Childhood Trauma Can Cause Dissociative Symptoms In People: Study

It's a global ethical issue -- children are abused or neglected, and then on top of that injustice, they can't receive treatments that would help them as adults, this is unfair, said a researcher

A team of investigators at McLean Hospital has found that the brain imaging analyses can uncover changes in functional connections between brain regions linked to a specific individual’s dissociative symptoms following trauma.

The findings, published in ‘The American Journal of Psychiatry’, might be useful for treatments for affected patients. To learn more about this, the researchers conducted a test with applying a novel machine-learning or artificial intelligence technique to find functional magnetic resonance imaging tests in around 65 women with post-traumatic stress disorder and with histories of childhood abuse and trauma.

The tests revealed that measurements related to connections between different regions of the brain were interrelated with dissociative symptoms in those women.

“This moves us one step closer to recognizing a ‘fingerprint’ of dissociation in the brain that could be used as an objective diagnostic tool for further use,” said one of the lead authors, Lauren AM Lebois, Ph.D., director of neuroimaging in the Dissociative Disorders and Trauma Research Program at McLean Hospital.

He said these assessments can be used in individuals who are unable to effectively talk about their symptoms once the brain-based measures reach high levels of sensitivity and specificity.

Lebois noted that the existence of dissociative symptoms and dissociative disorders are often suspected, and this is a reason why people are rarely asked about it.

According to Lebois, these symptoms are misunderstood, stigmatized, and are under-diagnosed. The funding isn’t prioritized in this area of research till now. The suspicion fuels a vicious cycle where the new generations of clinicians aren’t much aware of these experiences.

As a result, people with experiences of childhood trauma suffer from these symptoms and disorders and don’t have a proper access to the existing mental health involvement.

“It’s a global ethical issue — children are abused or neglected, and then on top of that injustice, they can’t receive treatments that would help them as adults,” said Leboi.

Milissa Kaufman, MD, Ph.D., director of the Dissociative Disorders and Trauma Research Program at McLean Hospital said, “The important findings from this study have steered us towards the next step in our research proceedings”.

His team has recently received a five-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to work on the study of how dissociation may affect one’s ability to benefit from current, standardized treatments for PTSD.

“This is a new work that may help us to establish a new standard of care for traumatized patients with PTSD symptoms and disorders,” said Kaufman

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