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Peritraumatic dissociation revisited: associations with autonomic activation, facial movements, staring, and intrusion formation

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journal contribution
posted on 25.11.2021, 19:00 by Sarah K. Danböck, Julina A. Rattel, Laila K. Franke, Michael Liedlgruber, Stephan F. Miedl, Frank H. Wilhelm

Peritraumatic dissociation is purported to emerge together with attenuated autonomic arousal, immobility, and staring. However, empirical evidence is scarce and heterogeneous. Moreover, it is still a matter of debate whether these responses predict intrusion formation.

The present trauma-analogue study examined associations between peritraumatic dissociation, autonomic activation, facial movements, staring, and intrusion formation.

Seventy-one healthy women watched a highly aversive film, while autonomic activation (heart rate, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, skin conductance level), facial movements (temporal variations in corrugator electromyography), and staring (fixation duration, tracklength) were assessed. Afterwards, participants rated the intensity of dissociation during film viewing and reported intrusions and associated distress in a smartphone application for 24 hours.

Peritraumatic dissociation was linked to higher autonomic arousal (higher heart rate and, on a trend-level, lower respiratory sinus arrhythmia), increased facial movements, and staring (lower tracklength). Peritraumatic dissociation, higher autonomic arousal (higher heart rate and lower respiratory sinus arrhythmia), staring (higher fixation duration), and, on a trend-level, more facial movements were linked to higher intrusion load (number x distress of intrusions) and together explained 59% of variance. Skin conductance level was neither linked to peritraumatic dissociation nor intrusion load.

Our results suggest that, at low-dissociation-levels observed in trauma-analogue studies, peritraumatic dissociation may occur together with heightened autonomic arousal and facial movements, indexing increased negative affect. Staring might, irrespectively of dissociation-levels, serve as objective marker for dissociation. Together, peritraumatic dissociation and its psychophysiological correlates might set the stage for later intrusion formation.

In our trauma-analogue study, peritraumatic dissociation was related to higher autonomic arousal, more facial movements, and staring.

These peritraumatic responses predicted the subsequent formation of distressing intrusions.

In our trauma-analogue study, peritraumatic dissociation was related to higher autonomic arousal, more facial movements, and staring.

These peritraumatic responses predicted the subsequent formation of distressing intrusions.

Funding

SKD and JAR were supported by the Doctoral College ‘Imaging the Mind’ funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF; W1233-B, W1233-G17; Subproject Principal Investigator: FHW).

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