Exploring The Link Between Trauma And Dissociation

Exploring The Link Between Trauma And Dissociation

Trauma, in its various forms, can leave a profound impact on individuals, often manifesting in various psychological and emotional complexities. One such manifestation is dissociation, a coping mechanism where individuals disconnect from their thoughts, feelings, memories, or sense of identity. Dissociation is a defence mechanism where individuals detach from their thoughts, emotions, memories, or sense of identity. It can manifest as feeling disconnected from oneself or surroundings, memory lapses, or a sense of unreality. It often occurs during or after traumatic experiences as a means of coping (Swaim, 2022).

Understanding the intricate link between trauma and dissociation is crucial for effective therapeutic interventions and support.

In this article, we delve into the connection between trauma and dissociation, exploring its manifestations, underlying mechanisms, and implications for treatment.

Understanding trauma and dissociation

Trauma encompasses a wide range of experiences, from physical or emotional abuse to natural disasters, accidents, or witnessing violence. These events overwhelm an individual's capacity to cope, leaving a lasting imprint on their psyche (Ryder, 2022).

Dissociation, on the other hand, is a defence mechanism that helps individuals manage overwhelming emotions or memories by disconnecting from their conscious awareness. It can range from mild detachment to more severe forms, such as dissociative amnesia, depersonalisation, or derealisation (Tull,2022).

The link between trauma and dissociation

Research indicates a strong association between trauma and dissociation, particularly in individuals who have experienced prolonged or repeated traumatic events, such as childhood abuse or neglect (Scognamiglio et al., 2024). For many, dissociation serves as a survival strategy, allowing them to compartmentalise distressing memories or emotions to maintain a semblance of normalcy. However, though initially adaptive, prolonged dissociation can hinder emotional processing and disrupt daily functioning.

Manifestations of dissociation

Dissociation can manifest in various ways, impacting different facets of an individual's life. Some common manifestations include:

Depersonalisation: This refers to a sense of detachment from oneself, where individuals feel disconnected from their thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations (Cleveland Clinic, 2023). They may perceive themselves as observers rather than active participants in their own lives.

Derealisation: This occurs when individuals perceive the external world as unreal or distorted, leading to a sense of detachment from one's surroundings. Individuals may feel like they're in a dreamlike state or that the world lacks depth and meaning.

Dissociative amnesia: This involves gaps in memory surrounding traumatic events or periods of extreme stress. These memory lapses can be partial or complete, with individuals unable to recall significant details or experiences (Cleveland Clinic, 2023).

Identity disturbance: This refers to a fragmented or unstable sense of self, where individuals may experience shifts in identity, values, or beliefs. This can manifest as confusion about one's identity or feeling disconnected from one's past or present self.

Mechanisms underlying trauma-related dissociation

The development of dissociation in response to trauma is influenced by various psychological, neurobiological, and interpersonal factors. Some key mechanisms include:

Hyperarousal and hypoarousal: Traumatic experiences can dysregulate the body's stress response system, leading to periods of heightened arousal (fight-or-flight response) or numbing and dissociation (freeze response) (Neff, 2023).

Fragmentation of memory: Trauma disrupts the encoding and retrieval of memories, leading to fragmented or disjointed recollections of traumatic events. Dissociation may serve to compartmentalise these memories to protect the individual from overwhelming emotions.

Attachment and relational trauma: Early attachment experiences shape an individual's capacity to regulate emotions and form secure relationships. Disruptions in attachment, such as neglect or abuse, increase the risk of dissociative symptoms as a means of coping with interpersonal stressors.

Neurobiological alterations: Chronic exposure to stress and trauma can result in structural and functional changes in the brain, particularly in regions involved in emotion regulation, memory processing, and self-awareness. These alterations contribute to the development and maintenance of dissociative symptoms (Cross, 2017).

Implications for treatment

Effective treatment of trauma-related dissociation requires a comprehensive and integrative approach that addresses both the underlying trauma and its associated symptoms, including the long-term effects on trauma. Some therapeutic modalities that have shown promise in treating dissociative disorders include:

Trauma-focused therapy: Trauma-focused therapy assists with dissociative symptoms by helping individuals process traumatic memories in a safe and structured environment. By addressing the root causes of dissociation and integrating fragmented aspects of the self, it promotes a sense of coherence and reduces dissociative experiences.

Using techniques such as Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), and Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET), trauma-focused therapy helps individuals process traumatic memories and reduce dissociative symptoms (Khan, 2018).

Mindfulness and somatic therapies: These are practices that focus on increasing present-moment awareness and reconnecting with the body, such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, or sensorimotor psychotherapy, and can help individuals regulate emotions and reduce dissociation.

Internal Family Systems (IFS): This therapeutic approach focuses on understanding and integrating the different parts of the self, including those that may have become fragmented or dissociated due to trauma. By fostering self-compassion and self-acceptance, individuals can heal from internal conflicts and restore a sense of wholeness (Psychology Today, 2022).

Attachment-based interventions: Building secure and supportive therapeutic relationships is essential for individuals with a history of attachment trauma. Therapists employ techniques to repair attachment ruptures, develop trust, and promote healthy relational dynamics.


The link between trauma and dissociation highlights how adverse experiences can deeply affect one’s mental health and overall well-being. By understanding the complex interplay between trauma, dissociation, and other psychological processes, therapists can tailor interventions to address the unique needs of individuals navigating trauma-related symptoms. Access to specialised services such as child therapy in Singapore and adult counselling is essential in providing targeted support to those affected by trauma and dissociation. By offering a range of therapeutic modalities and culturally sensitive interventions, professionals can empower individuals to heal, grow, and reclaim their lives.

For those seeking support, consulting a qualified child therapist or adult counselling service in Singapore can be a crucial step towards recovery and resilience. These professionals offer specialised expertise and compassionate care to help individuals navigate the complexities of trauma and dissociation, fostering healing and hope in the journey towards holistic well-being.


Cleveland Clinic. (2023, September 29). Depersonalization-Derealization disorder. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9791-depersonalization-derealization-disorder

Cross, D., Fani, N., Powers, A., & Bradley, B. (2017). Neurobiological Development in the Context of Childhood Trauma. American Psychological Association, 24(2), 111–124. https://doi.org/10.1111/cpsp.12198

Khan, A. M., Dar, S., Ahmed, R., Bachu, R., Adnan, M., & Kotapati, V. P. (2018). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy versus Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing in Patients with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. Cureus, 10(9), e3250. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.3250

Neff, M. A. (n.d). Hypoarousal and Hyperarousal: How to Tell Which State You're In. Neurodivergent Insights. https://neurodivergentinsights.com/blog/hypoarousal-hyperarousal

Psychology Today. (2022, May 20). Internal Family Systems Therapy. https://www.psychologytoday.com/sg/therapy-types/internal-family-systems-therapy

Ryder, G. (2022, January 4). What is trauma? Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/health/what-is-trauma

Scognamiglio, C., Sorge, A., Borrelli, G., Perrella, R., & Saita, E. (2024). Exploring the connection between childhood trauma, dissociation, and borderline personality disorder in forensic psychiatry: a comprehensive case study. Frontiers in Psychology, 15. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2024.1332914

Swaim, E. (2022, November 7). Dissociation as a Defense Mechanism: Why It Happens and How to Handle It. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/dissociative-defense-mechanism

Tull, M. (2022, August 24). What Is Dissociation? Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/dissociation-2797292