The Association between General and Pathological Dissociation and Disaster-Related Psychopathology in Directly Exposed Survivors

Fatih Canan, Carol S. North

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Objective: Dissociation and trauma have a well-documented relationship, and dissociation is assumed to result from trauma exposure. If trauma generates dissociative psychopathology, it should be observed after exposure to disaster and be associated with disaster-related psychopathology. Few studies have focused specifically on dissociation as an outcome of disaster trauma. This study examined dissociation and its association with disaster-related psychopathology in survivors of five different disasters. Methods: In the first 6 postdisaster months, directly exposed survivors (N = 216) of mass shootings, floods, or a firestorm completed structured diagnostic interviews providing lifetime predisaster and postdisaster prevalent/incident psychiatric diagnoses and the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES) 1–3 years after baseline. Results: DES scores were very low; only 1% met the DES Taxon signifying pathological dissociation. In multivariate models including predisaster lifetime major depression, lifetime panic disorder, lifetime generalized anxiety disorder, and lifetime alcohol use disorder; disaster-related PTSD; and number of incident somatoform symptoms as independent covariates, predisaster lifetime major depression and alcohol use disorder were independently associated with both general (DES score) and pathological (DES Taxon) dissociation, and postdisaster incident somatization symptoms were also associated with general dissociation, but postdisaster psychopathology including disaster-related PTSD was not associated with general or pathological dissociation. Conclusions: Neither general nor pathological dissociation was independently associated with disaster-related PTSD or other incident psychopathology. The only psychiatric disorders associated with dissociation were present before the disasters. Coupled with the low dissociation rates, these findings indicate that dissociation does not appear to be a mental health outcome of disaster trauma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPsychiatry (New York)
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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