The Dissociative Continuum
In the face of persisting threat, the infant or young child will activate other
neurophysiological and functional responses. This involves activation of dissociative adaptations.
Dissociation is a broad descriptive term that includes a variety of mental mechanism involved in disengaging from the external world and attending to stimuli in the internal world. This can involve distraction, avoidance, numbing, daydreaming, fugue, fantasy, derealization, depersonalization and, in the extreme, fainting or catatonia.
In our experiences with young children and infants, the predominant adaptive responses during the trauma are dissociative.
Children exposed to chronic violence may report a variety of dissociative experiences.
Children describe going to a ‘different place’, assuming the persona of superheroes or animals, a sense of ‘watching a movie that I was in’ or ‘just floating’ – classic depersonalization and derealization responses. Observers will report these children as numb, robotic, non-reactive, “day dreaming”, “acting like he was not there”, staring off in a glazed look.
Younger children are more likely to use dissociative adaptations. Immobilization, inescapability or pain will increase the dissociative components of the stress response patterns at any age.