DSM-5's posttraumatic stress disorder with dissociative symptoms: challenges and future directions

J Trauma Dissociation. 2015;16(1):7-28. doi: 10.1080/15299732.2014.908806.


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, formally recognizes a dissociative subtype of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD; PTSD with dissociative symptoms). This nomenclative move will boost empirical and theoretical efforts to further understand the links between dissociation, trauma, and PTSD. This article examines the empirical literature showing that patients with PTSD can be divided into 2 different groups based on their neurobiology, psychological symptom profile, history of exposure to early relational trauma, and depersonalization/derealization symptoms. It then explores the conceptual and empirical challenges of conceiving 1 of these types as reflecting a "dissociative" type of PTSD. First, this classification is based on the presence of a limited subset of dissociative symptoms (i.e., depersonalization, derealization). This sets aside an array of positive and negative psychoform and somatoform dissociative symptoms that may be related to PTSD. Second, empirical evidence suggests heightened dissociation in PTSD compared to many other disorders, indicating that dissociation is relevant to PTSD more broadly rather than simply to the so-called dissociative subtype. This article sets out important issues to be examined in the future study of dissociation in PTSD, which needs to be informed by solid conceptual understandings of dissociation.

Keywords: dissociation; dissociative subtype of posttraumatic stress disorder; positive and negative dissociative symptoms; posttraumatic stress disorder.

MeSH terms

  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders*
  • Dissociative Disorders / classification*
  • Humans
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / classification*
  • Terminology as Topic