Association between childhood trauma and dissociation among patients with borderline personality disorder


  • Stuart Watson,

  • Roy Chilton,

  • Helen Fairchild,

  • Peter Whewell

Stuart Watson, Consultant Psychiatrist (Correspondence); Helen Fairchild, Trainee Clinical Psychologist
School of Neurology, Neurobiology and Psychiatry, University of Newcastle, Leazes Wing, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4LP, England, UK. Email:

Roy Chilton, Assistant Psychologist; Peter Whewell, Consultant Psychotherapist
Borderline Treatment Service, The Regional Department of Psychotherapy, Newcastle, England, UK


Objective:  To examine the relationship between childhood trauma and dissociative experience in adulthood in patients with borderline personality disorder.

Method:  Dissociative experiences scale scores and subscale scores for the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire were correlated in 139 patients. Patients were dichotomized into high or low dissociators using the Median Dissociative Experiences Scale score as the cut-off.

Results:  Childhood Trauma Questionnaire Subscale scores for emotional and physical abuse and emotional neglect but not sexual abuse correlated significantly with Dissociative Experiences Scale scores. High dissociators reported significantly greater levels of emotional abuse, physical abuse, emotional neglect and physical neglect but not sexual abuse than low dissociators.

Conclusion:  Patients with borderline personality disorder therefore demonstrated levels of dissociation that increased with levels of childhood trauma, supporting the hypothesis that traumatic childhood experiences engender dissociative symptoms later in life. Emotional abuse and neglect may be at least as important as physical and sexual abuse in the development of dissociative symptoms.