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An Overview to Understanding Dissociation and D.I.D. 1
Dissociation: the state of being separate from association or union with another. Synonyms: separation, detachment, severance, split, segregation, division. 2
In psychology: dissociation is a mental process that causes a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memory and sense of identity. It can range from any wide array of experiences from mild detachment (daydreaming) to severe (dissociative disorders).
Dissociative Disorders: characterized by an involuntary escape from reality characterized by a disconnection between thoughts, identity, consciousness and memory. It involves problems with memory, identity, emotion, perception, behavior and sense of self.
There are three types of dissociative disorders:
● Dissociative identity disorder (DID)
● Dissociative amnesia
● Depersonalization/derealization disorder
There are different levels of dissociation, and everyone dissociates to a degree. If you have ever been driving down the road and find yourself pulling into your driveway without any memory of actually driving, you have experienced what is commonly called “highway hypnosis.” This is a mild form of dissociation. Daydreaming is also a mild form of dissociation.
Where dissociation can become a problem is when it is persistent and interferes with everyday life. This usually takes place under extreme and persistent trauma or prolonged stress. An individual can dissociate as a coping or defensive mechanism, and if the stress or trauma persists, the individual can develop a trauma disorder, such as PTSD, or a dissociative disorder, such as DID.
DID — What It Is
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) was previously known as MPD, or, Multiple Personality Disorder. Those with dissociative disorders can have other diagnosable mental health problems at the same time, with PTSD being the most common.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, symptoms of dissociative identity disorder (criteria for diagnosis) include:
● The existence of two or more distinct identities (or “personality states”). The distinct identities are accompanied by changes in behavior, memory and thinking. The signs and symptoms may be observed by others or reported by the individual.
● Ongoing gaps in memory about everyday events, personal information and/or past traumatic events.
● The symptoms cause significant distress or problems in social, occupational or other areas of functioning.
Individuals with varying degrees of DID often refer to the dissociative parts of them as “alters, parts, others,” or similar terms.
When another part of them takes control of the physical body or conscious mind, this is usually called “switching.”
The dissociative individual who has DID can also sometimes, but not always, be aware of an “inside world” that is part of their system. The system consists of the safe and unsafe parts of their inside world (often created either subconsciously, or, in cases of TBMC, through programming), as well as all the alters that stay there when they aren’t taking full or partial control of the body.
DID — What It Is Not
1. DID is not imaginary friends or an “inner child.”
2. DID is not demon possession.3
3. DID is not a mental illness or a psychosis.
4. DID is not genetic, although some research indicates that the ability to dissociate can be genetic.
Causes of DID
Although there is some debate and disagreements within the DID community, professionals generally seem to agree that DID is most often caused by persistent and extreme trauma at an early age. The child, unable to physically remove themselves from harm, psychologically dissociates from the abusive environment.
There is evidence that suggests children under the age of seven, when exposed to repeated, overwhelming trauma, are more likely to develop DID than an adult, given the same set of circumstances. However, once a child has begun to implement this extreme form of dissociation, he or she will be able to split off new identities at any subsequent age.
Some examples of persistent and/or extreme trauma can include:
1. ongoing physical and/or sexual abuse
2. psychological trauma and/or neglect
3. ongoing war environment
4. sadistic or satanic ritual abuse (SRA), also referred to as ritual abuse (RA)
5. trauma-based mind control programming (TBMC)
Basically, dissociation is a coping and defense mechanism that an individual instinctively employs in order to survive trauma. This dissociation, when persistent, can develop into the condition known as DID. So what starts off as a helpful coping mechanism, eventually turns into a disorder, becoming an involuntary lifestyle and the exclusive or chief coping strategy the person has available to them
Symptoms — What DID Looks Like
Although a multiple (a person with DID) may act differently in different situations, depending upon which alter is “out” (participating in external life), you would likely never know the difference between a non-dissociative person and a multiple. This is because most people with DID work very hard at hiding their condition from others.
For example, Sara may normally be quiet and reserved, but when her alter, Lori, is out or closer to the front of the consciousness, she is slightly more outgoing and talkative. Or, Sara may enjoy cooking, but her alter, Tony, may not be nearly as proficient at cooking as Sara. The non-dissociative individual may attribute this difference in attitude to mood changes, but with a multiple, it’s not necessarily just a “mood change.”
The American Psychiatric Association writes:
“The attitude and personal preferences (for example, about food, activities, clothes) of a person with dissociative identity disorder may suddenly shift and then shift back. The identities happen involuntarily and are unwanted and cause distress. People with dissociative identity disorder may feel that they have suddenly become observers of their own speech and actions, or their bodies may feel different (e.g., like a small child, like the opposite gender, huge and muscular).
“The Sidran Institute notes that a person with dissociative identity disorder “feels as if she has within her two or more entities, each with its own way of thinking and remembering about herself and her life. It is important to keep in mind that although these alternate states may feel or appear to be very different, they are all manifestations of a single, whole person.” Other names used to describe these alternate states including “alternate personalities,” “alters,” “states of consciousness” and “identities.”
“For people with dissociative identity disorder, the extent of problems functioning can vary widely, from minimal to significant problems. People often try to minimize the impact of their symptoms.”
Differences between alters can be discreet or extreme, but for the most part, the inexperienced non-dissociative person would likely not notice any difference in behavior, or may dismiss any deviation that is apparent. But basically speaking, alters have various personalities, and these differences may be more or less noticeable, depending upon the person or situation. Besides personality distinctions, the differences between alters can also include:
1. religious preferences
2. values or philosophies
4. emotional responses
6. levels of learning or special abilities
7. perceived age, race, or nationality
8. perceived gender identity and/or sexual orientation
9. some alters may view themselves as being an angel, demon, or other spiritual being, as well as an animal or an inanimate object (such a rock, a gem, or a box).
10. some alters may even believe they are dead.
11. they may see their own physical features as different, even though the outside looks the same (e.g. weight or hair color)
12. they may have a different name, the same name, or no name at all
13. they have different roles or functions
Symptoms — What DID Feels Like
Most multiples would likely agree the goal is to be able to live a normal life, without being incapacitated by symptoms. With time and work, symptoms can lessen significantly. People with dissociative disorders may experience some or all of the following:
● Mood swings
○ usually brought on by a switch, or by the stress of the switch
○accompanied by changes in awareness, thoughts, emotions, attitudes, or ethics and morals (this is indicative of a switch)
● Suicidal thoughts or attempts
● Sleep disorders (insomnia, nightmares, night terrors, and sleepwalking)
● PTSD symptoms, such as:
○ panic attacks
○ hyper vigilance
○ exaggerated startle response
○ flashbacks of the trauma, including physical, sexual, mental and/or emotional trauma
● Phobias (these can be reactions to reminders of the trauma)
● Attempts to cope with the trauma in other ways, rather than dissociation, including:
○ alcohol and drug abuse
○ eating disorders
○ compulsions and rituals
○ other self-sabotaging behaviors
● Headaches (sudden, sharp headaches can be indicative of a switch, but not everyone who has sudden, sharp headaches has a dissociative disorder)
● Amnesia or time loss
● Trances or out-of-body experiences
● Some people with dissociative disorders experience the following:
○ violence (both self-inflicted, as in self-harming, and outwardly directed)
None of these symptoms in and of themselves indicate the individual has DID. This is not a list to self-diagnose. But they are just some of the symptoms that people who do have DID most often deal with on a regular basis.
Furthermore, not every multiple will deal with the same issues. For instance, not everyone has problems with violent or self-harming behaviors (like cutting themselves). Not every dissociative individual has drug or alcohol addictions, and many have no eating disorders, compulsions, or rituals. But the above items are a broad list of issues that are common among many people with dissociative disorders.
Finding Healing: My Experience
Looking back, I recognize that my dissociation was extreme as a child, with severe symptoms that, as odd as it may sound to the 21st century person, largely went unnoticed by Mother.
I certainly can concede that the wealth of information about mental health issues that we enjoy today was not always around; therefore, ignorance about such would be understandable. Furthermore, there are a variety of ways people treat a deviation from what is thought to be “normal social behaviour” (however “normal” is defined by any one particular society within any given culture), and it all hinges, perhaps, on their own limited understanding that is based upon their experiences, so I don’t blame Mother for her natural limitations.
On the other hand, since Mother was extremely abusive and the chief cause of my initial dissociation, it stands to reason that any sign of something being “wrong” with me, would by-and-large be ignored by her. When she did acknowledge something was “off” with me, it was in a contemptuous fashion, either privately or publicly, as she mocked me for “being spacey” or for always having my “head in the clouds”; or, she acknowledged my dissociation in a physically abusive way, beating me for “not listening to her”, or for “not looking at her” when she talked (screamed) at me. She would often angrily disparage me for “staring right through her”, as if she weren’t there, and many slaps across my face came about because I wasn’t looking at her “in the right way”.
As an adult, my dissociation is less severe for several reasons, including:
- I am no longer being daily traumatized.
- I have educated myself on trauma disorders to the extent that I understand more about how I have coped with the trauma in the past, why I have coped in that fashion, why it is not a coping style that works for me now, and how to cope in healthier ways moving forward.
- I have been unable to find a qualified therapist in my area who understands about severe trauma disorders such as dissociation, so much of this education has been from professional online sources.
- I have a support system of people who make me feel loved and valuable, namely a close friend, and my husband and adult children.
- I’ve separated myself from unsafe situations and people to the best of my ability; for example:
- I have learned that it is okay, and even necessary, to avoid contact with abusive, toxic people, so I have gone “no contact” with my past abusers, including my mother.
- I have changed my telephone numbers and social media accounts when necessary.
- Either I avoid going into public places where I know unsafe people will be, or I mentally and emotionally brace myself for a possible encounter, prepare for my “escape” options, and never go alone.
- Although my particular circumstance is such that moving will not prevent my past abusers from knowing where I’m at and keeping track of me if they want to, moving is still something that my husband and I are working towards in order to help facilitate a more peaceful state of mind for me.
- I currently keep my triggers as low as possible, to the extent that I am able; for example:
- I don’t answer the telephone unless I know exactly who calling (telephone calls were used to trigger me as a child), and I do not answer the door to people who I do not know (for the same reason as above).
- Since I’m more likely to dissociate if I come across a stressful situation or a rude, negative-energy type of individual, I rarely go shopping by myself (having a “safe person” with me helps to keep me grounded and less likely to become overly upset).
- I’ve been able to get in touch with the other parts of me and work on processing the trauma that caused the dissociation in the first place.
- Journaling helped me with this, and it was especially important at the beginning, when it helped “unlock” those memories.
- Warning: remembering past traumas can sometimes be akin to retraumatization, and can be dangerous and lead to what is commonly called “flooding” (it did for me), so I’m not suggesting you do this for you; I’m simply stating that, in looking back, journaling was overall helpful to me, in spite of the retraumatization it initially brought on.
- Journaling helped me with this, and it was especially important at the beginning, when it helped “unlock” those memories.
The biggest thing that has helped bring healing, however, is nurturing my relationship with God, and submitting the entire process over to Him.
None of this has been an easy or neat process, however. Healing is a very messy road to go down. I still have bad periods of time when certain situations and people will trigger a dissociative response, I still struggle with depression at times, etc.
But as I persevere and keep working at it, day by day, looking to my Heavenly Father for His Solution, He brings peace and wholeness to me and to every part of me, through His Spirit and through His Messengers who He has sent to help me along this path.
1Aside from personal experiences, professional sources include:
- Dissociation and Dissociative Disorders. (2013, October 14). Web.www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/dissociation-and-dissociative-disorders.
- Dissociative Disorders. (n.d.). Web. www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Dissociative-Disorders.
- What Are Dissociative Disorders? (2016, January). Web.www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/dissociative-disorders/what-are-dissociative-disorders.
2Retrieved from Merriam-Webster (www.merriam-webster.com) and Dictionary.com (www.dictionary.com/)