Examining the Dissociative Basis for Body Image Disturbances

  •  Matthew Fuller-Tyszkiewicz    
  •  Alexander Mussap    


Although dissociative symptoms have been linked with both food- and appearance-related aspects of eating
disorders, the psychological mechanisms underlying these relationships remain unclear. The present study
evaluated the hypothesis that the disturbances of self-identity attributed to dissociation can manifest as
disturbances of body image and, in turn, undermine body-specific self-evaluations relevant to disordered eating
(i.e., body comparison, body dissatisfaction, and internalization of the thin ideal). Ninety-three female university
students completed self-report measures of dissociation and body-related aspects of disordered eating. In
addition, the method of constant stimuli was used to experimentally derive three measures of body image
disturbance: (1) accuracy of body size estimations (body image distortion), (2) ability to discriminate between
different body sizes (body image sensitivity), and (3) consistency in one’s body size estimations (body image
variability). The findings show that dissociation is related to symptoms of disordered eating, and that these
relationships may be mediated by body image instability. Collectively, these findings support the notion that the
body image attitudes and behaviours that characterize eating disorders may derive from proprioceptive deficits
due to dissociation.

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