Neural responses to emotional stimuli across the dissociative spectrum: Common and specific mechanisms

Marco Cavicchioli, Anna Ogliari, Cesare Maffei, Clara Mucci, Georg Northoff, Andrea Scalabrini

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Aim: Departing from existing neurobiological models of dissociation, the current study aims at conducting a quantitative meta-analytic review of neural responses to emotional stimuli among individuals ascribed to the dissociative spectrum (DS). Accordingly, the study explored common and specific brain mechanisms across borderline personality disorder, conversion/somatoform disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder related to repeated interpersonal traumatic experiences, and dissociative disorders. Methods: The meta-analysis included studies that administered emotional stimuli during functional magnetic resonance imaging acquisition among individuals included in the DS. There were two conducted meta-analytic procedures: (i) a Bayesian network meta-analysis for a region-of-interest–based approach; and (ii) robust voxel-based approach. Results: Forty-four independent studies were included for a total of 1384 individuals (DS = 741 patients). The network meta-analysis showed specific patterns of neural activity considering an extended brain network involved in emotion regulation for each condition ascribed to the DS. The voxel-based meta-analysis highlighted an increased activity of dorsal anterior cingulate cortex as a common neurological signature of the DS. Conclusion: The common neural feature of the DS captures an implicit appraisal of emotion-eliciting stimuli as threatening and/or noxious for mental and physical integrity of the individual together with painful subjective experiences associated with physiological emotional reactions. Specific brain responses across the DS suggested the engagement in different mechanisms to address emotional stimuli, including implicit avoidance reactions and attempts to overcontrol of affective states together with a disruption of integrative processes of emotional mind–body features.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-329
Number of pages15
JournalPsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


  • dissociation
  • dissociative spectrum
  • emotion regulation
  • meta-analysis
  • neural responses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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