Results from the largest prospective study of its kind indicate that for individuals who experience trauma, the presence of dissociation—a profound feeling of detachment from one’s sense of self or surroundings—may indicate a high risk of later developing severe post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, physical pain, and social impairment.
The research, which was led by investigators at McLean Hospital, is published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
- Following trauma, feeling detached from one’s surroundings may suggest a higher risk of later developing serious mental health conditions.
- It’s important to screen for feeling detached to identify patients who might benefit from preventive care.
“Dissociation may help someone cope in the aftermath of trauma by providing some psychological distance from the experience, but at a high cost—dissociation is often linked with more severe psychiatric symptoms,” said lead author Lauren A. M. Lebois, PhD.
“Despite this,” said Lebois, “Dissociative symptoms remain under-studied and under-diagnosed due to a relative lack of understanding in medical and clinical practice.”
Lebois is director of the Dissociative Disorders and Trauma Research Program at McLean Hospital and an assistant professor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
To provide insights, Lebois and her colleagues examined information from the Advancing Understanding of Recovery After Trauma (AURORA) Study.
The data pertained to 1,464 adults treated at 22 different emergency departments across the United States who reported whether they experienced a severe type of dissociation called derealization. Also,145 of the patients underwent brain imaging during an emotional task.
Three months later, researchers collected follow-up reports of post-traumatic stress, depression, pain, anxiety symptoms, and functional impairment.
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