Many trauma survivors with DID, especially those relatively new in the treatment process, often have difficulty accepting that there are “other people inside your head.”
The ideas of losing time (including big chunks of time), losing control of yourself and your mind or your body, having a limited awareness of what has happened in your life, sharing your life with a bunch of others of all different ages, and understanding that all this was caused by severe trauma, can all be difficult realities to grasp.
Inside parts. Dissociative alter personalities. Splits of you, from you, but very different from you.
The willingness to share your life with others can be difficult, especially if you haven’t realized that those others inside have been taking turns already. If this has been happening for years without your awareness, why do you need to know now?
So… if you don’t want them to be there, why are they there? And why is it so hard to accept that they are there?
When someone is experiencing severe trauma that is either physically painful and/or emotionally difficult to tolerate, the need to dissociate increases. If the person cannot escape with their feet, they can escape with their mind. If they cannot physically leave the situation, they can mentally leave the situation by floating away, floating up, or totally blacking out their awareness of such traumatic events.
The more frequently a person has to use their dissociative abilities to leave traumatic situations, the more rigid and firm those dissociative walls can become.
Pretty soon, those dissociative walls become impermeable – sturdy and solid — preventing any information or emotion from crossing through. Young children that need to be ok in the morning for school, and to look happy and cheerful in front of their parents, friends, and teachers, will not be able to do that if they are stressing about how badly they were hurt and injured during the night. The dissociative walls allow them to escape the pain of the trauma while it’s happening, but also to escape the memory and stress of it in the hours and days afterward.
When all too much trauma happens over and over again, young children learn to create other selves to be there instead of them. As these other selves are needed for more and more life events, their life experiences and subsequent personalities develop more and more.
The one child becomes two. Then three. Then four. And every time a particular traumatic situation occurs, the other child created in that kind of situation learns to show up for it. Once child one knows how to split like this, it becomes easier to do it again and again. The child parts themselves can learn how to create parts of their own if needed. For example, if the child doesn’t want to carry the anger about being abused (maybe they know they will get in very big trouble if they show anger), then they can give that emotion to a different part to carry and contain for them.
The dissociative walls between the different parts allow the “containers” to be totally separate from each other, and to not allow seepage, spillage, leakage of information from one person to another.
So as years go by, the child gets older, and becomes an adult… or, for some people, the original child self has stayed hidden and away from the world, and remains so tucked in that even the main adult parts are splits off from the “original child”. Through the years, numerous other splits have happened and there are many others inside.
How does the main adult part manage that? There are too many splits to know them all. There have been too many traumatic events to make sense of it all. There is too much pain, and horror, and distress, and shame, and guilt tucked away in all the different parts.
To accept each of those parts means to accept that they were specifically split off and created for a reason. It means, they have feelings or historical information that could be difficult to digest and hard to live with. It means that there is a whole lot more to the story. Any part that was given the job to “be the happy one” or “act like nothing is bothering you” or “function like you have no problems” will have a hard time connecting to all the parts that have been exposed to the trauma information and intense feelings.
Even as adults safe from ongoing trauma, those dissociative walls that were once created for protection and to maintain a great distance between the person and the “too much for me” piles will still be in place, even if they are not as necessary as they were in the middle of current trauma. However, it is also true, that as time passes and the amount of ongoing trauma decreases, those dissociative walls can begin to crumble and weaken and chip apart. It is not “natural” to have to be dissociative, so if there is no trauma forcing the dissociation to stay in place, those dissociative walls will begin to shrink. PTSD, emerging trauma memories and an increasing awareness of the others inside will begin to be more obvious.
However, that puts the dissociative person into an uncomfortable in-between place. They are not totally dissociating away the awareness of everything, but they do not yet have sufficient information to make a clear picture of what they are figuring out. It’s like having a 1000 piece puzzle, and while 250 of the pieces might be in place, it is very hard to figure out where to put the 251st piece. The picture is not clear. The individual pieces do not make sense. It is not obvious what anything is. It’s a very frustrating place, and at this point, it feels like too much of the news is bad news.
The dissociation that has been there for years already makes it hard to think differently. The dissociative walls kept tons of specific information away from the person’s awareness, and as long as the person remains partially dissociative, the new information will have that “not real” feeling to it. The traumatic information that is still too far on the other side of that dissociative wall will not yet feel “real”. The dissociative wall that helped you separate the trauma from yourself is still keeping the reality of that information separated from yourself.
The partial dissociation makes it not feel real.
The parts of you that are not dissociated from that information will not have any doubt about how “real” it is. They may not like it, but they have no doubts about knowing what happened.
But if there is a dissociative wall standing between you and the others inside, you could have trouble accepting their reality as yours.
The dissociation keeps reality separated from you.
That just means you are in the middle of the process.
If your dissociative wall is 100 bricks tall, and you have only knocked down 17 of them, the trauma and those other insiders are not going to feel totally real or connected to you. It will be considerably different once you have knocked down 53 bricks, and even more different when you have knocked down 79 bricks. When you have knocked down all 100 bricks, you’ll be totally connected with the experiences of the others inside. Their reality will be the same as yours, and vice versa. You will all know the whole story of what happened on the time line of your life.
Give yourself the time that it takes to address all that is on the other side of those dissociative walls. I can promise you, you won’t want to be flooded with ALL of that information at once. BUT, do know in your head, that it takes a lot of work to be emotionally and mentally connected with everything that you had to block off.
While you are partially dissociative, some things really won’t feel real. While you’ve done a portion of the work, you won’t know where everything fits in the whole picture.
The more you get to meet and to really know your inside people, the less you will be affected by the dissociative walls. The more real your relationships are with your insiders, the more real and connected you will be to all the pieces of your life.
As long as you put in effort to stay distant and separated from the others inside, you are working to maintain those dissociative walls.
Do you genuinely want to know what has happened in your life? That’s a much harder question to answer than you might think.
And yes, too much of the information dissociated away will be difficult, painful, or bad news. Who wants to purposefully block off or escape from good news? It’s just not necessary. But escaping from bad news can be necessary for survival, for sanity, for safety.
But keeping the dissociative walls means keeping the pain contained within yourself.
Lowering the dissociative walls means you can release the pain for everyone inside you, and give healing experiences to all that are there. Everyone will have a chance to experience the good stuff in life, and to be free from the captivity of severe trauma.
It’s not natural to have to dissociate to get through life. When you don’t have to dissociate anymore, then you have truly accepted your own reality, no matter what it is.
The truth will do.
I wish you the best in your healing journey.
Copyright © 2008-2017 Kathy Broady MSW and Discussing Dissociation