‘Dissociation’ names an officialized psychiatric concept (as per DSM-5 and ICD-10) used to describe and explain certain forms of human behaviour and of mental disorder. Although the clinical literature on dissociation is large there is little on its historical epistemology, that is, on the structure, origins, meaning, evidential basis and explanatory power of ‘dissociation’. Started as a technical concept in physics and chemistry, ‘dissociation’ has since found a home in psychology and psychiatry where it offers a common referent to terms such as splitting, sejunction, disconnection, disharmony, discordance, separation, cleavage, etc. This terminological multiplicity reflects more historical rivalries between nations and needs for originality than nuanced theoretical distinctions. This paper explores some of the contextual and congener concepts into which ‘dissociation’ sinks its roots. It also identifies questions that need to be answered before it is decided that dissociation is a useful concept: 1) is the (horizontal or vertical) orientation of the plane of cleavage of the dissociation related to a type of mental disorder? 2) do disconnections consume energy? 3) what mechanisms set asunder what structures? 4) is dissociation a ‘normal’ mechanism? 5) Are there also coupling (healing) mechanisms, 6) what is the nature of the components (modules) that become disconnected, etc., etc. Without this information claims that, for example, ‘depersonalization’ or ‘multiple personality’ etc. are ‘caused’ by ‘dissociation’ have little or no meaning.
Keywords: Psychiatry, psychology, dissociation, splitting, discordance, disharmony, sejunction, historical epistemology, mechanism, concept.