BACKGROUND: Little is known about the neural correlates of dissociative amnesia, a transdiagnostic symptom mostly present in the dissociative disorders and core characteristic of dissociative identity disorder (DID). Given the vital role of the hippocampus in memory, a prime candidate for investigation is whether total and/or subfield hippocampal volume can serve as biological markers of dissociative amnesia.
METHODS: A total of 75 women, 32 with DID and 43 matched healthy controls (HC), underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Using Freesurfer (version 6.0), volumes were extracted for bilateral global hippocampus, cornu ammonis (CA) 1-4, the granule cell molecular layer of the dentate gyrus (GC-ML-DG), fimbria, hippocampal-amygdaloid transition area (HATA), parasubiculum, presubiculum and subiculum. Analyses of covariance showed volumetric differences between DID and HC. Partial correlations exhibited relationships between the three factors of the dissociative experience scale scores (dissociative amnesia, absorption, depersonalisation/derealisation) and traumatisation measures with hippocampal global and subfield volumes.
RESULTS: Hippocampal volumes were found to be smaller in DID as compared with HC in bilateral global hippocampus and bilateral CA1, right CA4, right GC-ML-DG, and left presubiculum. Dissociative amnesia was the only dissociative symptom that correlated uniquely and significantly with reduced bilateral hippocampal CA1 subfield volumes. Regarding traumatisation, only emotional neglect correlated negatively with bilateral global hippocampus, bilateral CA1, CA4 and GC-ML-DG, and right CA3.
CONCLUSION: We propose decreased CA1 volume as a biomarker for dissociative amnesia. We also propose that traumatisation, specifically emotional neglect, is interlinked with dissociative amnesia in having a detrimental effect on hippocampal volume.