Dissociation as a defence mechanism

Finally, dissociation has been described as a defence mechanism that protects the individual from potentially overwhelming pain or anxiety. In many respects, this account of dissociation is indistinguishable from the Freudian concept of repression (Erdelyi, 1985). This sense of the dissociation concept is typically used to describe the psychological function served by the creation of a dissociated state of consciousness, or the dissociation of mental modules or systems from one another (Cardena, 1994). By this view, exposure to a traumatic situation may trigger the compartmentalization of memories, which preserves psychological integrity by preventing the distressing material from entering consciousness after the event. Alternatively, such traumatic exposure may spontaneously elicit a depersonalized state that prevents extreme emotion from inhibiting an appropriate behavioural response. As such, this definition of dissociation may relate to either of the definitions described previously. In both cases, dissociation of this sort could either be an acute response to an isolated traumatic event or a trait-like characteristic acquired as a result of repeated exposure to trauma.

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