Physical symptoms of Dissociative Disorders: Somatoform symptoms & SDQ-20

Did you know that physical symptoms and unusual body experiences or sensations are very common in people with PTSD and dissociative disorders?

Somatic symptoms: Babette Rothschild quote

These physical symptoms are known as “somatoform” symptoms and can be assessed with a simple questionnaire. The Somatic Disorders Questionnaire known as the SDQ-20 does this, and gets a mention in the DID & OSDD treatment guidelines because these physical symptoms are very common within dissociative disorders in comparison to other psychiatric conditions. A high number of symptoms significantly are typical in people with physical and sexual trauma histories alongside a psychiatric diagnosis, with those people with DID having the highest scores.
Could some of your physical symptoms be the result of the dissociation of trauma into the body, as Babette Rothschild discussed in “The Body Remembers”? How many do people with schizophrenia and a trauma history score in relation to those with complex dissociative disorders?

This new page explains more about the SDQ-20 and links to a simple questionnaire in multiple languages.

So the physical impacts of trauma for me have been numerous, and debilitating.  But the good news is that things have improved.  Pain is still my number one symptom and the most difficult part of my life to come to terms with.  But as therapy has progressed, my body is recovering just as my mind is.  I have been learning to manage my pain better: through diet, through exercise, through mood, through self-care, through rest, through appropriate medication and most recently through a TENS machine.  I recently estimated that my pain levels are 70% lower than they used to be.  There is hope.” from It’s a pain: the physical impact of trauma By Carolyn Spring


5 thoughts on “Physical symptoms of Dissociative Disorders: Somatoform symptoms & SDQ-20

  1. I think it’s important to recognize the possibility of recognizing the possibility of somatic symptoms in PTSD and dissociative disorders. But I think it’s at least equally as important to recognize that traumatized people can also get sick, and that get overlooked (or willfully ignored) all too often.

    I have complex PTSD and DID. Last year, while I was in an inpatient trauma disorders unit, I started to get very ill very quickly. For two weeks, I was told that my symptoms were somatic and that I needed to work on getting out of the flashback they were sure I was in. Finally, I ended up in a medical hospital, where I nearly died from what turned out to be a severe autoimmune disorder. If they’d withheld treatment for a few more days, I would’ve died, slowly and painfully.

    Chronic exposure to trauma can cause very real health problems. It can wreak havoc on your adrenal system and suppress the immune system. Though these problems are rooted in traumatic experience and may improve as you process the trauma, they are also very real medical problems that require very real medical treatment.


    • I totally agree with you. Somatic symptoms do not mean that symptoms need no physical treatment! They are still physical symptoms. Interestingly auto-immume problems were also mentioned in what I was reading. Nowhere did I read the words “don’t treat the condition” yet that does seem to be some people’s interpretation of it.
      It has been shown that people with mental health disorders are more likely to have poor physical health and it is certainly true that health professionals often consider a separate physical illness to be a mental health symptom alone. I believe this is particularly common in schizophrenia – perhaps due to the hallucinations or delusions?

      I am really glad to hear you got help in time.


    • I can’t speak to it happening in schizophrenia, since I haven’t had that experience, but I know a number of people with depression and trauma disorders who’ve had similar experiences. There was a New York Times article back in the summer or fall by a woman with bipolar disorder about discrimination from doctors. I wish it were something that got more mainstream media. We’ve got all those anti-stigma campaigns, but they have little substance most of the time.


  2. Pingback: Dr Colin Ross: Cause of Multiple Personality Disorder (ie, Dissociative Identity Disorder) | Trauma and Dissociation

  3. Pingback: Dissociation within PTSD – evidence | Trauma and Dissociation

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