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The Trauma Model of Dissociation: Inconvenient Truths and Stubborn Fictions. Comment on Dalenberg et al. (2012)

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Dalenberg et al. (2012) argued that convincing evidence (a) supports the longstanding trauma model (TM), which posits that early trauma plays a key role in the genesis of dissociation; and (b) refutes the fantasy model (FM), which posits that fantasy proneness, suggestibility, cognitive failures, and other variables foster dissociation. We review evidence bearing on Dalenberg et al.'s 8 predictions and find them largely wanting in empirical support. We contend that the authors repeat errors committed by many previous proponents of the TM, such as attributing a central etiological role to trauma in the absence of sufficient evidence. Specifically, Dalenberg et al. leap too quickly from correlational data to causal conclusions, do not adequately consider the lack of corroboration of abuse in many studies, and underestimate the relation between dissociation and false memories. Nevertheless, we identify points of agreement between the TM and FM regarding potential moderators and mediators of dissociative symptoms (e.g., family environment, biological vulnerabilities) and the hypothesis that dissociative identity disorder is a disorder of self-understanding. We acknowledge that trauma may play a causal role in dissociation but that this role is less central and specific than Dalenberg et al. contend. Finally, although a key assumption of the TM is dissociative amnesia, the notion that people can encode traumatic experiences without being able to recall them lacks strong empirical support. Accordingly, we conclude that the field should now abandon the simple trauma-dissociation model and embrace multifactorial models that accommodate the diversity of causes of dissociation and dissociative disorders.

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