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  • Writer's pictureTravis A. Musich, PsyD

Dissociation and Trauma: Exploring Dissociated Parts

By Travis A. Musich, PsyD Adjunct Professor of Clinical Psychology

Illinois School of professional Psychology, National Louis University

If you or someone you know has experienced early trauma, it's essential to recognize the impact it can have on one's psychological well-being. This blog post aims to shed light on the development of dissociated parts as a coping mechanism in response to overwhelming trauma.

Trauma-Dissociation Connection: the development of dissociated parts as a coping mechanism in response to overwhelming trauma

Person-Centered Psychological Services specializes in trauma-informed care for dissociation. By understanding the origins and manifestations of dissociation, you can embark on a journey of healing and seek the support you need.

Dissociation allows them to separate themselves from the anguish and pain, providing temporary relief from the traumatic events.

1. Early Trauma and Dissociation:

Many individuals who experience dissociative parts have a history of sexual or physical trauma, extreme neglect, or other forms of significant distress before the age of seven. At such young ages, children have heightened openness to imagination and suggestibility, making dissociation a possible solution for coping with overwhelming experiences. Dissociation allows them to separate themselves from the anguish and pain, providing temporary relief from the traumatic events.

2. Reinforcement and Coping:

Dissociation can be reinforcing for children in these circumstances. It offers a transition from intense anguish to a state of reduced pain, allowing them to put the traumatic events out of their minds. This coping mechanism may create an illusion of normalcy and happiness in their family life. The efficacy of dissociation as a means of escaping emotional pain becomes ingrained, leading individuals to believe that making painful experiences disappear is the key to successful living.

3. Divided Experiences and Autonomy:

Young children often compartmentalize their dissociated experiences, creating separate compartments or parts. This division arises from the intense and seemingly irreconcilable reactions they have, coupled with limited mental capacities to integrate contradictory emotions. As a result, they begin to perceive these compartments as autonomous selves with distinct identities and histories.

4. Contradictory Emotions and Reactions:

Clients who have experienced dissociation often describe intense feelings of helplessness, terror, pain, and anguish that felt life-threatening. Simultaneously, they may feel both afraid of dying and wish for an escape through death. They may experience intense rage and harbor violent thoughts towards the perpetrator, while also yearning to hold onto any instances of parental love and nurturing. These conflicting emotions and reactions contribute to the development of distinct dissociated parts.

5. Self-Abuse and Suicidal Tendencies:

Within dissociated parts, self-abusive or suicidal qualities often emerge as a response to the reemergence of painful memories. A young child part, feeling terrified and alone, may express these tendencies in an attempt to cope with the overwhelming pain. It's important to understand that these self-destructive behaviors are not a reflection of personal weakness but rather a desperate attempt to contain the traumatic memories.

Individuals with dissociation and trauma-related symptoms may be misdiagnosed as having borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia.

6. Misdiagnosis and Seeking Proper Support:

As individuals with dissociation and trauma-related symptoms present with a wide range of behaviors, they may be misdiagnosed as having borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia. This can lead to incorrect treatment within symptom-specific programs. Recognizing dissociation as a potential underlying factor is crucial in obtaining accurate diagnoses and accessing appropriate therapeutic support.

Person-Centered Psychological Services

Understanding the development of dissociated parts in response to early trauma is a significant step towards healing and seeking proper support. Recognize that dissociation served as a coping mechanism during challenging times, but it is possible to embark on a journey of healing and integration.

If you resonate with the experiences described here, consider scheduling an appointment with one of our providers who specializes in trauma and dissociation. You can schedule a free Initial Consultation with one of our clinicians using our secure client portal. Our psychologists at Person-Centered Psychological Services have special training in the diagnosis and treatment of dissociation and Dissociative Identity Disorder. With their guidance and support, you can navigate the path to recovery and rediscover your innate resilience and strength. Please contact us via email at or call us at 773-231-7715 if you have any questions about our therapy services.


F.A.Q. Understanding Dissociation and Early Trauma

What is the connection between early trauma and dissociation?

How does dissociation reinforce itself as a coping mechanism?

Can you explain the concept of divided experiences and autonomy in dissociation?

What kinds of contradictory emotions and reactions can individuals with dissociation experience?

Why do self-abuse and suicidal tendencies sometimes emerge within dissociated parts?

Are there any risks of misdiagnosis for individuals with dissociation and trauma-related symptoms?


About the Author

Dr. Travis A. Musich (he/him) is a Clinical Psychology Fellow at Person-Centered Psychological Services. Dr. Musich is also an Adjunct Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Illinois School of Professional Psychology (ISPP) at National Louis University where he teaches graduate courses on clinical psychology theories of human health and psychopathology, person-centered therapy, multicultural diversity, and professional development. Dr. Musich received his doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology with a concentration in Client-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology where he trained closely under Margaret S. Warner, PhD. He received classical training in the person-centered approach at Chicago Counseling Associates under the supervision and mentorship of Marge Witty, PhD and Carolyn Schneider, AM, LCPC. He completed his pre-doctoral internship with University Health & Counseling Services at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Dr. Musich is a client-centered therapist with over 15 years of experience working in the mental health field. He is a queer therapist with extensive experience serving the LGBTQIA+ community. In addition to helping adults experiencing anxiety, depression, and grief, Dr. Musich’s clinical specialties include working with adults struggling with relationship difficulties, early childhood trauma, dissociation, psychosis, and schizophrenia. Dr. Musich has presented internationally on his clinical research focused schizophrenia, language, and emotional processing in client-centered therapy. He is also a member of the Association for the Development of the Person-Centered Approach.

More Publications by Dr. Musich:

Single-Case Pilot Study for Longitudinal Analysis of Referential Failures and Sentiment in Schizophrenic Speech from Client-Centered Psychotherapy Recordings

Empathy: The Most Effective Element of Therapy

Restoring Clarity: Therapy for Psychosis and Schizophrenia

Financial Security from Violence: Legal Support for Workers Facing Intimate Partner Violence

Mastering Nonviolent Communication: Empowering Self-Advocacy and Enhancing Relationships

A Client-Centered Approach to Working with Clients who hold Diverse Identities

Embracing Non-Directiveness: Unlocking the Power of Client-Centered Therapy

10 Reasons Why Psychotherapy Cannot Be Conducted by Artificial Intelligence


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