A systematic scoping review of dissociation in borderline personality disorder and implications for research and clinical practice: Exploring the fog

Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2022 Oct;56(10):1252-1264. doi: 10.1177/00048674221077029. Epub 2022 Feb 13.


Background: Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is frequently complicated by the presence of dissociative symptoms. Pathological dissociation is linked with earlier and more severe trauma exposure, emotional dysregulation and worse treatment outcomes in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Dissociative Disorders, with implications for BPD.

Objective: A systematic scoping review was conducted to assess the extent of current literature regarding the impact of dissociation on BPD and to identify knowledge gaps.

Methods: Four electronic databases (MEDLINE, APA PsycINFO, EMBASE, CINAHL Plus) were searched, and English peer-reviewed studies with adults with BPD were included, following Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) extension for scoping reviews (PRISMA-ScR) 2018 guidelines.

Results: Most of the 70 included studies were observational (98%) with first authors from Germany (59%). Overall, dissociation was associated with increased BPD symptom severity, self-harm and reduced psychotherapy treatment response; findings regarding suicide risk were mixed. Dissociation was associated with working memory and cognitive deficits, decreased pain perception, altered body ownership, no substance abuse or the abuse of sedative substances, increased fantasy proneness, personality fragmentation, fearful attachment, dream anxiety, perceived stress and altered stress responses, increased cumulative body mass index, decreased water consumption, several neurological correlates and changes in gene expression.

Conclusion: BPD with significant dissociative symptoms may constitute a more severe and at-risk subgroup of BPD patients. However, there are significant research gaps and methodological issues in the area, including the possibility of unrecognized Dissociative Disorders in BPD study populations confounding results. Further studies are needed to better understand the impact of dissociation on BPD course and treatment, and to clarify the most appropriate assessment tools for clinical practice. In addition, interventional studies are needed to develop dissociation-specific BPD treatments to determine whether targeting dissociation in BPD can improve treatment outcomes.

Keywords: Borderline personality disorder; dissociation; dissociative disorder; self-harm; suicide.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Borderline Personality Disorder* / diagnosis
  • Dissociative Disorders / psychology
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Psychotherapy / methods
  • Self-Injurious Behavior*


  • Hypnotics and Sedatives