OBJECTIVES: Retrospective recall of dissociative symptoms has been found to mediate the association between childhood abuse and deliberate self-harm (DSH) in later life. To disentangle the effect of recall bias, we tested whether dissociation symptoms ascertained during an acute DSH presentation mediates this link.
METHOD: All participants with DSH were recruited during emergency presentation. Seventy-one individuals aged 11-17 years with overdose (OD) and/or self-injury (SI) participated in semi-structured interviews and psychiatric assessment to measure abuse and dissociation. An age- and gender-matched comparison group of 42 non-psychiatric patients admitted to the same service were also assessed.
RESULTS: The DSH groups reported significantly higher levels of abuse and dissociation compared to comparison group. Dissociation significantly mediated the association between abuse and DSH. Of the four dissociation subtypes, 'depersonalisation' was the primary mediator. Adolescents with chronic patterns of DSH and the 'OD + SI' self-harm type reported more severe dissociation.
CONCLUSION: Exposure to abuse significantly increased the risk of DSH in adolescence. This association was mediated by dissociation. Our findings suggest a possible dose-response relationship between dissociation with DSH chronicity and the 'OD + SI' self-harm type, implicating the importance of evaluating dissociation and depersonalisation symptoms as well as abuse exposure in DSH management.