*Attachment Simplified – Disorganized Insecure Attachment – Disorganized-Disoriented

DISORGANIZATION (disorganized / disoriented attachment)


Includes information about dissociation


“…a fourteen-month-old boy who wants to climb onto a table with a lamp on it.  One possible parental response would be to…become enraged and throw the lamp to the floor next to the boy, to teach him never to do that again.  (siegel/tdm/282)”

Siefel/tdm =

Siegel, Daniel J.

“The Developing Mind:  How Relationships and the Brain interact to shape who we are”

The Guilford Press



all one para

“In the fourth pattern, the child’s behavior elicits a rageful parental response, producing terror in the child.

This is not simply the child’s fear of consequences, but a fear for safety induced by the attachment figure.

The child’s adaptation to this suddenly induced fear state (high levels of both sympathetic and parasympathetic discharge) is a conflictual oneThe accelerator and the brakes are being applied simultaneously.  This is an example of a disorganized form of attachment.

The parent, often with unresolved trauma or loss…may unintentionally and unknowingly be providing the child with a set of responses that are disorienting and disorganizing.

As an attachment figure, such a parent has become a source of fear and confusion, not of safety and security.  The intense and frightening moments of disconnection with the parent remain unrepaired.

As the parent disappears into rage, the child becomes lost in terror.

These disorganizing and disorienting experiences become an essential part of how the child learns to self-regulate behavior and emotional states.  [They are NOT learning to regulate…..this is the state that Siegel has elsewhere described as one having no resolution, no organized adaptation strategy possible}

The child has the double insult of being engulfed in confusion and terror induced by the parent, and of losing the relationship with an attachment figure that might have provided a safe haven and sense of security.  [Unless the parent has always treated the child this way, and the child has never had a safe haven…..or if the child has seen the parent in public as a different parent—what then?]  (siegel/tdm/284)”  [Siegel is still not, even here, presenting the worst case scenario!]


(all one paragraph below)

Unresolved parental trauma or loss can lead to disorganized/disoriented attachment, which is a much more chaotic form of dyadic system than either avoidant or ambivalent attachment.  (siegel/tdm/294)”

“For the person who has experienced disorganized attachment [or does so in the present!], the experience of parental fear or fear-inducing behavior has often been associated with the parent’s lack of resolution of trauma or loss.  That is, the incoherence of the parent’s life narrative has been behaviorally injected into the child’s experience by way of the parent’s own disturbance in self-organization and the resultant dysregulated states and disorienting actions.  (seigel/tdm/294)”

These parental behaviors, which are incompatible with providing a sense of safety and cohesion, are “biological paradoxes” and directly impair the developing child’s affect regulation, shifts in states of mind, and integrative and narrative functions.  The result is that the child enters repeated chaotic states of mind.  (siegel/tdm/294)”

“From a dynamical point of view, these can be considered “strange attractor states” – neural net configurations [as in states of mind] that are widely distributed throughout the system and that have become engrained, repeated states of dissociated and dysfunctional activation.  (siegel/tdm/294)”

[Oh, great!  Isn’t this just a lovely legacy!  I should be grateful that Siegel at least included the above (all one) paragraph devoted to the demise of the absolutely innocent infant under worst case influences!]


“…the parents of children with disorganized attachments have provided frightened, frightening [big difference!], or disorienting shifts in their own behavior, which create conflictual experiences leading to incoherent mental models. Such children may develop an internal mental model for each aspect of the parent’s behavior.  Abrupt shifts in parental state force the child to adapt with suddenly shifting states of his own. Such state shifts may occur if the nature of these experiences is profoundly incompatible with attachment and/or if the child is neurobiologically capable of intense dissociative processes. (siegle/tdm/317)”

paragraph continues

With frequent experiences, the child can rapidly enter “altered states” to meet the interactive demands of the parent’s sudden shifts in behavior. When such shifts are early, severe, and repeated, these states can become engrained in the child as self-states [and engrained into their brains].  The child both learns the processes of abrupt, dissociate state shifting and develops specific self-states that can be activated in response to specific external context cues. The results of these internal state shifts can be that the child may come to develop several forms of attachment with the parent:  some avoidant, some ambivalent, some disorganized, and perhaps even some secure.  These can be considered nonintegrated working models of attachment. (siegel/tdm/317)”

“The quality of the relationship between the parent and child may thus vary significantly across repeated clusters of interactive experiences.  Parent and child may enter various forms of “dyadic states” characterized by unique communication styles. A parent who disavows the existence of certain dyadic states (such as during periods of terrifying a child), without later repairing and reconnecting after such ruptured connections, will promote dissociative adaptations. (siegel/tdm/317)”

paragraph continued

“A parent with unresolved trauma or loss may enter trance-like states that are frightening to a child but are unrecognized and unacknowledged by the parent.  Such state shifts lead to disconnections in attunement, which, if left unrepaired, can lead the child to have profoundly disturbing underlying feelings of shame and humiliation.  (siegle/tdm/317)”

“Some individuals have experienced secure attachments with certain caregivers and disorganized ones with others.  In such cases, iso- (siegel.tdm.317) lation of the attuned dyadic states may maintain high functioning within self-systems that have reflective functioning [such as the one I developed with John], as well as the capacity to integrate a coherent sense of self across the self-states within that securely attached clustered system.  [wouldn’t this be related to earned attachment abilities?]  The AAI narratives of such persons may reveal an integrated coherence that on the surface appears to be highly functional.  This is revealed in coherent stories about limited parts of the persons; lives.  When certain psychosocial contexts, moments of stress, or less integrated subsystems emerge, then integration, reflective functioning, and narrative coherence may become impaired.  (siegel/tdm/318)”

paragraph continued

“In the narratives and lives of less well-functioning individuals [compared to the secure folks, this is sure relative!], there may be a more generalized absence of any such reflective or integrative capacity, as a result of their more pervasive insecure attachment histories.  These individuals may have had no developmental experience of interactive communication, [I had this with John] which would have promoted such abilities. These individuals may have more difficulty utilizing internal or interpersonal resources, and thus have more marked impairments in their ability to cope with stress and to self-organize. (siegel/tdm/318)”


“Giovanni Liotti has proposed that several different trajectories are possible in the setting of disorganized attachment.  If parental behavior becomes more predictable later in a child’s life, even in the non-nurturing direction, then the child may minimize the conflict among the mental models of attachment that have been developed in the context of the abrupt and confusing shifts in the parent’s behavior.  In the case of a parent’s becoming more predictable, then, the child may “settle” on one model or another.  (siegel/tdm/318)”

paragraph continues

“If the parent continues to exhibit disorienting behaviors, but these are not overly traumatizing, the child may develop the potential for future dissociation, especially under conditions of stress. (siegel/tdm/318)”  [I wonder if this doesn’t in some way apply to Ernie and the dissociated states he has between women and with his work – he just didn’t get it as bad as I did, yet it is still pretty obvious if I look at it in this light.  My brain developed under conditions of dissociation with someone who dissociated all of the time – with Ernie, as he dissociates his states of mind, I am again faced with falling into those cracks where I do not exist, where our relationship does not exist – and those are places of fundamental aloneness.  Ruptures in attachment become ruptures between states of mind.  He can dismiss me and I disappear]

paragraph continues

“A third pathway suggested by Liotti is that if the parent’s behavior remains severely traumatizing and chronic, then the disorganized attachment may evolve into a dissociative disorder.  At the extreme of this spectrum is dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder).  (siegel/tdm/318)”


“Elizabeth Carlson, working with the Minnesota Parent-Child Project, has provided longitudinal support for Liotti’s proposal that children with disorganized attachments are predisposed to develop clinical symptoms of dissociation later in life.  This, combined with the finding that dissociation itself puts those who experience stressful events at risk of developing clinical posttraumatic stress disorder, suggests that disorganized attachment experiences early in life may lead to inadequate coping mechanisms and impaired interactive capacities.  This vulnerability, in turn, makes these individuals less (siegle/tdm/318) likely to be able to resolve trauma or grief, if such stressors are encountered later in life. In disorganized attachments, the core of the self remains fractured.  As Ogawa and colleagues have stated,

Self, in fact, refers to the integration and organization of diverse aspects of experience, and dissociation can be defined as the failure to integrate experience….When experience is acknowledged and accepted, integration inevitably follows, because the self cannot help seeking meaning and coherence from experience.  When experience is dissociated, however, integration is not possible, and to the extent that dissociation prevails, there is fragmentation of the self.  A coherent, well-organized self depends on integration, and thus psychopathological dissociation represents a threat to optimal development of the self.

For the child with disorganized attachment, in other words, relationship experiences have severely hampered the developmental acquisition of the capacity to achieve coherence.  The segmentation of mental processes becomes an engrained process itself:  dissociation.  (seigel/tdm/319)”





Schore/ad =

Schore, Allan N.

Affect dysregulation and disorders of the self

W.W. Norton & Co., 2003

Schore is describing “two separate response patterns” of infants experiencing trauma

From the work of Perry et. al. (1995)

“Although the body of studies on childhood trauma is growing, there is still hardly any research on infant trauma.  A noteworthy example is the work of Perry and his colleagues, which is extremely valuable because it includes not just behavioral but also developmental neurobiological and psychobiological data.  (Schore/ad/188)”

“Perry and others (1995) demonstrated that the human infant’s psychobiological response to trauma is comprised of two separate response patterns, hyperarousal and dissociation.  (Schore/ad/188)”



“In the initial stage of threat, a startle or alarm reaction is initiated,

in which the sympathetic component of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) is suddenly and significantly activated,

resulting in increased heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and muscle tone, as well as hypervigilance.

Distress is expressed in crying and then screaming.  (Schore/ad/188)”

“The infant’s state of “frantic distress,” or what Perry termed fear-terror is mediated by sympathetic hyperarousal, known as ergotropic arousal (Gellhorn, 1967).

It reflects excessive levels of the major stress hormone corticotropin releasing factor (CRF)

which regulates catecholamines activity in the sympathetic nervous system (Brown et al., 1982).

Noradrenaline is also released from the locus coeruleus (bunch of names…).

The result is rapid and intensely elevated noradrenaline and adrenaline levels

which trigger a hypermetabolic state within the brain.

In such “kindling” states (Adamec, 1990; Post, Weiss, Smith, & McCann, 1997),

very large amounts of CRF and glutamate,

the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain (Chambers et al., 1999),

are expressed in the limbic system (Schore, 1997a).

Harness and Tucker (2000) stated that early traumatic experiences, such as childhood abuse, literally kindle limbic areas.  (Schore/ad/188)”

[I believe that I experienced this condition most of the time.  I still believe that it is possible to remain in this state while the abuse is occurring, dissociating after the event – and between events.]


3 thoughts on “*Attachment Simplified – Disorganized Insecure Attachment – Disorganized-Disoriented

    • Thank you very much for stopping by! The more I study my own personal experience and the experience of my severely abusive Borderline mother the more I am beginning to realize how essential it is for ALL of us to be able to recognize a disorganized-disoriented insecure attachment disorder-pattern within our own self and within others as being at the root-core of so much of the difficulties we experience in our lifetime. I believe that once we can recognize the insecure attachment disorder-patterns we can open up another door wide open to healing and increased well-being beyond what most ‘therapies’ recognize or offer today.

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