Structural brain aberrations associated with the dissociative subtype of post-traumatic stress disorder

Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2016 Mar;133(3):232-40. doi: 10.1111/acps.12464. Epub 2015 Jul 3.


Objective: One factor potentially contributing to the heterogeneity of previous results on structural grey matter alterations in adult participants suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the varying levels of dissociative symptomatology. The aim of this study was therefore to test whether the recently defined dissociative subtype of PTSD characterized by symptoms of depersonalization and derealization is characterized by specific differences in volumetric brain morphology.

Method: Whole-brain MRI data were acquired for 59 patients with PTSD. Voxel-based morphometry was carried out to test for group differences between patients classified as belonging (n = 15) vs. not belonging (n = 44) to the dissociative subtype of PTSD. The correlation between dissociation (depersonalization/derealization) severity and grey matter volume was computed.

Results: Patients with PTSD classified as belonging to the dissociative subtype exhibited greater grey matter volume in the right precentral and fusiform gyri as well as less volume in the right inferior temporal gyrus. Greater dissociation severity was associated with greater volume in the right middle frontal gyrus.

Conclusion: The results of this first whole-brain investigation of specific grey matter volume in dissociative subtype PTSD indentified structural aberrations in regions subserving the processing and regulation of emotional arousal. These might constitute characteristic biomarkers for the dissociative subtype PTSD.

Keywords: dissociation; grey matter; post-traumatic stress disorder; voxel-based morphometry.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / abnormalities*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Dissociative Disorders / psychology*
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*