“I Feel Like I do Not Exist: ” A Study of Dissociative Experiences Among War-Traumatized Refugee Youth

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Objective: War-traumatized refugee children and adolescents have been overlooked in research on trauma-related dissociation, and whatever research has been conducted has relied almost exclusively on questionnaires. The present study was an exploration of dissociative experiences in multitraumatized war-refugee youth. Method: In this study, we used a mixed-method approach by grouping participants according to a Western-based dissociation measure (the Adolescent Dissociative Experiences Scale; Armstrong, Putnam, Carlson, Libero, & Smith, 1997), and conducting qualitative and quantitative analyses of their verbal descriptions of mental experiences related to dissociation in the aftermath of war and resettlement. The sample included 40 refugee youth, ages 13 to 21, 19 girls and 21 boys resettled in Sweden because of war and persecution. Results: Severe trauma-related dissociation was a problem for a considerable subgroup of the sample. Some dissociative experiences were present in all the sample; others were restricted to the most dissociative group. The correlates of severe dissociation included high frequency and severity of emotional dysregulation and intensity, negative self- and body-perception, depressive mood, and experiences of detachment. Conclusion: Clinicians are urged to be aware of and assess trauma-related dissociation in war-refugee youth, and consider not only dissociative phenomena, but also other important processes such as emotional dysregulation.

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