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Dissociation as a psychological defence mechanism

Dissociation is a disconnection from events and states that are usually integrated. One type of dissociation is depersonalisation - feeling that one is not in their own body and are disconnected from one’s sense of self. Another type of dissociation is derealisation – the world and environment feel unreal to the individual.

Both subjective dissociation states may result from trauma, so dissociation may be considered a psychological mechanisms of defence. This dissociation means the person is emotionally withdrawn from their healthy sense of self and the world, and this cannot protect against future trauma. Past trauma may result in emotional withdrawal from the self, essentially regressing back – “a return to the womb” as some suggest. This “return to the womb” may be an internal state of those who have experienced trauma, including the subjective experience of psychosis.

Regressive psychotherapy, based on Erik Erkinson’s stages of psychosocial development, focusing on the natural level of development may be effective. For example starting with trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. shame/doubt, initiative vs. guilt. This intervention may be possible through Rogerian therapy, developing trust; Alderian therapy, developing autonomy; Behaviourism, reinforcing initiative; Cognitive therapy, addressing abstract thought.

Overall, dissociation may result from trauma, but nurturing the individual through appropriate psychotherapy may help trauma association with dissociation.

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By: Abigail Christine Wright
Last updated: Monday, 15 June 2015

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