The Link Between Trauma and Dissociative Disorders

By:  Dr. Shari Kim

EMDRIA Consultant

The human brain is amazing, and we don’t even fully grasp its potential. One of the truly spectacular things it can do is to protect us from things that are too traumatic to hold.  

As we experience traumatic events, we experience a variety of responses. Sometimes, when those events become overwhelming, our brain has the capacity to build compartments within itself to hold those events. The depth of those compartments may vary, meaning we might be able to hold things in them only for short periods of time before they pop back out. At other times, our brains may build them so deeply that we can no longer access them by our own volition. Sometimes our compartments take on lives of their own, developing unique identities.

As we explore how our brain compartmentalizes trauma in this way, it starts to become clear how this process makes us dissociate. The more compartments we build, the easier it is to become lost in them. When they take on their own identities, those identities might decide to take control of things for a while as we sit in the back seat, completely uninvolved in the events happening around us. As our brain becomes more compartmentalized, we dissociate more and lose more time.

This compartmentalization takes an immense amount of brain power and demonstrates an awe-inspiring amount of strength and resilience, especially in its strongest form of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). It’s for this reason that we must respect the system that has been created when we treat dissociative disorders. Anyone whose brain has built this complex network of compartments has done so for a reason; it isn’t our goal to disassemble it. Instead our goal is to help the system function as a unit and to desensitize the trauma. When we meet those two goals, compartmentalization stops being necessary; the brain no longer needs to hide the trauma. When there is no more compartmentalization, dissociation decreases.  

If you want to learn more about the link between trauma and dissociation and how to treat dissociation in a trauma-informed way, Trauma Specialists Training Institute has training options for therapists trained in EMDR as well as those who aren’t yet trained.

If you haven't completed an EMDR Basic Training and want to learn more, check out our training: A Closer Look at Trauma and Dissociation.

If you’ve already completed an EMDR Basic Training and want to learn about how to integrate ego state interventions with EMDR, check out our EMDR Advanced Training: Ego State Interventions & EMDR: Advanced Skills for Complex Trauma and Dissociation.


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