BACKGROUND: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) system has certain limitations when applied to two South African examples of dissociation, because it is descriptive (non-explanatory) and focuses on intrapsychic (non-communal)processes. Even the existing Western explanatory models of dissociation fail to accommodate fully the communal aspects of dissociation in our South African context.
OBJECTIVES AND METHODS: The aim was to explore an expanded perspective on dissociation that does not limit it to an intrapsychic phenomenon, but that accounts for the interrelatedness of individuals within their social context. Autoethnography was used. In this article a collective, socially orientated, contextual hermeneutic was applied to two local examples of dissociation. Three existing Western models were expanded along multicontextual, collective lines, for them to be more useful in the pluralistic South African context.
RESULTS: This preliminary contextual model of dissociation includes a person's interpersonal, socio-cultural, and spiritual contexts, in addition to the intrapsychic context. Dissociationis considered to be a normal information-processing tool that maintains balanced, coherent selves-in-society, i.e. individuals connected to each other. In the South African context dissociation appears mostly as a normal phenomenon and seldom as a sign of mental illness. Dissociation is pivotal for the normal construction of individual and communal identities in the face of conflicting sets of information from various contexts. Dissociation may help individuals or communities to survive in a world of conflicting messages, where conflict is often interpersonal / cultural / societal in nature, rather than primarily intrapsychic.
CONCLUSIONS: This model should be developed and evaluated further. Such evaluation would require suitable new local terminology.