Effects of abuse: Defining Dissociation

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Effects of Domestic violence and Sexual Abuse: Defining Dissociation

PSP will combine archaeology and psychotherapy in exploring the material histories of violence in the home, through collaborative work with victims and survivors. It is important that all aspects of project work (from preparation, through research, fieldwork, analysis, to presentation), attend to the potential effects of trauma.

Debra will outline some of these effects, through a series of blog posts (which we will bring together on a dedicated webpage), beginning with dissociation – a specialism of hers in therapeutic work.


Definition of Dissociation

The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation state that the psychological term ‘dissociation’ is “a word that is used to describe the disconnection or lack of connection between things usually associated with each other”.[i] Dissociated experiences are not integrated into the usual sense of self, resulting in discontinuities in conscious awareness.[ii]

Steinberg and Schnall offer a definition of dissociation as “An adaptive defence in response to high stress or trauma characterized by memory loss and a sense of disconnection from oneself or one’s surroundings”.[iii] Dissociation can be “a reaction to early abandonment, severe sustained pain, near-death experiences and/or prolonged neglect”.[iv]

Cozolino states that dissociation allows an individual to escape the abuse by several biological and psychological procedures.[v] The increased levels of endogenous opioids produce a sense of comfort and a reduction in specific processing of overwhelming abusive circumstances. “Psychological processes such as derealisation and depersonalisation allow the victim to either avoid the reality of his or her situation or watch it as an observer”.[vi]

Works cited

[i] International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (2004-14) ‘Dissociation FAQs’, International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation website: http://www.isst-d.org/default.asp?contentID=76  [Accessed: 10.04.2015].

[ii] International Society for the Study of Dissociation, op. cit..

[iii] M. Steinberg and M. Schnall (2000) The Stranger in the Mirror – Dissociation The Hidden Epidemic (Cliff Street Books – An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers United States of America), p. 1.

[iv] Richard G. Erskine (1993) ‘Inquiry, Attunement and Involvement in the Psychotherapy of Dissociation’, The Institute for Integrative Psychotherapy website, on-line articles: http://integrativetherapy.com/en/articles.php?id=28 [Accessed: 10.04.2015]. (Originally published in the Transactional Analysis Journal, Vol. 23, No. 4, October 1993, pp. 184-190;  part presented at the Symposium on the Treatment of Dissociation, 29th Annual International Transactional Analysis Association Conference, October 26, 1991, Stamford, Connecticut, U.S.A.).

[v] L. Cozolino (2002) The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Building and Rebuilding the Human Brain (W.W. Norton & Company: New York and London).

[vi] Ibid., p. 267

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