Neurobiology and dissocation: Information processing and the embodied self


Neuroscience research can guide trauma treatment including EMDR, ego state, somatic, and attachment therapies (Lanius, Paulsen & Corrigan, in press). Traumatic memories tend to be encoded somatically and affectively in implicit memory. Lower brain structures, particularly basic affective circuits and the periaqueductal gray (PAG) (Panksepp, 1998), are essential to understanding of both traumatic memory and and dissociation. The polyvagal nervous system (Porges, 2001) is key to understanding the activation of different affective circuits, including the interplay between social engagement and connection, fight/flight and dissociation. A model is proposed that links alterations in consciousness to failure of integration and ultimately to structural dissociation (van der Hart et al., 2006). It is suggested that attachment trauma contributes to the failure of horizontal integration of the columnar organization of affective states, which, over time, become the foundation of discontinuous self-states: Discontinuity of self-states, amnesia barriers and dissociative state switching develop in lieu of smooth state transitions. Somatic interventions can enable sensory integration and personification (Janet, 1929), prior to trauma processing with EMDR that engages brain processing inter-hemispherically and across cortical and subcortical levels. The workshop will highlight implications of recent neurobiological findings for clinical practice.

Learning Objectives: Articulate the role of the periaqueductal gray (PAG) in the expression and experience of emotion. Identify two brain structures implicated in integrating affective and sensory information. Name three branches of the polyvagal nervous systems described by Porges.






Sandra Paulsen
Ulrich Lanius

Original Work Citation

Paulsen, S., & Lanius, U. (2011, November). Neurobiology and dissocation: Information processing and the embodied self. Presentation at the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation 28th Annual International Conference, Montreal, QE



“Neurobiology and dissocation: Information processing and the embodied self,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed October 28, 2020,

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