Dissociative symptoms and amnesia in Dutch concentration camp survivors

H.L.G.J. Merckelbach, Th. Dekkers, I. Wessel, A.J. Roefs

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Abstract

We examined to what extent dissociative phenomena in concentration camp survivors are related to post-traumatic stress symptoms. Self-reports of amnesia for traumatic war events and other dissociative experiences were studied in a sample of 31 Dutch survivors of World War II (WWII) Japanese concentration camps. Seventeen survivors treated for war-related psychiatric symptoms were compared to 14 concentration camp survivors who had no psychiatric diagnosis. Although survivors who received treatment scored significantly higher on the Impact of Event Scale and the Post-Traumatic Symptom Scale than control survivors, the two groups did not differ in terms of accessibility of war memories or dissociative experiences. Levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms were not significantly correlated with dissociative experiences. In both groups, reports of psychogenic amnesia for traumatic events were rare. Our results support previous studies demonstrating that post-traumatic stress symptoms are not necessarily accompanied by dissociative experiences. They also contradict the suggestion that amnesia is a common phenomenon in people who have been exposed to war atrocities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-69
JournalComprehensive Psychiatry
Volume44
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2003

Cite this

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Dissociative symptoms and amnesia in Dutch concentration camp survivors. / Merckelbach, H.L.G.J.; Dekkers, Th.; Wessel, I.; Roefs, A.J.

In: Comprehensive Psychiatry, Vol. 44, No. 1, 01.01.2003, p. 65-69.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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AB - We examined to what extent dissociative phenomena in concentration camp survivors are related to post-traumatic stress symptoms. Self-reports of amnesia for traumatic war events and other dissociative experiences were studied in a sample of 31 Dutch survivors of World War II (WWII) Japanese concentration camps. Seventeen survivors treated for war-related psychiatric symptoms were compared to 14 concentration camp survivors who had no psychiatric diagnosis. Although survivors who received treatment scored significantly higher on the Impact of Event Scale and the Post-Traumatic Symptom Scale than control survivors, the two groups did not differ in terms of accessibility of war memories or dissociative experiences. Levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms were not significantly correlated with dissociative experiences. In both groups, reports of psychogenic amnesia for traumatic events were rare. Our results support previous studies demonstrating that post-traumatic stress symptoms are not necessarily accompanied by dissociative experiences. They also contradict the suggestion that amnesia is a common phenomenon in people who have been exposed to war atrocities.

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