Becoming a Character: Dissociation in Conservatory Acting Students

J Trauma Dissociation. 2020 Jan-Feb;21(1):87-102. doi: 10.1080/15299732.2019.1675220. Epub 2019 Oct 8.


Actors must realistically portray imagined characters in imaginary circumstances by "becoming" their characters. What is it that allows them to do this? We suggest that acting is related to dissociation, a trait typically related to psychopathology. We measured dissociation in 53 conservatory acting students before and after six months of training, using the Dissociative Experiences Scale-II (DES-II). Although no significant changes occurred over time, acting students scored significantly higher than the general population on the DES-II. These scores were driven by just one of the subscales - absorption and imaginative involvement. We argue here that this subscale measures a trait central to the creative process. Furthermore, although the DES-II was designed to measure psychopathology, we found that it is also related to flow (a positive experience). Certain flow dimensions were predictive of dissociation and of its absorption and imaginative involvement subscale. We conclude that total DES-II scores may not necessarily indicate psychopathology in actors. At the very least, these results suggest that clinicians should take extra precaution when diagnosing dissociation in actors using the DES-II.

Keywords: Acting; actor; depersonalization; dissociation; flow.

Publication types

  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Dissociative Disorders / psychology*
  • Drama*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • New York City
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Students / psychology*