Fragmented Sleep, Fragmented Mind: A New Theory of Sleep Disruption and Dissociation

Scientific research has shed new light on dissociative symptoms and dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder. This condition seems to arise most often when a vulnerable person meets a therapist with a suggestive line of questioning or encounters sensationalized media portrayals of dissociation. Research shows that people with rich fantasy lives may be especially susceptible to such influences.   A new article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests a mundane but surprising reason why some people might be vulnerable to dissociation: sleep problems.

The pop psychology belief is that patients develop multiple personalities to cope with traumatic experiences in their past, especially child sexual abuse. But this assumption isn’t supported by scientific evidence…Many people with dissociative disorders  do say they were abused as children, but that doesn’t mean abuse caused their condition.

A more likely explanation, Lynn says, is that dissociative identity disorder arises from a combination of cues, from therapists and from visions of multiple personalities in the media..

Lynn and his colleagues’ research further suggests that sleep problems may be one reason why some people are more vulnerable to dissociation and dissociative disorders….“We’re not arguing that this is a complete or final explanation,” Lynn says. “We just hope the word will get out and other investigators will start looking at this possibility.”

…Therapists should “be scrupulous in avoiding suggestive approaches—not only with people who may be particularly vulnerable to those procedures, but with people in general who seek help.” Also, he cautions, “if your therapist is trying to convince you that you have multiple personalities, you should find a new therapist.”

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For more information about this study, please contact: Steven Jay Lynn at stevenlynn100@gmail.com.

Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, publishes concise reviews on the latest advances in theory and research spanning all of scientific psychology and its applications. For a copy of “Dissociation and Dissociative Disorders: Challenging Conventional Wisdom” and access to other Current Directions in Psychological Science research findings, please contact Divya Menon at 202-293-9300 or dmenon@psychologicalscience.org.

Retrieved 05/13/12.

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