UnderstandingDissociation.com seeks to advance our understanding of dissociation and its relationship to trauma. To that end, I will present my own thoughts as well the latest thinking from the literature, recent presentations, and discussions at conferences.
I anticipate that your comments will rapidly cause hidden ‘vaguenesses’ about the concept of dissociation to surface. Points of disagreement will be identified. These, in turn, will push us all to think more clearly.
Our conversation will inevitably suggest specific research projects. I will encourage both established researchers of trauma and dissociation and graduate students to consider these research ideas.
Finally, UnderstandingDisssociation.com is designed to educate and ‘spread the word’ about trauma and dissociation. Clinicians who want to learn about dissociation (or who want to learn more about dissociation) are strongly encouraged to comment and ask questions.
So, where to start? Let’s have some fun and go to the movies.
Have you seen The Kids Are All Right, the current film with Annette Benning, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo? It’s one of the first four star movies of 2010. Well worth seeing. And great fun!
I mention The Kids Are All Right because it contains a wonderful portrayal of dissociation. I won’t give away what happens in the film — I hate it when reviewers ruin cinematic surprises by disclosing critical events in the film. I don’t even like Spoiler Alerts. So, no spoiler alerts here. No spoilers at all.
I think that Annette Benning and Julianne Moore are two of our finest actresses. Somewhere during the film, one of them encounters a situation that is psychologically threatening — and deeply destabilizing. Then, for exactly the correct reason (i.e., profound psychological threat), she experiences an episode of derealization (and, presumably, depersonalization as well).
Suddenly, her life and her environment become strange. She is disconnected (or, at least, profoundly distanced) from all that is going on around her. Sounds become distant and fuzzy. The length of this episode is brief (a minute?), but the psychological distance that she travels in this moment is great. Cinematically, very well done!
This episode of derealization reminds me of a significant fact about movies. I have seen derealization in other films — e.g., ones that portray a person suddenly in the midst of lethal gunfire (e.g., Saving Private Ryan and other films).
Bottom line: Many directors and script writers seem to be quite aware that life threatening danger can trigger an acute episode of depersonalization/derealization. I suspect that directors and script writers understand these matters better than many mental health professionals.
When Is Dissociation Not Dissociation?
In the dissociative disorders field, we live in interesting times. Do you remember the Chinese curse? “May you live in interesting times!”
The proponents of the structural model of dissociation — Ellert Nijenhuis, Onno van der Hart, and Kathy Steele — would insist that the episode of derealization in The Kids Are All Right is not dissociation. Why? Because this episode of derealization is almost certainly not a manifestation of a dissociative part of the personality. That is, it isn’t caused by structural dissociation. In other words, no structural dissociation, no dissociation at all. Just something that looks like dissociation, but isn’t.
There is a lot of this going around these days — disagreements about what is and what isn’t dissociation. I have made such statements myself. What do you think about this? Is the derealization in The Kids Are All Right (or on the beach during the D-Day invasion in Saving Private Ryan) dissociation? [Comments strongly invited] Note: To comment (or to read others’ comments) on this post, click on the word “Comments” immediately below in gray.