An investigation into the relationship between anxiety and normal and pathological dissociative experiences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Dissociation may be broadly described as a subjective experience in which information from the individual's internal or external environment is not appropriately integrated into conscious awareness, memory or identity. A number of studies have found an association between dissociative experience and anxious arousal, and in particular, between dissociation and trauma. Recent reviews suggest the existence of an unspecified mediating variable that accounts for these associations. The present study compared dissociative experiences reported by a community sample (N = 74) and a sample of individuals with a range of anxiety disorders (N = 20). The potential influence of anxiety sensitivity was a particular focus. Participants completed a battery of measures assessing dissociative experience, anxious arousal, social anxiety, generalised anxiety, panic and agoraphobia, traumatic experience and posttraumatic stress in addition to measures of anxiety sensitivity and substance use. Participants in the anxiety group reported a greater variety and frequency of dissociative experiences, particularly of experiences considered to be pathological in nature. Elevated dissociation scores were associated with somatic symptoms of anxiety, social anxiety, generalised anxiety, agoraphobia and posttraumatic stress. No association between trauma exposure and dissociation was evident; however, trauma intensity was associated with dissociation in the anxiety group. Symptoms of depersonalisation / derealisation and absorption were most strongly associated with increased anxiety. Anxiety Sensitivity accounted for more of the variance in dissociation scores than did measures of expressed anxiety. These results suggest that anxiety sensitivity may account for the relationship between trauma anxiety and dissociation. Therapeutic intervention directed at anxiety sensitivity, particularly fear of cognitive discontrol, may prove helpful in treating dissociative detachment.