Dispelling confusion about traumatic dissociative amnesia

Mayo Clin Proc. 2007 Sep;82(9):1083-90. doi: 10.4065/82.9.1083.


How survivors of trauma remember--or forget--their most terrifying experiences lies at the core of one of the most bitter controversies in psychiatry and psychology: the debate regarding repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse. Most experts hold that traumatic events--those experienced as overwhelmingly terrifying and often life-threatening--are remembered very well; however, traumatic dissociative amnesia theorists disagree. Although acknowledging that traumatic events are usually memorable, these theorists nevertheless claim that a sizable minority of survivors are incapable of remembering their trauma. That is, the memory is stored but dissociated (or "repressed") from awareness. However, the evidence that these theorists adduce in support of the concept of traumatic dissociative amnesia is subject to other, more plausible interpretations. The purpose of this review is to dispel confusion regarding the controversial notion of dissociated (or repressed) memory for trauma and to show how people can recall memories of long-forgotten sexual abuse without these memories first having been repressed.

MeSH terms

  • Amnesia / etiology
  • Amnesia / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Wounds and Injuries / complications
  • Wounds and Injuries / psychology*