Witnessing across time: accessing the present from the past and the past from the present

Psychoanal Q. 2012 Jan;81(1):53-81. doi: 10.1002/j.2167-4086.2012.tb00485.x.


We are used to the idea that trauma in the past interrupts our capacity to grasp the present. But present or recent trauma can have a similar dissociative effect on our capacity to experience the more distant past. Contemporary trauma can rob the past of its goodness, leaving one feeling as if the past is gone, dead, separated from the present. The vitalization of the present by the past or the past by the present requires that experiences be linked across time. These links are created, in both directions, via categories of experience characterized by shared affect (Modell 1990, 2006). Such categories are created, in turn, by metaphor; and the construction of these metaphors across time requires that one be able to occupy self-states in both the past and the present that can then bear witness to one another. Trauma can result in the dissociation of these self-states from one another, leading to a disconnection of present and past.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Dissociative Disorders / complications
  • Dissociative Disorders / psychology*
  • Dissociative Disorders / therapy
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Mental Disorders / complications
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Metaphor
  • Psychoanalytic Therapy / methods
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Time
  • Young Adult