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Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie 48 (2006) 1, 7 - 15

New research

The relationship between traumatic experiences and dissociative phenomena

W. op den Velde, P.G.H. Aarts, H.F.A. Schalken, H.N. Sno

background Intuitively we are convinced that there must be a causal relationship between traumatic experiences and dissociation. However, although the theory is both elegant and attractive, the existence of a direct causal link between trauma and dissociation is open to question. Available studies on this theme have methodological shortcomings.
aim To obtain more insight into the frequency with which psychiatric patients have undergone traumatic experiences and to find out more about the relationship between theses experiences and dissociative phenomena.
method Over a period of two years new outpatients attending psychiatric clinics completed questionnaires about their past life and mental health; in these questionnaires they gave information about traumatic experiences, dissociative phenomena, psychological symptoms and psychological functioning.
results Only 38 of the 351 patients who completed the questionnaire stated that they had never had any traumatic experiences. A relatively large number of patients mentioned that they had experienced emotional deprivation in their family of origin. The correlation coefficient between traumatic experiences and the scores for dissociative phenomena was 0.30.
conclusion In view of the weak positive correlation between traumatic experiences and dissociative phenomena the hypothesis of a linear causal relationship seems unlikely. It is possible that the relationship is based partly on the poorer general psychological functioning that follows exposure to traumatic experiences.

keywords dissociative disorders, stressful events of life