Exploring the Cognitive Mechanisms in the Developing Mind: The Association Between Theory of Mind and Dissociation in Traumatized Children

Helena de Klerk, Bard College

Abstract/Artist's Statement

Research has supported the relationship between trauma and dissociation, such that the experience of trauma, especially childhood trauma, increases the likelihood of pathological dissociation. There is also a small literature on the effects of trauma on theory of mind (ToM) abilities, suggesting that trauma may impair ToM abilities. Considering that both dissociation and ToM are impacted by trauma, it is worth investigating how they may interact in the context of trauma. However, there seem to be no published data on the interaction between dissociation and ToM, nor are there any empirically derived data to suggest a potential relationship between all three of these constructs. Therefore, this project will explore these potential relations using studies and reviews that examine dissociation and ToM independently, and will propose mechanisms that explain how dissociation and ToM may interact in the context of trauma, based on inferences drawn from data and contemporary critical thought reviewed for this project. Since both dissociation and ToM are cognitive constructs that serve as coping mechanisms and are involved in the development of the self, it seems possible that they may share similarities that are worth exploring.