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Dissociation and Traumatic Memory

Dissociation and the fragmentary nature of traumatic memories: Overview and exploratory study. (Van der Kolk & Fisler, 1995). Full Text.
Impact: This study reviews the literature on differences between recalling stressful and traumatic events, as well as evidence implicating dissociation as the primary mechanism that gives rise to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Secondly, a study of 46 subjects w PTSD indicated that traumatic memories were retrieved, at least initially, in the form of dissociated mental imprints of sensory and affective elements of the traumatic experience. Over time, subjects reported the gradual emergence of a personal narrative that can be properly referred to as ‘explicit memory.’

Exploring the nature of traumatic memory: Combining clinical knowledge with laboratory methods. (Van der Kolk, Hopper, & Osterman, 2001).
Impact: This paper reports findings from the third study using the Traumatic Memory Inventory (TMI), of 16 subjects who had the traumatic experience of awakening from general anesthesia during surgery. Findings show that traumatic experiences are often initially imprinted as sensations or feeling states, and are not collated and transcribed into personal narratives. Both interviews with traumatized people, and brain imaging studies of them, seem to confirm that traumatic memories come back as emotional and sensory states, with limited capacity for verbal representation. The authors propose this fragmentation is at the very core of the pathology of PTSD.

The body keeps the score: Memory and the evolving psychobiology of posttraumatic stress. (Van der Kolk, 1994). Full Text on [WEBSITE]
Impact: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is accompanied by memory disturbances, consisting of both hypermnesias [inabilities to forget] and amnesias. Research into the nature of traumatic memories indicates that trauma interferes with declarative memory, i.e. conscious recall of experience. However, trauma does not inhibit implicit, or non-declarative memory: the memory system that controls conditioned emotional responses, skills, habits, and sensorimotor sensations related to experience. There now is enough information available about the biology of memory storage and retrieval to start building coherent hypotheses regarding the underlying psychobiological processes involved in these memory disturbances.

Retrieving, assessing, and classifying traumatic memories. (Hopper & van der Kolk, 2001).
Impact: Previous questionnaire and interview methods for studying traumatic memories have been limited in their ability to evoke and assess remembrances with the characteristics long observed by clinicians. In this paper, a new standardized method is introduced. The Traumatic Memory Inventory incorporates a laboratory procedure for retrieving memories of traumatic events and a clinically informed measure for assessing these memories’ characteristics. Three case studies are presented to assess and classify script-driven remembrances.

Pierre Janet and the breakdown of adaption in psychological trauma. (van der Kolk & van der Hart, 1989).
Impact: The authors review Pierre Janet’s investigations into the mental processes that transform traumatic experience into psychopathology. Janet was the first to systematically study dissociation as the crucial psychological process with which the organism reacts to overwhelming experiences and show that traumatic memories may be expressed as sensory perceptions, affect states, and behavioral reenactments. Today his integrated approach may help clarify the interrelationships among such diverse topics as memory processes, state-dependent learning, dissociative reactions, and posttraumatic psychopathology.

Memories of childhood abuse: Dissociation, amnesia, and corroboration. (Chu et al., 1999). Full Text.
Impact: This study investigated the relationship between self-reported childhood abuse and dissociative symptoms and amnesia. Participants reporting any type of childhood abuse demonstrated elevated levels of dissociative symptoms that were significantly higher than those in subjects not reporting abuse. Higher dissociative symptoms were correlated with early age at onset of physical and sexual abuse and more frequent sexual abuse.

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