New Aspect of PTSD Examined in Study

Treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be challenging. The symptoms can have wide variation and severity, and a treatment plan that results in a positive outcome for one patient may be ineffective for another. However, some of the symptoms can be unsettling to even terrifying and affect a patient’s life in a severe way.

A new study identifies a set of symptoms that may occur with a specific form of PTSD. Called dissociation, the symptoms can impact a person’s experience of awareness and consciousness. The study’s findings show that dissociation is connected with a certain type of PTSD and may provide helpful information for the successful treatment of PTSD.

The authors note that the insight provided by the study is helpful in showing that the course PTSD may take could go down various paths.

The researchers found that dissociation is many times detectable in patients with PTSD when they exhibit derealization or depersonalization. Derealization is when a person experiences a feeling that their surroundings are unfamiliar or unreal. Depersonalization is characterized by a feeling that one’s own body is now unfamiliar.

To understand how the symptoms affect those with PTSD, the authors of the study examined the effects among 492 veterans, along with their intimate partners. Each of the participants had a history of trauma.

The participants had experienced a wide variety of types of trauma, from childhood abuse to combat, partner abuse to accidents in motor vehicles, and even natural disasters. Many of the participants reported more than one significant trauma exposure.

The researchers used the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale, which is a tool used to assess the severity and frequency of not only PTSD symptoms, but also specifically dissociation symptoms.

The results of the measurement showed that there was a small subset among the participants that showed especially high levels of PTSD and dissociation and, in addition to a high reporting level of a history of sexual assault.

The researchers believe that the findings provide additional support to previous research showing a specific subtype characterized by dissociation among PTSD patients. They believe that the distinction may lead to a separate entry in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.

The study was led by Mark W. Miller, Ph.D and Erika J. Wolf, Ph.D. both of the National Center for PTSD located at the VA Boston Healthcare System and Department of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine.

The authors explain that the results highlight a small subset of PTSD patients who exhibit a specific pattern of symptoms characterized by derealization and depersonalization. If this specific pattern of symptoms can be identified in a patient, they may be able to receive treatment tailored to assist those who have this very specific type of diagnosis.