Dissociation is characterized by a psychological distancing established between a person and their immediate surroundings. Freud’s view on dissociation, a perspective with which many psychologists today agree, is that dissociation occurs when an individual is unable to cope with trauma resulting from a particular or number of experiences. Though in the 1990’s a dissociative personality disorder diagnosis began to increase, the validity of a number of cases, as well as dissociative personality disorder as a disease itself, it is strongly believed by the psychological community that victims span in the thousands and that the majority of them are female.
In the case of acute and post-traumatic stress disorders, dissociation may occur by shifting the perspective by which they view the unpleasant events, sometimes by regarding them as unreal or not really involving themselves. This doesn’t necessarily mean repression or an inability to intellectually understand they have had an experience, but can simply mean there is a break in the way in which they emotionally register these events. For example, a rape victim might feel as though they had an out of body experience while they are being attacked, or someone who is being divorced might not experience expected emotions because are unable to emotionally react. Generally, it is believed victims involved in childhood sexual abuse are most likely to form dissociative disorders, though this is not true in all cases and psychologists have yet to unanimously agree on this theory.
Dissociative amnesia and dissociative personality disorder are the main areas in which psychologists regard dissociation. Dissociative amnesia comes about when a person is unable to recall moments in their live, spanning from brief intervals to a total loss of their past, including basic facets of their own identity. In the case of dissociative personality disorder, which had at one time been referred to as multiple personality disorder, one or more separate or “auxiliary” personalities are created to deal with situations which a person originally felt they could not handle. For example, if someone is suffering from a phobia and feels they are psychologically incapable of overcoming it themselves, an auxiliary personality may be created who can.
One extreme case of dissociative personality disorder is demonstrated by Eve White, who in the late 1980’s was found to have over twenty auxiliary personalities. Furthermore, White’s auxiliary personalities were not only divided according to emotional stability or maturity. In her autobiography, Eve described separate selves who were talented in different areas, such as separate auxiliary personality more adapt at playing the piano and still another who could speak French.
The underlying reasons for developing dissociative personality disorder are still unknown. Some claim auxiliary personalities allow an individual to gain attention by dramatizing themselves while others believe dissociation occurs when certain information learned in one context cannot be recalled in another. As hypnosis forms a guided dissociation, people who are more prone to dissociate have been accordingly been found to be more susceptible to hypnosis, particularly those suffering from dissociative personality disorder. Thus, another theory for the case of dissociation is that during victims childhoods they self-hypnosis themselves into believing they are the sum of auxiliary personalities in order to separate themselves from traumatic events.