Dissociative disorders in children: behavioral profiles and problems

Child Abuse Negl. 1993 Jan-Feb;17(1):39-45. doi: 10.1016/0145-2134(93)90006-q.


Transient dissociative episodes are a common and normative phenomenon during childhood that generally decrease during adolescence to relatively low levels in adults. Retrospective clinical research has firmly established a connection between childhood trauma and the development of dissociative disorders in adults. A growing number of clinicians are now identifying dissociative symptoms in abused children, and there is increasing evidence that dissociative disorders represent a significant and hitherto unrecognized form of psychopathology in traumatized children. Pathological dissociation is a complex psychobiological process that results in a failure to integrate information into the normal stream of consciousness. It produces a range of symptoms and behaviors including: (a) amnesias; (b) disturbances in sense of self; (c) trance-like states; (d) rapid shifts in mood and behavior; (e) perplexing shifts in access to knowledge, memory, and skills; (f) auditory and visual hallucinations; and (g) vivid imaginary companionship in children and adolescents. Many of these symptoms and behaviors are misdiagnosed as attention, learning or conduct problems, or even psychoses. Early identification and therapeutic intervention appear to be particularly efficacious in children in contrast to adults, although systematic studies of treatment and outcome are presently lacking.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / diagnosis*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology
  • Child Behavior Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / psychology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Dissociative Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Dissociative Disorders / psychology
  • Dissociative Identity Disorder / diagnosis
  • Dissociative Identity Disorder / psychology
  • Humans
  • Personality Assessment