Post-Traumatic Syndromes in Childhood and Adolescence: A Handbook of Research and Practice

By Vittoria Ardino | Go to book overview

Chapter Eight
Dissociation in Traumatized Children
and Adolescents

Eli Somer


Introduction

This chapter explores childhood dissociation, its use as a defensive response during child abuse, and its ensuing dissociative psychopathology. For the purposes of this chapter dissociation is assumed to be a normal childhood ability that develops as a psychological defense mechanism in the face of extreme or prolonged and inescapable physical, sexual, and emotional traumas. It works as a shield against the conscious experience of overwhelming stress by producing psychological and/or physical analgesia, emotional calming, and a breakdown of the normally integrated experiential components of behavior, affect, sensation, knowledge, and identity.

Following Spiegel and Cardeña (1991), I refer to dissociation “as a structured separation of mental processes (e.g., thoughts, emotions, cognition, memory, and identity) that are ordinarily integrated” (p. 367).


Normal childhood dissociation

Childhood dissociation is a normal phenomenon familiar to many parents. Children often show their ability to dissociate when they lose themselves in daydreaming, when they talk to imaginary friends or immerse themselves in prolonged fantasy games. The plasticity of the child’s reality is often a source of joy and amusement to both the youngsters and their families. Children bask in their imaginativeness when they make believe they are different. For example, they can pretend in role-play that they are Daddy, a doctor or a

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