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Evaluation of the Evidence for the Trauma and Fantasy Models of Dissociation

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Psychological Bulletin © 2012

Evaluation of the Evidence for the Trauma and Fantasy Models of Dissociation

Constance J. Dalenberg
California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, San Diego

The relationship between a reported history of trauma and dissociative symptoms has been explained in 2 conflicting ways. Pathological dissociation has been conceptualized as a response to antecedent traumatic stress and/or severe psychological adversity. Others have proposed that dissociation makes individuals prone to fantasy, thereby engendering confabulated memories of trauma. We examine data related to a series of 8 contrasting predictions based on the trauma model and the fantasy model of dissociation. In keeping with the trauma model, the relationship between trauma and dissociation was consistent and moderate in strength, and remained significant when objective measures of trauma were used. Dissociation was temporally related to trauma and trauma treatment, and was predictive of trauma history when fantasy proneness was controlled. Dissociation was not reliably associated with suggestibility, nor was there evidence for the fantasy model prediction of greater inaccuracy of recovered memory. Instead, dissociation was positively related to a history of trauma memory recovery and negatively related to the more general measures of narrative cohesion. Research also supports the trauma theory of dissociation as a regulatory response to fear or other extreme emotion with measurable biological correlates. We conclude, on the basis of evidence related to these 8 predictions, that there is strong empirical support for the hypothesis that trauma causes dissociation, and that dissociation remains related to trauma history when fantasy proneness is controlled. We find little support for the hypothesis that the dissociation–trauma relationship is due to fantasy proneness or confabulated memories of trauma.

Keywords: trauma, dissociative disorder, dissociation, suggestibility, fantasy


The sound of shutting the window

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‘No’ he screamed and stamped his feet . He was tired of listening and trying to understand all the time.

Tired of parents telling him what to do, with no affection when he actually tried. His little feet grew bigger, until they made the scary sound he wanted. He stamped until the ground shook and the floorboard cracked. His ‘no’ was now a real threat and the gleam in his eye of defiance lethal. He now finally got what he wanted;  Attention. His own attentive stare glared at her face. He remembered exactly how a face carved in contempt looked; His parents knew the expression exactly. Sometimes he remembered the lines in their faces so vividly that it almost felt like their girlfriend had the same look of disgust behind the contempt. Their lines superimposed on everyone else’s, almost like a lid almost fitting a box. He also remembered how they shut their windows so nobody could see their valuable assets and steal them. He knew how important it was to hide from thieves and couldn’t understand why the people at school complained over ‘he just blanked out’. Didn’t they know that was necessary to protect them from taking what is yours ?


It’s tough being a child when navigating in a dangerous world.

‘No, I won’t accept your drama!’ He shouted. When another flinch on her reignited more memories of withdrawal, he took her thin arm and held it tight. No one could win over him anymore. He would never be weak again

The sound of swirls

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I throw my heart out,

and watch it spin down

in beautiful oblivion

You usually take care of them. You heed them and notice them if you let them roam. You protect them, but try to give them freedom. You experiment with them, think about them and stifle them. You seldom love them, but when you prepare to shape them so they will be just right, you sometimes do. When they flutter in the right way, put themselves after one another in the correct sequence. When they follow your intake of breath exactly, and linger at the right spot, you smile.

But not always.

Have you ever seen a blender the size of a house? How much do you think it can take? What can escape its crushing force? Would you want anything other than fruit in there?

Words are precious. Without them, we`d feel afraid. Today we can live thousand lives just by letting them in after turning a page. Today we can collect and remember them. Make them our treasures.

blendWhen we learn to express them, someone must listen. Without reply, they fall. Some begin their ride on the rollercoaster, until they flurry into someone`s ear. We wait in anticipation. Will they smile back as us in wonder or disgust? Or will their faces be blank? What if these words got in the sickening blender, gyrating around until their shape`s contorted? What if the forceful whirlpool made them dizzy, so they no longer knew what was a and what was b? Imagine how they twirl around, faster and faster?

Meet the swirling blender. So nice to look at, with its shiny exterior. Useful and every girl`s dream. But sometimes it makes a mess out of thing. What was whole and complete before,  shredded and distorted until its unrecognizable.


Be careful, dare one. Your words might get in there, too.



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