Dissociation Essay

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Dissociation is a neurophysiological process by which individuals become disconnected from their behavioral, affective, cognitive, or sensory reality. This process occurs for some individuals when they are in a terrifying situation and have no perceived means of escape. This is one of two primary neurophysiological processes that occur when individuals are confronted with a terrifying situation and is associated with a “freeze” response. The other process is better known as the fight-or-flight response. The dissociative response is more typical of females, and the fight-or-flight response is more typical of males. Certain individuals appear to have a greater genetic predisposition to dissociate under terrifying conditions. Children are especially prone to dissociation.

Dissociative experiences encompass a continuum of internal states, ranging from the most basic daydreaming on one end of the continuum to dissociative identity disorder (formerly multiple personality disorder) on the other. Dissociative experiences so problematic as to be considered maladaptive are labeled dissociative disorders. These experiences can be isolated or repetitive. In dissociative fugue, individuals suddenly and unexpectedly travel away from home and assume a new identity without being able to recall their previous identity. In dissociative amnesia, individuals cannot recall essential information about themselves, often of a traumatic nature. Depersonalization disorder occurs when individuals’ sense of their own reality is temporarily lost or distorted, as when individuals experience themselves as being in a dream or outside their body.

Dissociative Identity Disorder

Dissociative identity disorder is the most serious dissociative disorder. When children respond to repeated terrifying experiences by dissociating, they find it progressively easier to move into a dissociative state. Over repeated episodes of abuse, this state may develop its own unique knowledge or history of the abuse as well as its own sensory, affective, and behavioral realities. When these four realities converge within a single state, individuals typically experience this state as a unique identity or personality that is capable of taking control over behavior. Individuals may or may not be aware of this personality state. Once individuals are able to develop a single personality state, they also become capable of developing multiple personality states. Thus, most individuals with dissociative identity disorder have more than one personality state. Although treatment for individuals with the disorder is typically long term, the disorder can be resolved over time with appropriate therapeutic attention to the incipient traumas. Successful treatment can culminate with complete integration of personality states or with multiple personality states that have learned to coexist in harmony with the individual.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., Text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.
  2. Silberg, J. L. (2000). Fifteen years of dissociation in maltreated children: Where do we go from here? Child Maltreatment, 5, 119–136.

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