OBJECTIVE: To test the hypothesis that dissociation in adolescence is
positively correlated with stress or abuse experienced earlier, the authors
assessed dissociation in a heterogeneous group of disturbed adolescents and
examined the relationship between the degree of dissociation and the degree
of reported childhood stress, abuse, or trauma. METHOD: The subjects were
47 adolescents, 13-17 years old, who were institutionalized for periods of
1-13 weeks in a private mental hospital; 35 were girls and 12 were boys.
Participants completed the Dissociative Experiences Scale and a child abuse
and trauma questionnaire. The hospital records of 40 of the 47 adolescents
were also available. RESULTS: Scores on the Dissociative Experiences Scale
correlated significantly with self-reported physical abuse or punishment,
sexual abuse, psychological abuse, neglect, and negative home atmosphere
but not with abuse ratings made from hospital records. CONCLUSIONS:
Together with the authors' previous work showing a relation between
childhood stress and later dissociation in normal college students, these
findings support the view that dissociation represents a reaction to early
negative experience and places multiple personality disorder at the extreme
end of a continuum of dissociative sequelae of childhood trauma.
Researchers should continue to try to identify psychiatric patients with
prominent dissociative characteristics or symptoms and attempt to correlate
this phenomenology with negative earlier experiences.