Dissociation in trauma: a new definition and comparison with previous formulations

J Trauma Dissociation. 2011;12(4):416-45. doi: 10.1080/15299732.2011.570592.


Amid controversy regarding the psychobiological construct of dissociation, efforts to formulate a precise definition of dissociation are rare. Some understandings of dissociation are so broad that a host of common psychobiological phenomena would qualify as dissociative. Overly narrow conceptualizations of dissociation exclude phenomena that originally, and for good reasons, have been regarded as dissociative. A common lack of conceptual distinctions between dissociation as process, organization, deficit, psychological defense, and symptom adds to the current confusion. In previous publications, we criticized many of these perspectives and proposed a detailed psychobiological theory of dissociation in trauma. However, what has remained missing is a precise definition of dissociation in trauma. This article first presents such a definition and elucidates its various components. Next the new definition is compared with several other major definitions of the concept. The strengths of the new formulation are highlighted and discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Consciousness
  • Dissociative Disorders / classification*
  • Dissociative Disorders / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Personality Inventory
  • Psychoanalytic Theory
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*