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Childhood Trauma: Dissociation in cPTSD

Childhood Trauma: Dissociation in cPTSD – What You Need to Know

I. Introduction 

Dissociation in cPTSD is a complex issue requiring much attention and understanding. It involves separating the individual from parts of his or her perception, thoughts and memories due to childhood trauma. cPTSD, short for complex post-traumatic stress syndrome, is a severe form of PTSD caused by surviving severe, prolonged trauma. Dissociation is one of the most common symptoms of cPTSD and can serve as a protective mechanism to repress traumatic memories and lead to adverse effects on daily life. It is a type of avoidance strategy for dealing with unbearable emotions and thoughts, so that is an important indicator of the presence of cPTSD. 

Many people mistakenly believe that dissociation is rare When you read the word “dissociation”, you may think that it refers to multiple personalities, memory lapses or “film tears”. However, dissociation exists on a continuum, and many symptoms occur relatively frequently.

For example, dissociation may make you feel tired, foggy, forgetful or distracted. Or you may feel disconnected from your body and “trapped inside your head”. Sometimes dissociation can make you feel like a child again, wherein you may feel helpless, lost or small. You may feel that your thoughts or actions are not your own. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, you may feel that your world is surreal or go to places you don’t know how you got there. 

Most importantly, know that any dissociative symptoms once helped you survive constant stress and unsolvable threats.

This online article will explore the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of dissociation in cPTSD and provide a more profound understanding of this topic.

A. Definition of dissociation 

– Dissociation is a psychological mechanism that separates an individual from a part of their own perception, thoughts or memories. 

B. Definition of cPTBS 

cPTSD stands for complex post-traumatic stress syndrome and refers to severe PTSD caused by surviving severe, prolonged trauma. 

C. Relationship between dissociation and cPTBS

– Dissociation is one of the most common symptoms of cPTSD. It can be a protective mechanism to repress traumatic experiences or memories and process unbearable emotions. However, it can also have a negative impact on the daily life of sufferers.

II. Causes of dissociation in cPTBS 

Dissociation in cPTSD is a form of defence by the brain against overwhelming emotions and memories triggered by trauma. Understanding how this dissociation occurs is crucial to develop better ways to overcome it.

A. Childhood trauma 

Dissociation in cPTSD is often caused by trauma experienced during childhood. This includes domestic violence, sexual abuse, physical abuse and other severe forms of trauma

B. How dissociation arises in response to trauma 

Dissociation arises as a protective mechanism against overwhelming emotions and memories triggered by trauma. It allows individuals to distance themselves from the trauma and not fully process it. 

This is because the brain switches to survival mode in situations with a high threat level, such as physical or sexual abuse. The prefrontal cortex and hippocampus generate memories of long-term facts and the timing of events. In contrast, the amygdala is the area of the brain that stores memories’ sensory and emotional details. 

During traumatic events, adrenaline surges activate the amygdala, causing a person to form powerful memories of sensory fragments, such as smells, sounds or bodily sensations. The connection to the brain regions responsible for language, speech and contextual information is cut. At the same time, activation decreases in the areas of the brain responsible for learning and long-term memory for facts. Because of this, people may remember specific sensory details of a trauma, such as how they felt during an experience, but not the exact sequence or chronological order of events. They may also find it difficult to talk coherently about their experiences with others.

When we experience neglect or abuse at birth or early childhood, these memories can imprint strongly on the body and nervous system. Experts call memories from the first three years of life “preverbal” memories because they were formed before a child developed speech and language. These memories are instead stored as motor patterns and sensations. (Another name for these memories is “body memories”.) Preverbal memories contain the felt experiences of a child’s attachment relationships, i.e. relationships with mother, father or other caregivers in childhood. If you have experienced early childhood trauma, you may have emotional flashbacks with intense feelings, body sensations or dissociative symptoms without knowing why.

C. Risk factors for the development of dissociation in cPTBS

Some risk factors for developing dissociation in cPTSD include the presence of genetic factors, type of trauma, age at trauma, duration and frequency of trauma, and lack of support and care after the trauma.

III. Dissociative symptoms in cPTBS 

Dissociation is the brain‘s response to overwhelming emotions and memories triggered by trauma. Different forms of dissociation can occur in cPTSD, each of which can have different symptoms and impact daily life.

Dissociation is closely related to the fainting response, in which the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. The fainting response can also make you feel spaceless, sluggish and sleepy as the body releases naturally occurring opioids that have a numbing effect. Dissociating people may also experience nausea, dizziness, a drop in blood pressure, loss of the ability to speak clearly or visual disturbances. Heart rate and blood pressure can sometimes drop rapidly, leading to actual fainting or psychogenic (non-epileptic) seizures called vasovagal syncope. In addition to these physical symptoms, people with cPTSD may be vulnerable to various chronic pain and illnesses due to dissociating traumatic memories.

A. Forms of dissociation 

Dissociation can come in several forms, including amnesia, depersonalization, derealization, and dissociative identity disorder. Each form has its own symptoms and can interfere with daily life.

B. Symptoms and signs of dissociation 

Dissociative symptoms can manifest in various forms, such as memory loss, lack of emotion, feeling alienated from oneself, and altered perception of reality. It is important to note that each person may react differently to dissociation. Sufferers may feel unable to respond, endlessly tired, powerless, or even paralysed.

So, the signs of dissociation can vary from person to person, but may include some or all of the following symptoms:

1. Amnesia: amnesia is a loss of memory in which a person cannot remember parts of their past. There are different types of amnesia, including complete amnesia, partial amnesia and selective amnesia.

2. Depersonalization: feeling separated from oneself or the world around one. In this, sufferers have the feeling of being separated from their own bodies and sensations. It can feel like a dream or hallucination.

3. Derealization: The feeling that the world around you is unreal. It can feel just like a dream or hallucination.

4. Identity disorders are conditions where people have problems defining or understanding their identity and personality. There are different types of identity disorders, including borderline personality disorder.

5. Cross-fades: Sudden changes from one personality to another.

6. Emotional dissociation: a lack of emotional response to events or people that would normally trigger strong emotions.

7. Memory impairment: Problems recalling specific events or information. Dissociation can affect the ability to accurately remember traumatic experiences. This is because the brain switches to survival mode in situations with a high threat level, such as physical or sexual abuse. Dissociation from traumatic memories impairs the memory of long-term facts and illnesses.

8. Cognitive disorders: Problems in perceiving, processing and organizing information.

9. Confusion: a feeling of confusion or bewilderment.

10. Mental disorders: Other mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, may also be observed.

It is important to note that these symptoms do not always indicate dissociation and further investigation may be required to confirm a diagnosis. 

C. Effects of dissociation on daily life

Dissociation can affect daily life by affecting memory, emotionality and perception of reality. It can cause problems at work, and in relationships, and challenge the sufferer to lead an everyday life.

Understanding the symptoms of dissociation is essential to better recognize when a dissociative disorder is occurring. Treatment can help to cope better with everyday life.

IV.      Diagnosis and treatment 

A. Diagnostic criteria 

Diagnosis of dissociation in cPTSD requires thorough questioning about symptoms and life history. Tests and questionnaires to assess dissociation and other mental disorders may also help to make a diagnosis. It is important to rule out other possible causes of symptoms, such as depression, anxiety disorders or schizophrenia.

B. Treatment options for dissociation in cPTBS 

Treatment for dissociation in cPTSD may involve a combination of psychotherapy, medication and supportive measures. Psychotherapy is an essential pillar of treatment for dissociation and cPTSD. Therapy helps to uncover and eliminate the causes of dissociation. In some cases, medication may also be needed to treat other mental disorders that may exacerbate dissociation.

C. Importance of early diagnosis and treatment

It is vital that patients with dissociation and cPTSD receive appropriate treatment early to prevent further complications and improve their quality of life. Early diagnosis and treatment will also help leave trauma in the past so that sufferers can lead fulfilling lives.

V.        Conclusion 

A. Summary of the most important information 

In this article, we have explored the topic of dissociation in cPTSD. We have explored the causes, forms and symptoms of dissociation and explained how it can affect daily life. We have also discussed the diagnosis and treatment of dissociation.

B. Importance of dissociation in cPTBS 

Knowledge about dissociation in cPTSD is crucial, as it is a common and often unrecognized part of trauma sequelae. Affected people are entitled to a better life. Understanding the origins of their dissociative symptoms can increase self-compassion and reduce any feelings of shame.

C. Resources and further information

Contact local trauma centres or organizations for further information and resources about dissociation in cPTSD. There are also many online resources, books and forums that provide further information. You – as a sufferer, family member or friend – can find out more about the topic and so are not alone in doing so.

VI. Appendix 

A. Bibliography

“The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel van der Kolk

“Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror” by Judith Lewis Herman

Disassociation and the Dissociative Disorders: DSM-V and Beyond” by Paul F. Dell and J. Douglas Bremner

B. Links to further resources

National Alliance on Trauma and Abuse (NATM) –

International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD) – www.isst-dorg

Trauma and Dissociation Knowledge Centre –

C. Contact information for victims and relatives

National hotline for victims of violence: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

National Organisation for Survivors of Self-Harm: 1-800-DONT-CUT (366-8288)

National Organisation for Survivors of Sexual Abuse: 1-888-567-HERO (567-4376)


Sack, M. (2010). Schonende Traumatherapie: Ressourcenorientierte Behandlung von Traumafolgestörungen. Schattauer.

Schwartz, A. (2020). A Practical Guide to Complex Ptsd: Compassionate Strategies to Begin Healing from Childhood Trauma. Rockridge Press.

Schwartz, A. (2016). The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole. Althea Press.

Walker, P. (2013). Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A Guide and Map for Recovering from Childhood Trauma. CreateSpace. 

Walker, P. (2015). The Tao of Fully Feeling: Harvesting Forgiveness Out of Blame. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform.

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