Dissertation Title:

The Constructive and Destructive Potential and Possible Lifelong Implications of Tonic Immobility in Infancy


Julie Elizabeth Yau

Date, Time & Place:

April 12, 2015 at 4:00 pm
Studio, Lambert Road Campus


The central hypothesis of this dissertation is that when an infant undergoes severe trauma, a phenomenon similar to the state of tonic immobility occurs, a concept that defines a reaction often observed in animals when faced with immediate danger. In psychological terms, one can observe what happens when the core self splits from the body, and a preparatory death state is catapulted into the infant’s psyche.

This state may remain hidden in the psyche of the individual throughout his or her lifespan if the early trauma remains unresolved. By applying a depth psychological perspective in combination with neuropsychology and Eastern thought to addressing the problems of unresolved infant trauma, this study compares insights from depth psychology with concepts from neuroscience.

The phenomenon in humans similar to tonic immobility has been overlooked in the study of human psychophysiology, where the focus has primarily been on the defense cascade model of flight, fight, and alert immobility. Using somatic depth psychological lines of inquiry, this study investigates how a universal pattern of reemerging or reembodying aliveness occurs as part of the recovery and healing process.


All oral defense attendees must shuttle to the Lambert Road Campus from the Best Western Hotel in Carpinteria. Parking on campus is not available.

  • Program/Track/Year: Depth Psychology with Specialization in Somatic Studies, Track S, 2010
  • Chair: Dr. Ginette Paris
  • Reader: Dr. Lori Pye
  • External Reader: Dr. Gilles Maheu
  • Keywords: Tonic Immobility, Dissociation, Embodiment, Infant Trauma, Neglect