Dissociation in Typical and Atypical Development

Examples from Father—Daughter Incest Survivors
  • Pamela M. Cole
  • Pamela C. Alexander
  • Catherine L. Anderson


Dissociation has been characterized as the lack of normal integration of thoughts, feelings, and experiences into the stream of consciousness and memory (Nemiah, 1981; Putnam, 1984). The term is used to describe clinical conditions in which individuals lose awareness or memory of events and their attendant internal states. In addition, the term is sometimes used to describe normative regulatory processes by which an individual modulates internal state (e.g., intense emotion) and external input (e.g., aversive stimulation). For example, denial and dissociation have been described as primary defense mechanisms for children prior to school age (Cramer, 1991). Dissociation also appears to be a universal response to trauma at all ages (Putnam, 1985). The disconnection of affective content from conscious awareness at the time of trauma helps the individual both to mobilize for action without being flooded by emotion and to tolerate trauma until it is ended and physical and psychological help is available. Therefore, it may be that dissociation can be understood from the standpoint of normative development and emotion regulation.


Sexual Abuse Emotion Regulation Family Functioning Insecure Attachment Abusive Behavior 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adams-Tucker, C. (1985). Defense mechanisms used by sexually abused children. Children Today, 14, 8–12.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Ainsworth, M., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., and Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  3. Alexander, P. C. (1992). The application of attachment theory to the study of sexual abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 60, 185–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Alexander, P. C., and Schaeffer, C. M. (1994). A typology of incestuous families based on cluster analysis. Journal of Family Psychology, 8, 458–470.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Alexander, P. C., Anderson, C., Schaeffer, C. M., Brand, B., Zachary, B., and Kretz, L. (1995). Attachment as a mediator of long-term effects in survivors of incest. Manuscript submitted for review.Google Scholar
  6. Alexander, P C., and Schwartz, K. (1995). The family characteristics of dissociative individuals.Google Scholar
  7. Anderson, C. L., and Alexander, P C. (1995). The relationship between dissociation and fearful-avoidant attachment in adult women survivors of incest. Manuscript submitted for review.Google Scholar
  8. Back, K. W, and Gergen, K. J. (1968). The self through the latter span of life. In C. Gordon and K. Gergen (Eds.), The self in social interaction (pp. 101–143 ). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  9. Beeghly, M., and Cicchetti, D. (1994). Child maltreatment, attachment, and the self system: Emergence of an internal state lexicon in toddlers at high social risk. Development and Psychpathology, 8, 5–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Berndt, T. (1981). Relations between social cognition, nonsocial cognition, and social behavior: The case of friendship. In J. H. Flavell and L. D. Ross (Eds.), Social cognitive development (pp. 176–199 ). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Bliss, E. L. (1988). A re-examination of Freud’s basic concepts from studies of multiple personality disorder. Dissociation, 1, 36–40.Google Scholar
  12. Bloom, L. (1991). Language development: From two to three New York Cambridge University Press. Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss (Vols. 1 and 2 ). New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  13. Bowlby, J. (1985). Violence in the family as a function of the attachment system. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 44, 9–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Braun, B. G. (1984). The role of the family in the development of multiple personality disorder. International Journal of Family Psychiatry, 5, 303–313.Google Scholar
  15. Braun, B. G. (1989). Psychotherapy of the survivor of incest with a dissociative disorder. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 12, 307–325.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Braun, B. G., and Sachs, R. (1987). The development of multiple personality disorder: Predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors. In R. P Kluft (Ed.), Childhood antecedents of multiple personality (pp. 38–64 ). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.Google Scholar
  17. Bretherton, I. J., Fritz, C, Zahn-Waxler, C., and Ridgeway, D. (1986). Learning to talk about emotions: A functionalist perspective. Child Development, 57, 529–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Carlson, V., Cicchetti, D., Barnett, D., and Braunwald, K. (1989). Disorganized/disoriented attachment relationships in maltreated infants. Developmental Psychology, 25, 525–531.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cicchetti, D., and Beeghly, M. (1990). The self in transition: Infancy to adulthood. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  20. Cole, P M., and Putnam, E. W. (1992). Effect of incest on self and social functioning: A developmental psychopathology perspective. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 60, 174–184.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cole, P M., Woolger, C., Power, T P, and Smith, K. D. (1992). Parenting difficulties in incest survivors. Child Abuse and Neglect, 16, 239–249.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Connell, J. P. (1990). Context, self, and action: A motivational analysis of self-system processes across the life span. In D. Cicchetti and M. Beeghly (Eds.), The self in transition: Infancy to adulthood (pp. 61–67 ). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  23. Cowan, P. A. (1991). Individual and family life transitions: A proposal for a new definition. In P. A. Cowan and E. M. Hetherington (Eds.), Family transitions (pp. 3–30 ). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  24. Cramer, P. (1991). The development of defense mechanisms: Theory, research, and assessment. New York: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  25. Damon, W. A. (1983). Social and personality development. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  26. Damon, W. A., and Hart, D. (1982). The development of self-understanding from infancy through adolescence. Child Development, 53, 831–857.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Dix, T (1991). The affective organization of parenting: Adaptive and maladaptive processes. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 3–25.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Dodge, K. A., Pettit, G. S., and Bates, J. E. (1994). Effects of physical maltreatment on the development of peer relations. Development and Psychopathology, 8, 43–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Douglas, V. (1965). Children’s responses to frustration: A developmental study. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 19, 161–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Downs, W. R. (1993). Developmental considerations for the effects of childhood sexual abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 8, 331–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Dunn, J. (1988). The beginnings of social understanding. London: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  32. Dunn, J., and Kendrick, C. (1982). Siblings: Love, envy, and understanding. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Elder, G. H. (1991). Family transitions, cycles, and social change. In P A. Cowan and E. M. Hetherington (Eds.), Family transitions (pp. 31–58 ). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  34. Everett, C., Halperin, S., Volgy, S., and Wissler, A. (1989). Treating the borderline family: A systemic approach. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.Google Scholar
  35. Ferguson, T. J., Stegge, H., and Damhuis, I. (1991). Children’s understanding of guilt and shame. Child Development, 62, 827–839.Google Scholar
  36. Fischer, K. W. (1980). A theory of cognitive development: The control and construction of hierarchies of skills. Psychological Review, 87, 477–531.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Fischer, K. W, andAyoub, C. (1994). Affective splitting and dissociation in normal and maltreated children: Developmental pathways for self in relationships. In D. Cicchetti and S. Toth (Eds.), Psychopathology and the development of self (pp. 149–222 ). Rochester, NY: Rochester University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Fischer, K. W, and Pipp, S. L. (1984). Development of the structures of unconscious thought. In K. Bowers and D. Meichenbaum (Eds.), The unconscious reconsidered (pp. 88–148 ). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  39. Fischer, K. W, Shaver, P. R., and Carnochan, P (1990). How emotions develop and how they organize development. Cognition and Emotion, 4, 81–127.Google Scholar
  40. Fraiberg, S. (1959). The magic years. New York: Scribner.Google Scholar
  41. Freud, A. (1966). The ego and the mechanisms of defense. New York: International Universities Press.Google Scholar
  42. Gardner, G. G., and Olness, K. (1981). Hypnosis and hypnotherapy with children. New York: Grune and Stratton.Google Scholar
  43. Garvey, C. (1977). Play. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Gelinas, D. J. (1983). The persisting negative effects of incest. Psychiatry, 46, 312–332.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Harris, P. L. (1983). Infant cognition. In M. M. Haith and J. J. Campos (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 2. Infancy and developmental psychobiology (pp. 689–782 ). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  46. Harter, S. (1982). Children’s understanding of multiple emotions: A cognitive-developmental approach. In W. E Overton (Ed.), The relationship between social and cognitive development (pp. 147–194 ). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  47. Harter, S. (1983). Developmental perspectives on the self-system. In E. M. Hetherington (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology (4th ed.). Socialization, personality, and social development (pp. 275–386 ). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  48. Harter, S., and Monsour, A. (1992). A developmental analysis of conflict caused by opposing attributes in the adolescent self-portrait. Developmental Psychology, 28, 251–260.Google Scholar
  49. Herman, J. L., and Schztzow, E. (1987). Recovery and verification of memories of childhood sexual trauma. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 4, 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Izard, C. E. (1979). Emotions in personality and psychopathology. New York: Plenum Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Kagan, J. (1981). The second year.: The emergence of self-awareness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Kendall-Tackett, M. A., and Simon, A. E (1988). Molestation and the onset of puberty: Data from 365 adults molested as children. Child Abuse and Neglect, 12, 73–81.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Kluft, R. P. (1984). Treatment of multiple personality disorder. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 7, 9–30.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Kluft, R. P. (1985). Childhood multiple personality disorder: Predictors, clinical findings, and treatment results. In R. P. Kluft (Ed.), Childhood antecedents of multiple personality disorder. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.Google Scholar
  55. Kluft, R. P, Braun, B. G., and Sachs, R. (1984). Multiple personality, intrafamilial abuse, and family psychiatry. International Journal of Family Psychiatry, 5, 283–301.Google Scholar
  56. Kobak, R., and Hazan, C. (1991). Attachment in marriage: Effects of security and accuracy of working models. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 861–869.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Kopp, C. B. (1982). Antecedents of self-regulation: A developmental perspective. Developmental Psychology, 18, 199–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Levenson, D. J. (1978). The seasons of a man’s life. New York: Ballantine.Google Scholar
  59. Liotti, G. (1992). Disorganized/disoriented attachment in the etiology of the dissociative disorders. Dissociation, 5, 196–204.Google Scholar
  60. Main, M., and Cassidy, J. (1988). Categories of response to reunion with the parent at age 6: Predictable from infant attachment classifications and stable over a 1-month period. Developmental Psychology, 24, 415–426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Main, M., and Goldwyn, R. (1984). Predicting rejection of her infant from mother’s representation of her own experience: Implications for the abused-abusing intergenerational cycle. Child Abuse and Neglect, 8, 203–217.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Main, M., and Hesse, E. (1990). Parents’ unresolved traumatic experiences are related to infant disorganized attachment status: Is frightened and/or frightening parental behavior the linking mechanism? In M. Greenberg, D. Cicchetti, and E. M. Cummings (Eds.), Attachment in the preschool years (pp. 161–182 ). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  63. Main, M., and Hesse, E. (1992). Attaccamento disorganizato/disorientato nell infanzia e stati mentali dissociati nei genitori [Disorganized/disoriented infant behavior in the Strange Situation, lapses in the monitoring of reasoning and discourse during the parents’ Adult Attachment Interview, and dissociative states: In support of Liotti’s hypothesis.] [Translated (into Italian) by V. Chiarini. 1 In M. Ammaniti and D. Stern (Eds.), Attaccamento e psicoanalici (pp. 86–140). Bari, Italy: Laterza.Google Scholar
  64. Main, M., and Solomon, J. (1986). Discovery of an insecure-disorganized attachment pattern. In T. B. Brazelton and M. W. Yogman (Eds.), Affective development in infancy (pp. 95–124 ). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.Google Scholar
  65. Main, M., and Solomon, J. (1990). Procedures for identifying infants as disorganized/disoriented during the Ainsworth strange situation. In M. Greenberg, D. Cicchetti, and E. M. Cummings (Eds.), Attachment in the preschool years (pp. 121–160 ). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  66. Main, M., Kaplan, N., and Cassidy, J. (1985). Security in infancy, childhood, and adulthood: A move to the level of representation. In I. Bretherton and E. Waters (Eds.), Growing points of attachment theory and research: Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 50, (1–2, Serial No. 209), 66–104.Google Scholar
  67. Malatesta, C. Z. (1990). The role of emotions in the development and organization of personality. In R. A. Thompson (Ed.), Socioemotional development: Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 1988 (pp. 1–56 ). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.Google Scholar
  68. McCrone, E. R., Egeland, B., Kalkoske, M., and Carlson, E. A. (1994). Relations between early maltreatment and mental representations of relationships assessed with projective storytelling in middle childhood. Development and Psychopathology, 8, 99–120.Google Scholar
  69. Nemiah, J C (1989). Dissociative disorders. In H. Kaplan and B. J. Saddock (Eds.), Comprehensive textbook of psychiatry ( 5th ed., pp. 1028–1044 ). Baltimore, MD: Williams and Wilkins.Google Scholar
  70. Peterson, G. (1991). Children coping with trauma: Diagnosis of “dissociation identity disorder.” Dissociation, 4, 152–164.Google Scholar
  71. Putnam, E W. (1984). The study of multiple personality disorder: General strategies and practical considerations. Psychiatric Annals, 14, 58–62.Google Scholar
  72. Putnam, E W. (1985). Dissociation as an extreme response to trauma. In R. P. Kluft (Ed.), Childhood antecedents of multiple personality (pp. 66–97 ). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.Google Scholar
  73. Putnam, F. W. (1989). Diagnosis and treatment of multiple personality disorder. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  74. Putnam, F. W. (1991). Dissociative disorders in children and adolescents: A developmental perspective. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 14, 519–531.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  75. Rothbart, M. K., and Ahadi, S. A. (1994). Temperament and the development of personality. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 103, 55–66.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Rothbart, M. K., Ziaie, H., and O’Boyle, C. G. (1992). Self-regulation and emotion in infancy. In N. Eisenberg and R. A. Fabes (Eds.), Emotion and its regulation in early development (pp. 7–24 ). San Francisco: Jossey-BassGoogle Scholar
  77. Ruble, D. N., Boggiano, A. K., Feldman, N. S., and Loebl, J. H. (1980). A developmental analysis of the role of social comparison in self-evaluation. Developmental Psychology, 16, 105–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Rutter, M., and Garmezy, N. (1983). Developmental psychopathology. In E. M. Hetherington (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology (4th ed.). Socialization, personality, and development (pp. 775911 ). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  79. Sachs, R. G., Frischolz, E. J., and Wood, J. I. (1988). Marital and family therapy in the treatment of multiple personality disorder. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 14, 249–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Sanders, B., McRoberts, G., and Tollefson, C. (1989). Childhood stress and dissociation in a college population. Dissociation, 2, 17–23.Google Scholar
  81. Schibuk, M., Bond, M., and Bouffard, R. (1989). The development of defenses in childhood. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 34, 581–588.Google Scholar
  82. Selman, R. L. (1980). The growth of interpersonal understanding. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  83. Sexton, M., Harralson, T, Hulsey, T, and Nash, M. (1988). Sexual abuse and hypnotic susceptibility: Correlates in adult women. Paper presented to Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, Special Invited Symposium: Dissociation and Trauma.Google Scholar
  84. Spiegel, D. (1986). Dissociation, double binds, and posttraumatic stress in multiple personality disorder. In B. Braun (Ed.), Treatment of multiple personality disorder (pp. 63–77 ). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.Google Scholar
  85. Sroufe, L. A., and Fleeson, J. (1988). The coherence of family relationships. In R. A. Hinde and J. Stevenson-Hinde (Eds.), Relationships within families: Mutual influences (pp. 27–47 ). Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  86. Sroufe, L. A., and Rutter, M. (1984). The domain of developmental psychopathology. Child Development, 55, 1184–1199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Stifter, C. A., and Moyer, D. (1991). The regulation of positive affect: Gaze aversion activity during motherinfant interaction. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 14, 111–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Stipek, D. J., Gralinski, J. H., and Kopp, C. B. (1990). Self-concept development in the toddler years. Developmental Psychology, 26, 972–977.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Trad, P. V. (1989). The preschool child. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  90. Trickett, P. K., MacBride-Chang, C., and Putnam, E W. (1994). The classroom performance and behavior of sexually abused females. Development and Psychopathology, 6, 183–194.Google Scholar
  91. van der Kolk, B. (1987). The psychological consequences of overwhelming life experiences. In B. van der Kolk (Ed.), Psychological trauma (pp. 1–30 ). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.Google Scholar
  92. Waterman, J. (1986). Developmental considerations. In K. MacFarlane and J. Waterman (Eds.), Sexual abuse of young children, (pp. 15–29 ). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  93. Waters, E., Wippman, J., and Sroufe, L. A. (1979). Attachment, positive affect, and competence in the peer group: Two studies in construct validation. Child Development, 50, 821–829.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Watson, D., and Clark, L. A. (1984). Negative affectivity: The disposition to experience aversive emotional states. Psychological Bulletin, 96, 465–490.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Wolf, D. P. (1990). Being of several minds: Voices and versions of the self in early childhood. In D. Cicchetti and M. Beeghly (Eds.), The self in transition: Infancy to childhood (pp. 183–212 ). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  96. Wolff, P. H. (1987). The development of behavioral states and the expression of emotion in early infancy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  97. Wyatt, G. E., and Newcomb, M. (1990). Internal and external mediators of women’s sexual abuse in childhood. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 58, 758–767.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Zahn-Waxier, C., Radke-Yarrow, M., and King, R. A. (1979). Child-rearing and children’s prosocial initiations toward victims of distress. Child Development, 50, 319–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pamela M. Cole
    • 1
  • Pamela C. Alexander
    • 2
  • Catherine L. Anderson
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  3. 3.Northwest Center for Community Mental HealthRestonUSA

Personalised recommendations