Study taps AI to find brain regions driving dissociation from trauma

A new study from McLean Hospital has potentially found brain regions that drive the dissociation response reported by individuals who suffered abuse and trauma during childhood. The findings add an element of legitimacy to dissociation and dissociation disorders, both of which still face skepticism and doubt at both the public and clinical levels. The findings were made possible, in part, by leveraging artificial intelligence technologies.

Dissociation and dissociation disorders are often reported by those who experience a moment of extreme trauma or prolonged abuse, particularly during childhood. The disorder may manifest in different ways, including feeling a complete detachment from one’s own emotions, the sensation of being detached from one’s body or floating, feeling like reality is not real, confusion about one’s identity, memory loss, not feeling like yourself, and feeling a sense of loss of control over certain body movements.

These issues can severely impact one’s life if they remain for a prolonged period of time, underscoring the need for effective treatment…which, unfortunately, is often lacking. Despite widespread reports about these issues from people who have experienced traumatic events or abuse, many in the medical community remain skeptical about the validity of dissociation symptoms and disorders, resulting in a lack of adequate treatment or patients who don’t seek help.

The new study from Mclean Hospital may have found underpinning changes in the brain associated with dissociation by using machine learning with fMRI scans from 65 women diagnosed with PTSD and who experienced abuse during childhood. The technique is able to spot functional brain region connection changes in parts of the brain linked with each patient’s own dissociative symptoms.

Lauren A.M.Lebois, Ph.D., one of the lead authors on the study, explained:

This moves us one step closer to identifying a ‘fingerprint’ of dissociation in the brain that could be used as an objective diagnostic tool. In the future, once brain-based measures reach high levels of sensitivity and specificity, we could use these assessments in individuals who are unable to effectively talk about their symptoms–for example, those who might intentionally or unintentionally minimize or exaggerate their symptoms–or in situations like court proceedings where objective corroborating evidence is requested.

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