The integrative process promoted by EMDR in dissociative disorders: neurobiological mechanisms, psychometric tools, and intervention efficacy on the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

Front Psychol. 2023 Sep 1:14:1164527. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1164527. eCollection 2023.


Dissociative disorders (DDs) are characterized by a discontinuity in the normal integration of consciousness, memory, identity, emotion, perception, bodily representation, motor control, and action. The life-threatening coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has been identified as a potentially traumatic event and may produce a wide range of mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, and DD, stemming from pandemic-related events, such as sickness, isolation, losing loved ones, and fear for one's life. In our conceptual analysis, we introduce the contribution of the structural dissociation of personality (SDP) theory and polyvagal theory to the conceptualization of the COVID-19 pandemic-triggered DD and the importance of assessing perceived safety in DD through neurophysiologically informed psychometric tools. In addition, we analyzed the contribution of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) to the treatment of the COVID-19 pandemic-triggered DD and suggest possible neurobiological mechanisms of action of the EMDR. In particular, we propose that, through slow eye movements, the EMDR may promote an initial non-rapid-eye-movement sleep stage 1-like activity, a subsequent access to a slow-wave sleep activity, and an oxytocinergic neurotransmission that, in turn, may foster the functional coupling between paraventricular nucleus and both sympathetic and parasympathetic cardioinhibitory nuclei. Neurophysiologically informed psychometric tools for safety evaluation in DDs are discussed. Furthermore, clinical and public health implications are considered, combining the EMDR, SDP theory, and polyvagal conceptualizations in light of the potential dissociative symptomatology triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keywords: EMDR; dissociation; integration; polyvagal theory; psychological trauma; psychometrics; structural dissociation; vagus nerve.

Publication types

  • Review