms of dissociation and say that it is therefore a very normal, natural part of the way that our brain is designed to operate.

This kind of ‘alteration of consciousness’, where attention is directed on a specific task and away from other stimuli, can also be practised deliberately, for example in prayer or meditation.


Chronic, problematic, ‘pathological’ dissociation develops when there is repeated threat or trauma, especially when it starts at a young age, and when there is inadequate support or soothing from an attachment figure (usually a parent or primary caregiver).

This kind of trauma-based dissociation is an automatic, biologically-driven mechanism that is usually an involuntary response and which acts as “mental flight when physical flight is not possible” (Kluft, 1992).

Probably the greatest risk factor for developing a dissociative disorder in adulthood actually comes not from the degree of severity of the trauma, but from having a ‘disorganised attachment’ pattern.  This comes from being cared for in infanthood by a caregiver who is persistently ‘frightened’ or ‘frightening’ (Main & Hesse, 1996).


Childhood trauma does not automatically lead to a dissociative disorder.  The greatest resilience factor is a secure attachment pattern.  According to Christiane Sanderson, factors that increase the risk of developing a dissociative disorder include:

(Sanderson, 2006, p.185)


Dissociative disorders develop as a result of dissociation being used as a survival strategy repeatedly during childhood.  It is as if a ‘groove’ or ‘track’ in the mind is formed — in other words, certain neural networks are strengthened, and the mind develops with a propensity for dissociation as a coping mechanism for all kinds of stress, not just traumatic stress.  Using dissociation repeatedly means that a child is unlikely to develop alternative coping strategies.  This therefore affects their emotional and personality development.

The nature of DID is that the trauma is hidden from view, ‘dissociated’ behind usually quite strong amnesic barriers in the mind.  For this reason people can be well into middle or even late adulthood before these protective barriers disintegrate and clear evidence of a dissociative disorder is manifest.

© PODS- From Dissociation Resource Guide: click here

Tags: dissociation, dissociative identity disorder, trauma, dissociative disorder


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