Did dissociative amnesia evolve?

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Dissociative amnesia is a diagnosis category that implies a proposed mechanism (often called dissociation) by which amnesia is caused by psychogenic means, such as trauma, and that amnesia is reversable later. Dissociative amnesia is listed in some of the most influential diagnostic manuals. Authors have noted the similarities in definition to repressed memories. Dissociative amnesia is a disputed category and phenomenon, and here I discuss the plausibility that this cognitive mechanism evolved. I discuss some general conditions by which cognitive functions will evolve, i.e. the relatively continuous adaptive pressure by which a cognitive ability would clearly be adaptive if variation produced it. I discuss how adaptive gene mutations typically spread from one individual to the whole species. The article also discusses a few hypothetical scenarios and several types of trauma, to examine the likely adaptive benefits of blocking out memories of trauma, or not. I conclude that it is unlikely that dissociative amnesia evolved, and invite further development of these ideas and scenarios by others.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
JournalTopics in Cognitive Science
Early online date21 Jun 2023
Publication statusEarly online - 21 Jun 2023


  • memory
  • dissociative amnesia
  • gene frequencies
  • evolution
  • adaptation
  • trauma

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