This study investigated the relationship between self-reported childhood abuse and dissociative symptoms and amnesia. The presence or absence of corroboration of recovered memories of childhood abuse was also studied.Method
Participants were 90 female patients admitted to a unit specializing in the treatment of trauma-related disorders. Participants completed instruments that measured dissociative symptoms and elicited details concerning childhood physical abuse, sexual abuse, and witnessing abuse. Participants also underwent a structured interview that asked about amnesia for traumatic experiences, the circumstances of recovered memory, the role of suggestion in recovered memories, and independent corroboration of the memories.Results
Participants reporting any type of childhood abuse demonstrated elevated levels of dissociative symptoms that were significantly higher than those in subjects not reporting abuse. Higher dissociative symptoms were correlated with early age at onset of physical and sexual abuse and more frequent sexual abuse. A substantial proportion of participants with all types of abuse reported partial or complete amnesia for abuse memories. For physical and sexual abuse, early age at onset was correlated with greater levels of amnesia. Participants who reported recovering memories of abuse generally recalled these experiences while at home, alone, or with family or friends. Although some participants were in treatment at the time, very few were in therapy sessions during their first memory recovery. Suggestion was generally denied as a factor in memory recovery. A majority of participants were able to find strong corroboration of their recovered memories.Conclusions
Childhood abuse, particularly chronic abuse beginning at early ages, is related to the development of high levels of dissociative symptoms including amnesia for abuse memories. This study strongly suggests that psychotherapy usually is not associated with memory recovery and that independent corroboration of recovered memories of abuse is often present.