Cognitive processes in dissociation: An analysis of core theoretical assumptions

T.M. Giesbrecht*, S.J. Lynn, S.O. Lilienfeld, H.L.G.J. Merckelbach

*Corresponding author for this work

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Dissociation is typically defined as the lack of normal integration of thoughts, feelings, and experiences into consciousness and memory. The present article critically evaluates the research literature on cognitive processes in dissociation. The authors' review indicates that dissociation is characterized by subtle deficits in neuropsychological performance (e.g., heightened distractibility). Some of the cognitive phenomena (e.g., weakened cognitive inhibition) associated with dissociation appear to be dependent on the emotional or attentional context. Contrary to a widespread assumption in the clinical literature, dissociation does not appear to be related to avoidant information processing. Rather, it is associated with an enhanced propensity toward pseudo-memories, possibly mediated by heightened levels of interrogative suggestibility, fantasy proneness, and cognitive failures. Evidence for a link between dissociation and either memory fragmentation or early trauma based on objective measures is conspicuously lacking. The authors identify a variety of methodological issues and discrepancies that make it difficult to articulate a comprehensive framework for cognitive mechanisms in dissociation. The authors conclude with a discussion of research domains (e.g., sleep-related experiences, drug-related dissociation) that promise to advance our understanding of cognition and dissociation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)617-647
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008

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