Dissociation is a term which refers to a complex physical / emotional and psychological process meant to help us cope when we are faced with an overwhelming experience and we don’t have the resources, support or ability to deal with it on our own. Chronic Dissociation can interfere with the ability to have a clear sense of one’s experiences, emotions, behaviors, sensations and thoughts and how all those are meant to fit together to make up a coherent life story. Dissociation is a common symptom associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and is itself considered a emotional disorder (Dissociative Disorder).
Logic and experience has suggested that early trauma (physical, emotional, sexual) was the most reasonable culprit and predictor in the development of dissociative symptoms but now a fascinating series of studies suggest that some of the most important predictors of developing dissociative symptoms in adulthood are established in infancy and relate to the process of human attachment. Well… I’m not surprised and WOW! am I surprised at the findings outlined in this research!
I suspect that what the research is telling us is that we may want to think differently about the types of experiences that can injure a child. In my view, this IS about trauma, but it is about trauma which is relational in nature (viz. lacking the richest & best qualities of relating). A baby has specific developmental and attachment needs to be met, seen, reflected & delighted in by the mother. When this does not happen (enough) a relational injury or trauma is likely to occur. For an infant, this may be more than it can bear and this research suggests that this particular type of hurt can set in motion another larger set of lifelong problems.
I’ve posted a link to the blog that details this amazing research showing that when a mother is unable to engage her child in a positive emotional way, or if she has a lack of an emotional response to her child or if there is a consistent disruption in the communication between mother & infant, these things – more than any overt Trauma – seem to create a vulnerability for the child to develop dissociation as a way to cope.
Here’s the link:
Developmental Pathways to Dissociation