Complex PTSD Dissociation: 5 Ways the Brain Naturally Protects During Long-term Trauma

In response to abusive or disturbing behaviors at home, where active resistance is out of the question, the child will find that the most natural and safe response to cope with the abuse is to detach, to go through these traumatic experiences without really experiencing them. Many mental health professionals do recognize C-PTSD as a separate condition, because the traditional symptoms of PTSD do not fully capture some of the unique characteristics shown in people who experienced repeat trauma. The main difference between the two disorders is the frequency of the trauma. While PTSD is caused by a single traumatic event, C-PTSD is caused by long-lasting trauma that continues or repeats for months, even years (commonly referred to as “complex trauma”). Many other traumatic events also can lead to PTSD, such as fire, natural disaster, mugging, robbery, plane crash, torture, kidnapping, life-threatening medical diagnosis, terrorist attack, and other extreme or life-threatening events. You can develop post-traumatic stress disorder when you go through, see or learn about an event involving actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation.

complex ptsd blackouts

Another study of va Dijke et al[11], correlated the presence of complex trauma in adulthood to complex PTSD symptomatology, specifically dissociation, suggesting a potential link to the dissociative subtype of PTSD. Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD) is a severe mental disorder that emerges in response to traumatic life events. Complex PTSD is characterised by three core post-traumatic symptom clusters, along with chronic and pervasive disturbances in emotion regulation, identity, and relationships.


On the other hand, you may self-isolate or avoid interacting with others as a measure of self-protection. Children who experience trauma may have difficulty trusting others as adults. Some research estimates that 3.3% of people in the United States meet the criteria for CPTSD, with women being more than twice as likely as men. However, it will be included in the International Classification of Diseases, 11th Revision (ICD-11), which is considered the gold standard in diagnostics by the World Health Organization (WHO).

  • If you have disturbing thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event for more than a month, if they’re severe, or if you feel you’re having trouble getting your life back under control, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
  • The three additional clusters of symptoms beyond core PTSD symptoms refer to emotional regulation, negative self-concept and interpersonal relational dysfunction[24].
  • A 2022 article notes that people with complex PTSD had consistently negative self-conceptions, while people with BPD had unstable and changing self-conceptions.
  • It might seem as though the things you witness are happening in a movie, far away from you.
  • PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can develop after a person experiences a traumatic event.

You may have been forced to lie or conceal your feelings in childhood to stay safe, and now it’s a survival skill that can be difficult to let go of. Maybe you’re having a hard time in your relationships, or you feel a pervasive sense of sadness without knowing why. Your doctor might also recommend dialectical behavioral therapy, a type of CBT that helps you better respond to stress and build stronger relationships with others. Keep in mind that you may need to see a few doctors before you find someone you feel comfortable with. This is very normal, especially for people dealing with post-traumatic stress.

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A person may take the medication for the short- or long-term, depending on the severity of their symptoms and the effectiveness of therapy. Some medications for depression may reduce the symptoms of complex PTSD. These medicines may be especially effective in combination with psychotherapy.

Individuals with complex PTSD typically have sustained or multiple exposures to trauma, such as childhood abuse and domestic or community violence. The disorder has a 1-8% population prevalence and up to 50% prevalence in mental health facilities. Progress in diagnostics, assessment, and differentiation from post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder is reported, along with assessment and treatment of children and adolescents. Studies recommend multicomponent ptsd blackouts therapies starting with a focus on safety, psychoeducation, and patient-provider collaboration, and treatment components that include self-regulatory strategies and trauma-focused interventions. Complex PTSD includes most of the core symptoms of PTSD, specifically flashbacks (i.e., re-experiencing the traumatic event), numbness and blunt emotion, avoidance and detachment from people, events and environmental triggers of the predisposing trauma as well as autonomic hyperarousal.

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The goal of PE is to reduce avoidance of traumatic memories and assist the person in having less severe reactions to memories and triggers of the trauma. Typical PTSD can arise after a traumatic episode, such as a car collision, an earthquake, or a sexual assault. You may not feel as though you can trust anyone or come to expect that others will harm you. You may also find yourself in other traumatic situations if abuse was a regular part of your past.

Although its inclusion was reconsidered for DSM-5, complex PTSD was again excluded because there was too little empirical evidence supporting Herman’s original proposal that this was a separate diagnosis. Indeed, many have argued that the proposed unique DESNOS symptoms indicate severe, complicated cases of PTSD but do not suggest that these symptoms represent a unique trauma-related disorder that is distinct from PTSD. Some of the DSM-5 revisions to the PTSD diagnostic criteria have included some DESNOS symptoms (e.g. impulsivity, anger, emotional difficulties and, especially the PTSD Dissociative Subtype) (4,5). Especially childhood trauma such as, sexual and physical abuse, maladaptive parenting, neglect, and parental conflict has been correlated to BPD multiple times in literature as risk if not etiological factors[33]. Many people with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience blackouts, among other symptoms. These blackouts may include flashbacks to a previous time in the person’s life, or they may involve a dissociation from reality.

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder

Other techniques include having someone tap on your hands instead of moving your eyes. Over time, this process may help to desensitize you to traumatic memories and thoughts. CPTSD is still a relatively new condition, so some doctors aren’t aware of it. This can make it hard to get an official diagnosis, and you might be diagnosed with PTSD instead of CPTSD. There’s no specific test for determining whether you have CPTSD, but keeping a detailed log of your symptoms can help your doctor make a more accurate diagnosis.

complex ptsd blackouts

CPTSD is a serious mental health condition that can take some time to treat, and for many people, it’s a lifelong condition. However, a combination of therapy and medication can help you manage your symptoms and significantly improve your quality of life. More studies are needed focusing on the biological background of complex PTSD and how this relates to its newly proposed clinical entity and how it correlates to the extended findings in the literature around the biology of PTSD and BPD. This is essential for examining the validity of it as a distinct and separated entity altogether or to confirm the hypothesis of a spectrum surrounding the disorders discussed above, at least within the range of cases having a history of trauma present. If you’ve experienced repeated trauma or long-term trauma, you may have a higher chance of developing C-PTSD symptoms. Another type of trauma-focused therapy is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

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