Understanding and appreciation of the dynamics of Dissociative Identity Disorder may well prove to be the psychological breakthrough of the twenty-first century. My personal experience with DID, and working since with clients who suffer its symptoms, has convinced me that DID is not the mysterious, ominous, debilitating curse that media and psychological politics has made it out to be. Rather, dissociation is the intelligent answer to the overwhelming trauma that causes it. When a child is faced with such trauma as causes her to split into other personalities, she has three choices: she can die, as many do; she can become psychotic; or she can split.
Splitting is the most creative, functional, and intelligent choice. Further, the intelligence, resourcefulness, and courage which allows a child to make this choice places her in excellent standing to make a valuable contribution to society when she has had an opportunity to integrate and reframe her amazing abilities for more than mere survival. A thriving multiple is an awesome force for good.
In my Abnormal Psychology class at Antioch University, I was struck by the graphic portrayal of an alternative to dissociation when I watched a video entitled, “Child of Rage”, wherein a six-year-old came very close to murdering her adoptive parents and her natural brother. This child had been rescued as a 1-year-old, and adopted, together with her baby brother, by loving parents. It was hypothesized that because she had never learned to attach, she was murderous.
It is my opinion that her abuse was not severe enough, nor was it prolonged enough, to cause or allow her to split. This little girl remembered all of her abuse, although she had no affect when she described it. I’m not saying she didn’t have an attachment disorder, as was hypothesized, but that this is simply a portrayal of an alternative to dissociation or splitting.
Dissociative disorders present within a continuum concept of increasing severity and complexity which appears to correlate with frequency, intensity and duration of abuse. The continuum ranges from normal “differentiation” to the pathological polyfragmentation where in alter personalities, amnesiac to the host and each other, perform acts or live periods of time for which the host ha no recall, wherein she is defined as “losing time”.
Normal differentiation can be described as the experience of waking one morning, as we all have, and “part” of one wants to roll over and go back to sleep; another “part” knows it must get up and go to work, and yet a third “part” would rather go shopping.
These manifestations of normal differentiation are also described by Hal and Sidra Stone in their book Embracing Our Selves, wherein they discuss “voice dialogue”. The back cover of the book describes their technique as follows:
“Meet your Pusher, Critic, Pleaser, Protector/Controller, Vulnerable Child, and all the other members of your inner family…[T]his book introduces you to your subpersonalities – the many “selves” within – and helps you discover what each needs and what each has to offer, providing a foundation for understanding, self-acceptance, and a genuinely fulfilling life experience.
Another very helpful work is written by Lucia Cappiccione, Ph.D., who writes The Power of Your Other Hand – Channeling the Wisdom of Your Right Brain. Ms. Cappiccione also acknowledges the presence of inner helpers, differentiating between logical, left-brain functions, and intuitive, right-brain ones.
While these inner workings or “selves” are also inherent in victims of traumatic abuse, the pathology of DID is defined and measured by the degree of amnesia or dissociation which separates not only the memories of such occurrences from the awareness of the individual, but the mind states which hold such memories, as well as their current thoughts and activities. All of these are held between amnesiac barriers from the host and from one another. This inner structure could be compared to the honeycomb structure of a beehive. The degree of dissociation (amnesia) is determined by the degree of communication between (or through the walls of) the cells as they are formed with the mind, “dis-associating” one part, memory, or personality from another within the system of the whole.