What is the Connection Between Trauma and Dissociation?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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Trauma and dissociation are linked because one often feeds off the other. When someone experiences a very traumatic situation, he may learn to condition his brain in order to dissociate himself from it. This often happens in young children who undergo frequent physical or sexual assault. Sometimes with repeated exposure to trauma, a person may develop a dissociation disorder. This happens in abuse situations, in soldiers who are involved in combat, and sometimes after a single heavily traumatic event.

The relationship between trauma and dissociation has been studied, and most times dissociation occurs due to trauma, although many people who experience extreme traumatic situations do not use dissociation as a coping technique. Many who do use it are highly intelligent and creative, and this brain capacity allows them create separate realities they can use to escape painful circumstances. Sometimes this can lead to separate identities or personalities that they continue to carrying with them even after the trauma has ended.

Trauma and dissociation are sometimes associated with multiple personality disorder. This is when one person claims more than one identity, and each separate entity seems to have no knowledge of the others. Sufferers transition from one personality to the other, often without warning, in a process known as switching. Treatment may include medication or therapy to uncover the underlying causes of these extreme cases of dissociation.


Many people with these issues begin using dissociation to escape even minor stress or obstacles, and often accomplish little due to constant personality changes or escapes from reality. In severe cases, one may not be able to function in a normal work or family environment. Even some primarily healthy people may have some symptoms of a disorder, however, and there are varying degrees of personality disorder.

Nearly every person experiences some levels of trauma and dissociation in everyday life, although most do not think of these experiences in that way. Daydreaming to relieve boredom or becoming “lost” in a movie or television show after a stressful day are also forms of mild dissociation and can be part of a healthy lifestyle. That said, even these activities can be harmful if used too often or to escape all of life’s stressors.

With proper treatment, many people with dissociation disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders can overcome their symptoms and lead productive lives. Overcoming these obstacles often involves therapy to discuss the sources of trauma and stress. Even those with only mild forms of a disorder, such as constant daydreaming or fantasies, can often benefit from certain therapies.


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