The link between the propensity to fantasy and dissociation

When faced with traumatic events, we may develop dissociative phenomena. But what are the elements, factors or properties that make this type of experience normal or pathological?

The link between the propensity to fantasy and dissociation

Last update: June 27, 2023

Dissociation is intimately linked to trauma. To explain this, we can use a metaphor. Imagine that you are in a room with a glass in your hands and a person approaches you. They push you, and as a result, the glass falls and crashes to the floor and shatters.

In our metaphor, the glass represents the mind, while the violence of other people pushing each other is a certain traumatic event, such as sexual abuse. The result is dissociation. A beautiful and functional glass ends up breaking, fragmenting and becoming unusable.

There is a new hypothesis about dissociation. He claims that the dissociative phenomenon has a dimensional character. This suggests that it could be arranged in a continuous line. The normal phenomena of dissociation would be localized at the healthy pole while, at the opposite end, or pathological pole, would be dissociative disorders, such as dissociative identity disorder.

But, What makes a normal phenomenon pathological? The answer can be found in the term propensity for fantasy. Indeed, we know that a large number of mentally healthy people report having had dissociative experiences (Parra, 2007).

The world of the imagination is unimaginative and violently opposed to common sense.

-Mark Rothko-

woman with dissociation
Individuals susceptible to hypnotic suggestion are more vulnerable to dissociation.

An approach to the concept of dissociation

Dissociation is a term that can be translated in several ways. For example, to separate or break or disintegrate. But, in the mental process of dissociation, what separates? The answer is far from simple. We could say that the following mental structures that form the glue of individual identity are fragmented (Belloch, 2020):

  • The memory.
  • Perception.
  • Personality.
  • Motor functions.
  • Thoughts.
  • Consciousness.

Depending on how disintegrated or separated these structures are, we could speak of pathology or normality. In healthy dissociation, experiences are far from fragmented. They are perceived as fully integrated events. Indeed, dissociation protects the individual from life events that can hurt him deeply, both emotionally and psychologically.

The association between dissociation, fantasy, and suggestibility persisted as mediating factors of dissociation and trauma.

-Amparo Belloch-

Some people possess extraordinary imaginative abilities. Indeed, those who are most susceptible to hypnotic suggestion are most vulnerable to dissociation. The ability to imagine vividly is related to the perception of sensory experiences experienced as extremely real.

Model of Lynn’s imaginative propensity

Fonseca (2020), states that dissociative disorders are the result of learning sequences learned through social means. For example:

  • Some unconscious actions of the therapist. The questions asked by the therapist can evoke a traumatic event from the past. For example, suggesting to a client that your father abused you in childhood, right? However, such an event may be false. In this case, the therapist is promoting the implantation of an incorrect memory. This is an aspect that justifies the fact that trauma should always be explored carefully.
  • The role of the film industry. Film and television depictions of dissociative clinical entities. For example, movies and series have focused on individuals with amnesia or dissociative identity disorder.
  • sociocultural expectations. What do people without knowledge of psychology or psychiatry believe about the symptoms and characteristics of people with dissociation? For example, do they believe people with dissociation have dramatic impairments when it comes to hearing? Or do they think that dissociation means having many identities that they tend to alter without warning?

There was a passive increase in dissociation cases in the 1970s. It seemed to be the result of the best-selling book, Sybil, which was adapted into film.

-Steven Jay Lynn-

The imaginative propensity is a concept that encompasses nearly four percent of the world’s population under the umbrella of its name (Lynn, 2012). These people have a tendency to constantly immerse themselves in fantasy.

Thanks to this ability, they are able to observe, listen and feel all elements of their mind. Also, as mentioned earlier, highly suggestible people tend to fantasize and dream during the day.

From Lynn’s fantasy propensity model, it is hypothesized that media influence and sociocultural expectations would explain dissociative symptomatology.

-Eduardo Fonseca-

Woman thinking
Four percent of the population experiences the propensity for fantasy.

There is another term that could be related to the proneness to fantasy and dissociative phenomena. This is absorption. It means a high degree of involvement in highly imaginative tasks (Parra, 2007). Indeed, for this author, individuals with an absorbing capacity tend to possess extremely rich and intensely real imaginative capacities.

Because of this they often experience a loss of their sense of self. In other words, they get lost in a fantasy world. As an example of a normal dissociative experience, consider the self-centeredness you feel when you watch a movie. It doesn’t matter what’s going on around you or who’s speaking, you’re sucked into the fantasy world of cinematic fiction.

Some evidence supports that people with high levels of self-absorption are at risk of experiencing hallucinations (Berenbaum, 2000). The penchant for fantasy is a key factor here. Indeed, faced with the same potentially traumatic event, people with a tendency to propensity to fantasy more frequently develop pathological dissociative phenomena. Furthermore, if we add a high capacity for self-absorption to the above, it is likely that the individual will also experience psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations.

Individuals with a high susceptibility to absorption often also had some traumatic experiences in childhood.

-Alejandro Parra-

You might be interested…

All sources cited have been thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography for this article has been deemed reliable and of scholarly or scientific accuracy.

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2014). DSM-5. Gua de consult de los diagnostics criteria del DSM-5: DSM-5. Spanish edition of the Desk Reference to Diagnostic Criteria from DSM-5 (1.A and.). Editorial Mdica Panamericana.

  • Belloch, A. (2023). Handbook of psychopathology, vol II.

  • Pedrero, FE (2020). Manual of psychological treatments: adults (Psychologist) (1.A and.). Pyrrhic Editions.

  • Parra, A. (2007). Interrelation between dissociation, absorption and propensity to fantasize with alucinatory experiences in non-clinical poblacin. Alcmaeon, 14(1), 61-71.

  • Parra, A. (2009). Testing the dissociative model of alucinatory experiences in healthy individuals: relating to quirky personality and imagination propensity. Latin American Journal of Psychology, 41(3), 571-586.

  • Parra, A., & Paolo, L.E. (2009). Extracorporeal experiences in relation to the propensity to alucinate, esquizotypy and dissociation in Argentine and Peruvian students. Limit. Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy and Psychology, 4(20), 95-121.

  • Porra, A. Psychological medicines in relation with alucinatory experiences and aparicionales experiences.

  • Rodrguez Vega, B., Fernndez Liria, A., & Bayn Prez, C. (2005). Trauma, disociacin and somatizacin. Anuario de Psicologia Clinica y de la Salud/Yearbook of Clinical and Health Psychology, 1, 27-38.

  • Lynn, SJ, Lilienfeld, SO, Merckelbach, H., Giesbrecht, T., & Van der Kloet, D. (2012). Dissociation and Dissociative Disorders: Defying Conventional Wisdom. Current directions in Psychological Sciences, 21(1), 48-53.

#link #propensity #fantasy #dissociation
Image Source :

Leave a Comment