Dissociative symptoms predict severe illness presentation in Canadian public safety personnel with presumptive post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Academic Article uri icon

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  • Background

    Post-traumatic stress disorder affects 9% of individuals across their lifetime and increases nearly fourfold to 35% in Canadian public safety personnel (PSP). On-the-job experiences of PSP frequently meet criteria for traumatic events, making these individuals highly vulnerable to exposures of trauma and the negative consequences of PTSD. Few studies have reported on the clinical characteristics of Canadian samples of PSP and even fewer have examined the dissociative subtype of PTSD, which is associated with more severe, chronic traumatic experiences, and worse outcomes.


    This study aimed to characterize dissociative symptoms, PTSD symptom severity, and other clinical variables among Canadian PSP with presumptive PTSD.


    We sampled current and past PSP in Canada from both inpatient and outpatient populations (N = 50) that were enrolled in a psychological intervention. Only baseline testing data (prior to any intervention) were analysed in this study, such as PTSD symptom severity, dissociative symptoms, emotion dysregulation, and functional impairment.


    In our sample, 24.4% self-reported elevated levels of dissociation, specifically symptoms of depersonalization and derealization. Depersonalization and derealization symptoms were associated with more severe PTSD symptoms, greater emotion dysregulation, and functional impairment.


    Nearly a quarter of this sample of Canadian PSP reported experiencing elevated levels of PTSD-related dissociation (depersonalization and derealization). These high levels of depersonalization and derealization were consistently positively associated with greater illness severity across clinical measures. It is imperative that dissociative symptoms be better recognized in patient populations that are exposed to chronic traumatic events such as PSP, so that treatment interventions can be designed to target a more severe illness presentation.


  • Park, Anna H
  • Protopopescu, Alina
  • Pogue, Michelle E
  • Boyd, Jenna E
  • O’Connor, Charlene
  • Lanius, Ruth A
  • McKinnon, Margaret

publication date

  • January 1, 2021