The Link Between Fantasy Proneness and Dissociation

In the face of traumatic events, we might develop dissociative phenomena. However, what are the elements, factors, or properties that make this kind of experience normal or pathological?
The Link Between Fantasy Proneness and Dissociation
Gorka Jiménez Pajares

Written and verified by the psychologist Gorka Jiménez Pajares.

Last update: 29 August, 2023

Dissociation is intimately linked to trauma. To explain it, we can use a metaphor. Imagine that you’re in a room with a glass in your hands and a person approaches you. They push you and, as a result, the glass falls and crashes to the floor and shatters.

In our metaphor, the glass represents the mind, while the violence of the other person’s shoving is a certain traumatic event, such as sexual abuse. The result is dissociation. A beautiful and functional glass ends up broken, fragmented, and unusable.

There’s a novel hypothesis about dissociation. It affirms that the dissociative phenomenon has a dimensional character. This suggests it could be organized on a ‘continuous line’. The normal dissociation phenomena would be located at the ‘healthy’ pole while, at the opposite end, or the ‘pathological’ pole, would be dissociative disorders, such as dissociative identity disorder.

But, what makes a normal phenomenon become pathological? The answer can be found in the term fantasy proneness. In fact, we know that a large number of mentally healthy people report having had dissociative experiences (Parra, 2007).

“The world of the imagination is fancy-free and violently opposed to common sense.”

-Mark Rothko-

woman with dissociation
Individuals who are susceptible to hypnotic suggestion are more vulnerable to dissociation.

An approach to the concept of dissociation

Dissociation is a term that can be translated in a number of ways. For example, to ‘separate’ or ‘break’ or ‘disintegrate’. But, in the mental process of dissociation, what separates? The answer is far from simple. We could say that the following mental structures that constitute the glue of the individual’s identity are fragmented (Belloch, 2020):

  • The memory.
  • Perception.
  • Personality.
  • Motor functions.
  • Thoughts.
  • Conscience.

Depending on how disintegrated or separated the above-mentioned structures are, we might talk about either pathology or normality. In healthy dissociation, experiences are far from fragmented. They’re perceived as fully integrated events. Indeed, dissociation protects the individual from the events of life that can hurt them deeply, both emotionally and psychologically.

“The association between dissociation, fantasy, and suggestibility has persisted as mediating factors of dissociation and trauma.”

-Amparo Belloch-

Some people possess extraordinary imaginative capacities. In fact, those who are more susceptible to hypnotic suggestion are more vulnerable to dissociation. The ability to vividly imagine is related to the perception of sensory experiences that are experienced as extremely real.

Lynn’s model of fantasy proneness

Fonseca (2020), claims that dissociative disorders are the result of learning sequences learned through social means. For example:

  • Certain unconscious actions of the therapist. Questions posed by the therapist may evoke a traumatic event from the past. For example, by suggesting to a client “Your father abused you in childhood, didn’t he?” However, such an event could be false. In this case, the therapist is promoting the implantation of an erroneous memory. This is one aspect that justifies the fact that trauma must always be carefully explored.
  • The role of the film industry. Cinematographic and TV representations of dissociative clinical entities. For instance, movies and series focused on subjects with amnesia or dissociative identity disorder.
  • Sociocultural expectations. What do people without knowledge of psychology or psychiatry believe about the symptoms and characteristics of people with dissociation? For example, do they believe that people with dissociation have dramatic alterations when it comes to feeling? Or, do they think that dissociation means they possess many identities that they tend to alter with no prior notice?

“There was a passive increase in cases of dissociation in the 1970s. It seemed to be a result of the best-selling book, ‘Sybil’, which was adapted to the cinema.

-Steven Jay Lynn-

Fantasy proneness is a concept that encompasses almost four percent of the world population under the umbrella of its name (Lynn, 2012). These people have a tendency to constantly dive into fantasy.

Thanks to this ability, they’re able to observe, listen, and feel all the elements of their minds. Furthermore, as we mentioned earlier, highly suggestible people tend to fantasize and dream during the day.

“From Lynn’s fantasy proneness model, it is hypothesized that the influence of the media and sociocultural expectations would explain the dissociative symptomatology.”

-Eduardo Fonseca-

Woman thinking
Four percent of the population experiences fantasy proneness.

There’s another term that could be related to fantasy proneness and dissociative phenomena. This is absorption. It means a ‘high degree of involvement in highly imaginative tasks’ (Parra, 2007). In fact, for this author, subjects with an absorptive capacity tend to possess extremely rich and intensely real imaginative abilities.

For this reason, they often experience a loss of their sense of “I.” In other words, they get lost in a fantasy world. As an example of a normal dissociative experience, consider the self-absorption you feel when you watch a movie. It doesn’t matter what’s happening around you or who’s speaking, you’re sucked into the fantasy world of cinematic fiction.

Certain evidence supports the fact that people with high levels of self-absorption are at risk of experiencing hallucinations (Berenbaum, 2000). Fantasy proneness is a key factor here. Indeed, when faced with the same potentially traumatic event, people with a tendency toward fantasy proneness more frequently develop pathological dissociative phenomena. Moreover, if we add a high capacity for self-absorption to the above, it’s likely that the individual will also experience psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations.

“Subjects with a high disposition for absorption have often also had some traumatic experience in childhood.”

-Alejandro Parra-

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2014). DSM-5. Guía de consulta de los criterios diagnósticos del DSM-5: DSM-5®. Spanish Edition of the Desk Reference to the Diagnostic Criteria From DSM-5® (1.a ed.). Editorial Médica Panamericana.
  • Belloch, A. (2023). Manual de psicopatología, vol II.
  • Pedrero, F. E. (2020). Manual de tratamientos psicológicos: adultos (Psicología) (1.a ed.). Ediciones Pirámide.
  • Parra, A. (2007). Interrelación entre disociación, absorción y propensidad a la fantasía con experiencias alucinatorias en población no-clínica. Alcmeon, 14(1), 61-71.
  • Parra, A. (2009). Testeando el modelo disociacional de las experiencias alucinatorias en individuos saludables: relación con la personalidad esquizotípica y la propensidad a la fantasía. Revista Latinoamericana de Psicología, 41(3), 571-586.
  • Parra, A., & Paul, L. E. (2009). Experiencias extracorpóreas en relación a la propensión a alucinar, esquizotipia y disociación en estudiantes argentinos y peruanos. Límite. Revista Interdisciplinaria de Filosofía y Psicología, 4(20), 95-121.
  • Porra, A. Medidas psicológicas en relación con experiencias alucinatorias y experiencias aparicionales.
  • Rodríguez Vega, B., Fernández Liria, A., & Bayón Pérez, C. (2005). Trauma, disociación y somatización. Anuario de Psicologia Clinica y de la Salud/Annuary of Clinical and Health Psychology, 1, 27-38.
  • Lynn, S. J., Lilienfeld, S. O., Merckelbach, H., Giesbrecht, T., & Van der Kloet, D. (2012). Dissociation and dissociative disorders: Challenging conventional wisdom. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(1), 48-53.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.