The Quandary of Mindfulness and Dissociation: The Flummoxed State of Needing to Know and Not Know at the Same Time

We are also learning that Mindfulness is more than just a spiritual practice. The neurobiological result of mindfulness is very similar to the neurobiological developmental adult milestone of secure attachment. These findings suggest that mindfulness is potentially a very important part of our social engagement system. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (APA, 2013), defines dissociation as a disruption, interruption, and/or discontinuity of the normavl, subjective integration of behavior, memory, identity, consciousness, emotion, perception, body representation, and motor control. Those who deal with disordered dissociation often have to manage daily chronic self harm, suicidal ideation, constant pain, difficult relationships, intense fear, shame, aloneness and global challenges in self regulation.In examining these two different human experiences one can see that dissociation and mindfulness are opposite brain activities. One is about total integration and the other is partial or complete discontinuity. In theory and at first glance one would assume that Mindfulness is, or should be, an effective modality for the treatment of dissociative disorders. Unfortunately, this is not the case. 

The dissociative mind tends to be very phobic of any type of mindfulness. Introducing Mindfulness Meditation, without understanding the tendencies of the dissociative process, can result in a client’s need to dissociate harder, which could lead to decompensation, in order to protect themselves from the awareness of their lifetime experiences of loss and pain. Key points of this presentation will be:

  • To discuss what brain structures are engaged when someone regularly practices mindfulness
  • To compare and contrast these same brain structures in individuals who dissociate and those who do not
  • To help participants understand why mindfulness is hard for those who chronically dissociate

In examining the various brain structures that are the dominant brain structures used during the state of mindfulness, participants will learn to understand why it is useful to see mindfulness through the lens of human attachment. This modality – mindfulness – can be an important tool in a therapist’s therapeutic repertoire.A strong focus throughout this discussion will be:

  • Showing participants the neurobiological underpinnings of mindfulness as a part of the human attachment system
  • Explaining how intergenerational trauma compounds the difficulty of becoming mindful

This session was originally presented as a live conference session in June 2020.

Target Audience


Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of this session participants will be able to:

  • Identify the brain structures that are responsible for mindfulness
  • Identify the reasons why mindfulness and dissociation are rival brain activities
  • Adapt contemplative practices for individuals with complex trauma and dissociation
Course summary
Available credit: 
  • 6.00 ISSTD Certificate Program
    This program is eligible for 6.00 credits in the ISSTD Certificate Program.
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Presenter:  Christine Forner, BA, BSW, MSW
Presenter Bio: Christine Forner BA, BSW, MSW has been in the healing profession in one form or another since the age of 16 where she worked on a crisis line for teens. Christine spent the first part of her career in the front lines working at local sexual assault centres, long term therapeutic setting and shelters for domestic violence survivours. Since 2011, Christine has worked in her own private practice, which specializes in complex trauma and dissociative disorders. Christine has over thirty years of working with individuals with Trauma, Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, Traumatic Dissociation, Developmental Trauma and Dissociative Disorders, with specialized training in EMDR, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Psychotherapeutic Meditation techniques, Neurofeedback and Havening. Christine teaches locally and at an international level on the issue of dissociation, complex trauma, and the intersection of dissociation and mindfulness. Christine is the current President for the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. Christine has also served on the board of the ISSTD since 2010 and was the ISSTD treasurer from 2011-2017. She is the author of Dissociation, Mindfulness and Creative Meditations: Trauma informed practices to facilitate growth (Routledge, 2017). The summation of her work is to educate practitioners about the vital importance of their presence, patients and care with those who have been through the most severe and brutal injuries so that they get treated with dignity and compassion; something every human deserves to experience.

Available Credit

  • 6.00 ISSTD Certificate Program
    This program is eligible for 6.00 credits in the ISSTD Certificate Program.


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  • ISSTD defines a student as those enrolled in a program of study leading to a degree or certification in the mental health field and who have an interest in trauma and dissociation. 
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