Sanctuary and Serenity

Archive for the ‘MPD / DID / PTSD’ Category


The unconscious is like a great holding area or reservoir of unprocessed events. Anything we don’t or can’t assimilate consciously goes there. The unconscious holds irrelevant things such as images of strangers we see on the street. It also holds important things that need to be brought into conscious awareness but may be too big to fit our existing system (conscious mind). There are times when people are unable to fully assimilate the significance of an overwhelming experience such as a car accident. One of the passengers calmly calls an ambulance, administers first aid, and reroutes oncoming traffic. Once the ambulance arrives, she falls apart and cries hysterically. In order to take care of the immediate priorities, she dissociated her feelings and emotions temporarily. The dissociation allowed her to break up the oversized experience into manageable pieces. These were assimilated as soon as it was safe to do so. If the accident survivor didn’t assimilate the dissociated part of her experience, she would probably suffer the PTSD symptoms.

Children are commonly seen to dissociate—not because of trauma, but because every time they get a new type of experience, they have to modify or expand their faculties in order to assimilate it. In the meantime, the experience is dissociated and held in the unconscious. There, they “play with it,” using their imagination until they work out a way to make a fit. Children go through a very high rate of new experiences and may frequently dissociate as a normal response to an unfamiliar event. They are continually modifying and expanding their system, or conscious mind. This is the process of growth and learning. As they mature, children may dissociate less and less, because there are fewer and fewer experiences that don’t fit their conscious system.

Children rely extensively on adults for interpretation. Their developing comprehension is largely fashioned after that of their parents or caregivers. If caregivers are emotionally damaged, their own skewed view of the world is imposed upon their children.

Unresolved issues in the parents’ unconscious are misinterpreted for the child. This is a common phenomenon known as projection. For example, if parents feel shame but cannot admit it, they may deny it, separate themselves from it, disown it, dissociate from it, and project it onto their children. They then condemn their children as being shameful. In psychology this is described as retaliatory defense. In other words, the shame the parents have within themselves but cannot accept is expressed by shaming the children. In fact, the less parents are able to accept the “monster” within themselves, the more readily they are able to see it in their children.

Emotionally troubled parents frequently reinforce skewed interpretations with abuse. If the abuse is extreme, as practiced by destructive families, a child’s conscious world becomes overwhelmed. The extreme abuse is dissociated into the unconscious, but it cannot be made to fit, even in a misinformed way. The trauma remains dissociated. To survive, children tap into extraordinary coping skills, fashioned from within their own unconscious.


Our instinctive reactions to an assault are fight or flight. However, neither works when children are abused by sadistic adults. The only option left is to freeze, and take flight through the mind. A common initial coping mechanism is to escape the body. It is the beginning of clinical (amnestic) dissociation, which allows a shutting out of an unbearable reality. It is held unassimilated—in effect, frozen in time. A dissociated experience can be split up to store the emotions separate from bodily sensations, and the sensations separate from the knowledge of an event. In dissociating an experience, children split off a part of their self to hold the trauma. In some cases the dissociated aspects of self, immediately or over time, form their own and separate sense of self.

A dissociated identity, like a dissociated experience, can hold the entire event or parts of it. Alters may hold only a bodily feeling, only an emotion, or only the knowledge. One hundred abusive/traumatic incidents may be held by one identity or by one hundred or more identities. It may be helpful to think of each identity as holding an abusive experience. In this context, taken together, the identities hold a person’s overwhelming traumas and express a survivor’s entire life story.

When the abuse is over, the original self “returns” and resumes “normal” life, having no/little awareness of what has just transpired. If severely abused children were forced to experience the trauma they just lived through, they would probably NOT survive.

Some children maintain a complete split between their everyday life and the abusive episodes. They may be seen smiling when posing for family photographs. Perpetrators often use such photographs to prove there is nothing bad going on.

As abused children grow, their problems typically begin to mount. The load on their unconscious becomes increasingly great, and they feel overwhelmed. As some identities stay out more and more, they may begin to take over and operate in the child’s day-to-day world. If the abuse continues or increases, the original self may stay out less and less and, in time, stop coming out at all. The survivor is then functioning through identities who “switch” to cope with day-to-day life.

In the November/December 1992 issue of The Sciences Magazine, Dr. Frank W. Putnam writes the following about survivors with dissociated identities. “The (presenting) personality is almost never the (survivor’s) original personality—the identity that developed between birth and the experience of trauma. That self usually lives dormant and emerges only after extensive psychotherapy.”

Amnestic dissociation may be used for other purposes as well. Some identities are created to protect fragile, delicate, or creative and expressive parts of the child. An example is how the cult can manipulate dissociation to have a child create identities to serve their purposes.

Fear and resistance are typical initial survivor responses to learning about dissociated parts or selves. Multiplicity can feel frightening if a survivor doesn’t know what it is. Dissociated experiences/identities are frequently greeted with awe. It’s natural to fear the unknown. How ever, once survivors understand the ingenuity of their own system, most develop admiration and respect for it. They no longer see it as awful but awesome.

There’s a saying that “necessity is the mother of invention.” Pushed beyond normal limits, people have discovered extraordinary abilities. These abilities are in evidence by survivors who used their powers of the mind to survive. We as multiples are introducing the world to new realms of possibilities that have yet to be fully understood. With knowing and understanding comes appreciation. Regardless of an identity’s name, description, or personality, its main and common purpose is always to protect the child. Alters can manage extraordinary feats in their determination to keep the child safe. Sometimes these feats are beyond the range of normal human experience or comprehension.

Initially for survival, and later for managing day-to-day life, some survivors have developed extraordinary coping skills. Although these abilities may be wonderful in some respects, they have come at an exhorbitant price. While no two survivors are alike, some of the more commonly observed abilities in multiples are perfect memory, ability to heal unusually fast, ability to tolerate extreme levels of pain, and ability to self-anesthetize. By “switching,” some survivors are also able to work almost continually with minimal rest. Some report the ability to perceive paranormally.

Each identity within the same person may have unique neurological and physiological responses. For example, some identities may require glasses, while others have perfect vision: some identities are allergic to smoke, while others may be chain smokers: some identities are almost deaf, while others have exceptionally good hearing: different alters within one person will register unique electroencephalogram, electrocardiograph, blood pressure, and pulse readings. Alters may have different allergies and different ailments and unique responses to medications. One identity may be diagnosed with an ailment, but a different identity may be “out” when the medication is taken. In this case, the original alter isn’t helped, and the receiving alter may have unfavorable side effects. Prescribing medication to survivors who are multiple should be done with special care and extra monitoring.

In the same way that alters protected the child, once survivors get to know their inner parts, most develop a strong reciprocal protectiveness and appreciation of them.


Aftereffects of trauma are still being researched, and diagnostic terminology continues to evolve. Some existing terms are being retired and new terms are being proposed. In keeping with evolving trends and thinking, we will use the term post-traumatic reactions to indicate the overall condition; and the terms post-traumatic fear, dissociative experience, and dissociative identity to indicate the most prevalent reactions. Professionals are recognizing that post-traumatic reactions exist on a continuum, and many survivors use more than one coping strategy to survive. Trying to arrive at an exact diagnosis using existing terminology can be complex. It is sometimes more confusing than helpful to try to find the right “label.”

The current list of specific diagnosis includes but is not limited to PTSD, also know as Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS); various dissociative disorders, which include Depersonalization Disorder, Dissociative Fugue, Dissociative Amnesia, and Dissociative Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (DD-NOS); Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formally referred to as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD); and catatonia or catalepsy. Regardless of which way or ways a child splits, the mechanism of repression and dissociation and therefore the basic approaches to treatment are the same. Recognizing this, the current trend among professionals is to group survivor post-traumatic reactions under a single umbrella that may soon get its own name.

Survivors have mixed reactions to the proposed changes. Many survivors have difficulties with change because there are so many selves affected, and each self has a unique reaction. Some worked a long time to accept and feel comfortable with the term multiple personality and so may be reluctant to change. Others prefer the term dissociative identity because it describes the coping strategy rather than the symptom. Some survivors also feel that it sounds less extreme than multiple personality, which has often been given sensationalized treatment in the media. The terms dissociative identity and dissociative experience help to desensationalize and normalize the survivor experience.


The most frequent misdiagnosis is identifying secondary symptoms as the primary problem. Because most survivors are not aware of their traumatic past, they rarely seek help for post-traumatic reactions. However, the aftereffects of trauma often include a variety of symptoms, which survivors usually identify as “the problem.” Related secondary diagnosis’ include depression, physical ailments, chemical dependency, and eating disorders.

The symptoms of unintegrated trauma are very similar to and therefore often confused with various personality or mental disorders. Common misdiagnoses may include: paranoid schizophrenic, borderline personality, bipolar personality, anxiety disorder, attention deficit disorder, clinical depression, and psychosis. While these conditions may be present in survivors, they, too, are often secondary, not primary, problems.

The list of physical problems identified as primary rather than secondary diagnosis is almost endless. Survivors may be diagnosed with or without corroborative test results. A common, although certainly not an exhaustive, list of misdiagnoses may include temporal lobe epilepsy, allergies, thyroid problems, dyslexia, genital problems, digestive and elimination tract disorders, chronic infections, skin disorders, and asthma.

Although it is important to treat all symptoms, treating the secondary diagnoses alone without addressing their traumatic source will not yeild satisfactory results over the long term. Unless a physician or therapist has made a point of learning the signs and symptoms of unintegrated trauma, survivors may remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for long periods of time. A recent study showed that it took an average of seven years before a person with dissociated identity was properly diagnosed. The best indicator of possible misdiagnosis, physical or psychological, is unresponsiveness to treatment.

Basics of proper treatment include getting a correct diagnosis, understanding coping strategies, establishing a safety-oriented healing environment, accessing, connecting with, and healing dissociated experiences. Unlike many other conditions, proper treatment for trauma survivors yields excellent results.


The growing recognition of psychiatric conditions resulting from traumatic influences is a significant mental health issue. Until recently considered rare and mysterious psychiatric curiosities, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) (also known as Multiple Personality Disorder – MPD) and other Dissociative Disorders (DD) are now understood to be fairly common effects of severe trauma in early childhood, most typically extreme, repeated physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse.

In 1994, with the publication of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV, Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) was changed to Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), reflecting changes in professional understanding of the disorder, which resulted largely from increased empirical research of trauma-based dissociative disorders.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), widely accepted as a major mental illness affecting 9-10% of the general population, is closely related to Dissociative Identity Disorder (MPD) and other Dissociative Disorders (DD). In fact, as many as 80-100% of people diagnosed with DID (MPD) also have a secondary diagnosis of PTSD. The personal and societal cost of trauma disorders [including DID (MPD), DD, and PTSD] is extremely high. For example, recent research suggests the risk of suicide attempts among people with trauma disorders may be even higher than among people who have major depression. In addition, there is evidence that people with trauma disorders have higher rates of alcoholism, chronic medical illnesses, and abusiveness in succeeding generations.

What Is Dissociation?

Dissociation is a mental process which produces a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of identity. During the period of time when a person is dissociating, certain information is not associated with other information as it normally would be. For example, during a traumatic experience, a person may dissociate the memory of the place and circumstances of the trauma from his ongoing memory, resulting in a temporary mental escape from the fear and pain of the trauma and, in some cases, a memory gap surrounding the experience. Because this process can produce changes in memory, people who frequently dissociate often find their senses of personal history and identity are affected.

Most clinicians believe that dissociation exists on a continuum of severity. This continuum reflects a wide range of experiences and/or symptoms. At one end are mild dissociative experiences common to most people, such as daydreaming, highway hypnosis, or “getting lost” in a book or movie, all of which involve “losing touch” with conscious awareness of one’s immediate surroundings. At the other extreme is complex, chronic dissociation, such as in cases of Dissociative Identity Disorder (MPD) and other Dissociative Disorders, which may result in serious impairment or inability to function. Some people with DID(MPD)/DD can hold highly responsible jobs, contributing to society in a variety of professions, the arts, and public service. To co-workers, neighbors, and others with whom they interact daily, they apparently function normally.

There is a great deal of overlap of symptoms and experiences among the various Dissociative Disorders, including DID (MPD). Individuals should seek help from qualified mental health providers to answer questions about their own particular circumstances and diagnoses.

How Does DID(MPD)/DD Develop?

When faced with overwhelmingly traumatic situations from which there is no physical escape, a child may resort to “going away” in his or her head. This ability is typically used by children as an extremely effective defense against acute physical and emotional pain, or anxious anticipation of that pain. By this dissociative process, thoughts, feelings, memories, and perceptions of the traumatic experiences can be separated off psychologically, allowing the child to function as if the trauma had not occurred.

DID(MPD)/DD is often referred to as a highly creative survival technique, because it allows individuals enduring “hopeless” circumstances to preserve some areas of healthy functioning. Over time, however, for a child who has been repeatedly physically and sexually assaulted, defensive dissociation becomes reinforced and conditioned. Because the dissociative escape is so effective, children who are very practiced at it may automatically use it whenever they feel threatened or anxious — even if the anxiety-producing situation is not abusive.

Often, even after the traumatic circumstances are long past, the left-over pattern of defensive dissociation remains. Chronic defensive dissociation may lead to serious dysfunction in work, social, and daily activities. Repeated dissociation may result in a series of separate entities, or mental states, which may eventually take on identities of their own. These entities may become the internal “personality states,” of a DID(MPD) system. Changing between these states of consciousness is described as “switching.”

What Are The Symptoms Of DID(MPD)/DD?

People with DID(MPD) may experience any of the following: depression, mood swings, suicidal tendencies, sleep disorders (insomnia, night terrors, and sleep walking), panic attacks and phobias (flashbacks, reactions to stimuli or “triggers”), alcohol and drug abuse, compulsions and rituals, psychotic-like symptoms (including auditory and visual hallucinations), and eating disorders. In addition, individuals with DID(MPD)/DD can experience headaches, amnesias, time loss, trances, and “out of body experiences.” Some people with DID(MPD)/DD have a tendency toward self-persecution, self-sabotage, and even violence (both self-inflicted and outwardly directed).

Who Gets DID(MPD)/DD?

The vast majority (as many as 98 to 99%) of individuals who develop DID(MPD)/DD have documented histories of repetitive, overwhelming, and often life-threatening trauma at a sensitive developmental stage of childhood (usually before the age of nine), and they may possess an inherited biological predisposition for dissociation. In our culture the most frequent precursor to DID(MPD)/DD is extreme physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in childhood, but survivors of other kinds of trauma in childhood (such as natural disasters, invasive medical procedures, war, and torture) have also reacted by developing DID(MPD)/DD.

Current research shows that DID(MPD) may affect 1% of the general population and perhaps as many as 5-20% of people in psychiatric hospitals, many of whom have received other diagnoses. The incidence rates are even higher among sexual abuse survivors and individuals with chemical dependencies. These statistics put DID(MPD)/DD in the same category as schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety, as one of the four major mental health problems today.

Most current literature shows that DID(MPD)/DD is recognized primarily among females. The latest research, however, indicates that the disorders may be equally prevalent (but less frequently diagnosed) among the male population. Men with DID(MPD)/DD are most likely to be in treatment for other mental illnesses, for drug and alcohol abuse, or incarcerated.

Why Are Dissociative Disorders Often Misdiagnosed?

DID(MPD)/DD survivors often spend years living with misdiagnoses, consequently floundering within the mental health system. They change from therapist to therapist and from medication to medication, getting treatment for symptoms but making little or no actual progress. Research has documented that on average, people with DID(MPD)/DD have spent seven years in the mental health system prior to accurate diagnosis.

This is common, because the list of symptoms that cause a person with DID(MPD)/DD to seek treatment is very similar to those of many other psychiatric diagnoses. In fact, many people who are diagnosed with DID(MPD)/DD also have secondary diagnoses of depression, anxiety, or panic disorders.

Do People Actually Have Multiple Personalities?

Yes, and no. One of the reasons for the decision by the psychiatric community to change the disorder’s name from Multiple Personality Disorder to Dissociative Identity Disorder is that “multiple personalities” is somewhat of a misleading term. A person diagnosed with DID(MPD) has within her two or more entities, or personality states, each with its own independent way of relating, perceiving, thinking and remembering about herself and her life. If two or more of these entities take control of the person’s behavior at a given time, a diagnosis of MPD can be made. These entities previously were often called “personalities,” even though the term did not accurately reflect the common definition of the word as the total aspect of our psychological makeup. Other terms often used by therapists and survivors to describe these entities are: “alternate personalities”, “alters,” “parts,” “states of consciousness,” “ego states,” and “identities.” It is important to keep in mind that although these alternate personality states may appear to be very different, they are all manifestations of a single person.

Can DID(MPD)/DD Be Cured?

Yes. Dissociative disorders are highly responsive to individual psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” as well as to a range of other treatment modalities, including medications, hypnotherapy, and adjunctive therapies such as art or movement therapy. In fact, among comparably severe psychiatric disorders, DID(MPD) may be the condition that carries the best prognosis, if proper treatment is undertaken and completed. The course of treatment is long-term, intensive, and invariably painful, as it generally involves remembering and reclaiming the dissociated traumatic experiences. Nevertheless, individuals with DID(MPD)/DD have been successfully treated by therapists of all professional backgrounds working in a variety of settings.

Dissociation Diagnosis


The development of characteristic symptoms following a psychologically distressing event that is outside the range of usual human experience. The characteristic symptoms involve re-experiencing the traumatic event, avoidance of stimuli associated with the event or numbing of general responsiveness and increased arousal. This group of symptoms was initially recognized in conjunction with other types of trauma. Professionals noticed that some survivors of car accidents had reactions similar to those of soldiers returning from combat. In the past this group of symptoms was alternately called shell shock, battle fatigue, or combat neurosis.

With PTSD, aspects of the traumatic event are dissociated, but the event is not forgotten. Treatment usually focuses on processing the unassimilated parts of the trauma by giving expression to it, thereby healing the aftereffects. The trauma may be re-experienced through dreams, behaviors, emotions, and bodily responses. Sometimes the trauma or aspects of it are re-experienced through flashbacks, nightmares, night terrors, and/or startle responses.

Although symptoms of PTSD may feel frightening and are a cause of great distress, they are the body/mind’s attempt to heal. The trauma is breaking through into conscious awareness, where it can be assimilated and healed. (DSM-IV)

PTSD is characterized by:

— recurrent or intrusive distressing recollections of an event( images, thoughts, perceptions)

— re-experiencing the trauma of the event through dreams or flashbacks

— feelings of emotional numbness and detachment from others

— irritability or exaggerated startle responses, or hyper-vigilance

— sleep difficulties

— anger or anxiety

— difficulty concentrating

— physiological responses to situations or events that symbolize or resemble the original stressful event or situation

Symptoms of the disorder may occur within hours of the stressful event. Or they may not appear until months or years later.


Persistent or recurrent experiences of feeling detached from, and as if one is an outside observer of, one’s mental processes or body (e.g., feeling like one is in a dream).

B. During the depersonalization experience, reality testing remains intact.

C. The depersonalization causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

D. The depersonalization experience does not occur exclusively during the course of another mental disorder, such as Schizophrenia, Panic Disorder, Acute Stress Disorder, or another Dissociative Disorder, and is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance(e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or a general medical condition (e.g., temporal lobe epilepsy). (DSM-IV)


A. The predominant disturbance is sudden, unexpected travel away from home or one’s customary place of work, with inability to recall one’s past.

B. Confusion about personal identity or assumption of a new identity (partial or complete).

C. The disturbance does not occur exclusively during the course of Dissociative Identity Disorder and is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or a general medical condition (e.g., temporal lobe epilepsy).

D. The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. (DSM-IV)


A. The predominant disturbance is one or more episodes of inability to recall important personal information, usually of a traumatic or stressful nature, that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness.

B. The disturbance does not occur exclusively during the course of Dissociative Identity Disorder, Dissociative Fugue, Post traumatic Stress Disorder, Acute Stress Disorder, or Somatization Disorder and is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or a neurological or other general medical condition (e.g., Amnestic Disorder Due to Head Trauma).

C. The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. (DSM-IV)


This category is included for disorders in which the predominant feature is a Dissociative symptom (i.e., a disruption in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity, or perception of the environment) that does not meet the criteria for any specific Dissociative Disorder. Examples include

1. Clinical presentations similar to Dissociative Identity Disorder that fail to meet full criteria for this Disorder. Examples include presentations in which a) there are not two or more distinct personality states, or b) amnesia for important personal information does not occur.

2. De-realization (A feeling of unreality or detachment from the environment, is frequently present in addition to the sense of estrangement from self.) unaccompanied by depersonalization in adults.

3 States of dissociation that occur in individuals who have been subjected to periods of prolonged and intense coercive persuasion (e.g., brainwashing, thought re-form, or indoctrination while captive).

4. Dissociative trance disorder: single or episodic disturbances in the state of consciousness, identity, or memory that are indigenous to particular locations and cultures. Dissociative trance involves narrowing of awareness of immediate surroundings or stereotyped behaviors or movements that are experienced as being beyond one’s control. Possession trance involves replacement of the customary sense of personal identity by a new identity, attributed to the influence of a spirit, power, deity, or other person, and associated with stereotyped “involuntary” movements or amnesia. Examples include amok (Indonesia), bebainan (Indonesia), latab (Malaysia), pibloktoq (Arctic), ataque de nervios (Latin America), and possession (India). The Dissociative or trance disorder is not a normal part of a broadly accepted collective cultural or religious practice.

5. Loss of consciousness, stupor, or coma not attributable to a general medical condition.

6. Ganser syndrome: the giving of approximate answers to questions (e.g., “2 plus 2 equals 5”) when not associated with Dissociative Amnesia or Dissociative Fugue. (DSM-IV)


A. The presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states (each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self).

B. At least two of these identities or personality states recurrently take control of the person’s behavior.

C. Inability to recall important personal information that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness.

D. The disturbance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., blackouts or chaotic behavior during Alcohol Intoxication) or a general medical condition (e.g., complex partial seizures). In children, the symptoms are not attributable to imaginary playmates or other fantasy play. (DSM-IV)


Catatonia: An extreme form of withdrawal in which the individual retreats into a completely immobile state, showing a total lack of responsiveness to stimulation.

Catalepsy: a physical state in which muscles of the face, body, and limbs take on a condition of suspended animation; trancelike or unresponsive state of consciousness; also called anochlesia; may last for many hours; body position or expression does not alter and limbs remain in whatever position they are placed (known as flexibilitas cerea, or waxy flexibility); associated with hysteria, epilepsy, and schizophrenia in humans, and with organic nervous disease in animals; may also be caused by brain disease and some drugs.

Excerpted from Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia

짤 Copyright 1997-2001

The Spectrum of Dissociative Disorders: An Overview of Diagnosis and Treatment

As society has become increasingly aware of the prevalence of child abuse and its serious consequences, there has been an explosion of information on posttraumatic and dissociative disorders resulting from abuse in childhood. Since most clinicians learned little about childhood trauma and its aftereffects in their training, many are struggling to build their knowledge base and clinical skills to effectively treat survivors and their families. Understanding dissociation and its relationship to trauma is basic to understanding the posttraumatic and dissociative disorders. Dissociation is the disconnection from full awareness of self, time, and/or external circumstances. It is a complex neuropsychological process. Dissociation exists along a continuum from normal everyday experiences to disorders that interfere with everyday functioning. Common examples of normal dissociation are highway hypnosis (a trance-like feeling that develops as the miles go by), “getting lost” in a book or a movie so that one loses a sense of passing time and surroundings, and daydreaming.

Researchers and clinicians believe that dissociation is a common, naturally occurring defense against childhood trauma. Children tend to dissociate more readily than adults. Faced with overwhelming abuse, it is not surprising that children would psychologically flee (dissociate) from full awareness of their experience. Dissociation may become a defensive pattern that persists into adulthood and can result in a full-fledged dissociative disorder.

The essential feature of dissociative disorders is a disturbance or alteration in the normally integrative functions of identity, memory, or consciousness. If the disturbance occurs primarily in memory, Dissociative Amnesia or Fugue (APA, 1994) results; important personal events cannot be recalled. Dissociative Amnesia with acute loss of memory may result from wartime trauma, a severe accident, or rape. Dissociative Fugue is indicated by not only loss of memory, but also travel to a new location and the assumption of a new identity. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), although not officially a dissociative disorder (it is classified as an anxiety disorder), can be thought of as part of the dissociative spectrum. In PTSD, recall/re-experiencing of the trauma (flashbacks) alternates with numbing (detachment or dissociation), and avoidance. Atypical dissociative disorders are classified as Dissociative Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (DDNOS). If the disturbance occurs primarily in identity with parts of the self assuming separate identities, the resulting disorder is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder.

The Dissociative Spectrum

The dissociative spectrum (Braun, 1988) extends from normal dissociation to poly-fragmented DID. All of the disorders are trauma-based, and symptoms result from the habitual dissociation of traumatic memories. For example, a rape victim with Dissociative Amnesia may have no conscious memory of the attack, yet experience depression, numbness, and distress resulting from environmental stimuli such as colors, odors, sounds, and images that recall the traumatic experience. The dissociated memory is alive and active–not forgotten, merely submerged (Tasman & Goldfinger, 1991). Major studies have confirmed the traumatic origin of DID (Putnam, 1989, and Ross, 1989), which arises before the age of 12 (and often before age 5) as a result of severe physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse. Poly-fragmented DID (involving over 100 personality states) may be the result of sadistic abuse by multiple perpetrators over an extended period of time.

Although DID is a common disorder (perhaps as common as one in 100) (Ross, 1989), the combination of PTSD-DDNOS is the most frequent diagnosis in survivors of childhood abuse. These survivors experience the flashbacks and intrusion of trauma memories, sometimes not until years after the childhood abuse, with dissociative experiences of distancing, “trancing out”, feeling unreal, the ability to ignore pain, and feeling as if they were looking at the world through a fog.

The symptom profile of adults who were abuse as children includes posttraumatic and dissociative disorders combined with depression, anxiety syndromes, and addictions. These symptoms include (1) recurrent depression; (2) anxiety, panic, and phobias; (3) anger and rage; (4) low self-esteem, and feeling damaged and/or worthless; (5) shame; (6) somatic pain syndromes (7) self-destructive thoughts and/or behavior; (8) substance abuse; (9) eating disorders: bulimia, anorexia, and compulsive overeating; (10) relationship and intimacy difficulties; (11) sexual dysfunction, including addictions and avoidance; (12) time loss, memory gaps, and a sense of unreality; (13) flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and images of trauma; (14) hypervigilance; (15) sleep disturbances: nightmares, insomnia, and sleepwalking; and (16) alternative states of consciousness or personalities.

The diagnosis of dissociative disorders starts with an awareness of the prevalence of childhood abuse and its relation to these clinical disorders with their complex symptomatology. A clinical interview, whether the client is male or female, should always include questions about significant childhood and adult trauma. The interview should include questions related to the above list of symptoms with a particular focus on dissociative experiences. Pertinent questions include those related to blackouts/time loss, disremembered behaviors, fugues, unexplained possessions, inexplicable changes in relationships, fluctuations in skills and knowledge, fragmentary recall of life history, spontaneous trances, enthrallment, spontaneous age regression, out-of-body experiences, and awareness of other parts of self (Loewenstein, 1991).

Structured diagnostic interviews such as the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES) (Putnam, 1989), the Dissociative Disorders Interview Schedule (DDIS) (Ross, 1989), and the Structured Clinical Interview for Dissociative Disorders (SCID-D) (Steinberg, 1990) are now available for the assessment of dissociative disorders. This can result in more rapid and appropriate help for survivors. Dissociative disorders can also be diagnosed by the Diagnostic Drawing Series (DDS) (Mills & Cohen, 1993).

The diagnostic criteria for the diagnosis of DID are (1) the existence within the person of two or more distinct personalities or personality states, each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self, (2) at least two of these personality states recurrently take full control of the person’s behavior, (3) the inability to recall important personal information that is to extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness, and (4) the disturbance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (blackouts due to alcohol intoxication) or a general medical condition (APA, 1994). The clinician must, therefore, “meet” and observe the “switch process” between at least two personalities. The dissociative personality system usually includes a number of personality states (alter personalities) of varying ages (many are child alters) and of both sexes.

In the past, individuals with dissociative disorders were often in the mental health system for years before receiving an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. As clinicians become more skilled in the identification and treatment dissociative disorders, there should no longer be such delay.

The heart of the treatment of dissociative disorders is long-term psychodynamic/cognitive psychotherapy facilitated by hypnotherapy. It is not uncommon for survivors to need three to five years of intensive therapy work. Setting the frame for the trauma work is the most important part of therapy. One cannot do trauma work without some destabilization, so the therapy starts with assessment and stabilization before any abreactive work (revisiting the trauma).

A careful assessment should cover the basic issues of history (what happened to you?), sense of self (how do you think/feel about yourself?), symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, rage, flashbacks, intrusive memories, inner voices, amnesias, numbing, nightmares, recurrent dreams), safety (of self, to and from others), relationship difficulties, substance abuse, eating disorders, family history (family of origin and current), social support system, and medical status.

After gathering important information, the therapist and client should jointly develop a plan for stabilization (Turkus, 1991). Treatment modalities should be carefully considered. These include individual psychotherapy, group therapy, expressive therapies (art, poetry, movement, psychodrama, music), family therapy (current family), psychoeducation, and pharmacotherapy. Hospital treatment may be necessary in some cases for a comprehensive assessment and stabilization. The Empowerment Model (Turkus, Cohen, & Courtois, 1991) for the treatment of survivors of childhood abuse–which can be adapted to outpatient treatment–uses ego-enhancing, progressive treatment to encourage the highest level of function (“how to keep your life together while doing the work”). The use of sequenced treatment using the above modalities for safe expression and processing of painful material within the structure of a therapeutic community of connectedness with healthy boundaries is particularly effective. Group experiences are critical to all survivors if they are to overcome the secrecy, shame, and isolation of survivorship.

Stabilization may include contracts to ensure physical and emotional safety and discussion before any disclosure or confrontation related to the abuse, and to prevent any precipitous stop in therapy. Physician consultants should be selected for medical needs or psychopharmacologic treatment. Antidepressant and antianxiety medications can be helpful adjunctive treatment for survivors, but they should be viewed as adjunctive to the psychotherapy, not as an alternative to it.

Developing a cognitive framework is also an essential part of stabilization. This involves sorting out how an abused child thinks and feels, undoing damaging self-concepts, and learning about what is “normal”. Stabilization is a time to learn how to ask for help and build support networks. The stabilization stage may take a year or longer–as much time as is necessary for the patient to move safely into the next phase of treatment.

If the dissociative disorder is DID, stabilization involves the survivor’s acceptance of the diagnosis and commitment to treatment. Diagnosis is in itself a crisis, and much work must be done to reframe DID as a creative survival tool (which it is) rather than a disease or stigma. The treatment frame for DID includes developing acceptance and respect for each alter as a part of the internal system. Each alter must be treated equally, whether it presents as a delightful child or an angry persecutor. Mapping of the dissociative personality system is the next step, followed by the work of internal dialogue and cooperation between alters. This is the critical stage in DID therapy, one that must be in place before trauma work begins. Communication and cooperation among the alters facilitates the gathering of ego strength that stabilizes the internal system, hence the whole person.

Revisiting and reworking the trauma is the next stage. This may involve abreactions, which can release pain and allow dissociated trauma back into the normal memory track. An abreaction might be described as the vivid re-experiencing of a traumatic event accompanied by the release of related emotion and the recovery of repressed or dissociated aspects of that event (Steele & Colrain, 1990). The retrieval of traumatic memories should be staged with planned abreactions. Hypnosis, when facilitated by a trained professional, is extremely useful in abreactive work to safely contain the abreaction and release the painful emotions more quickly. Some survivors may only be able to do abreactive work on an inpatient basis in a safe and supportive environment. In any setting, the work must be paced and contained to prevent retraumatization and to give the client a feeling of mastery. This means that the speed of the work must be carefully monitored, and the release painful material must be thoughtfully managed and controlled, so as not to be overwhelming. An abreaction of a person diagnosed with DID may involve a number of different alters, who must all participate in the work. The reworking of the trauma involves sharing the abuse story, undoing unnecessary shame and guilt, doing some anger work, and grieving. Grief work pertains to both the abuse and abandonment and the damage to one’s life. Throughout this mid-level work, there is integration of memories and, in DID, alternate personalities; the substitution of adult methods of coping for dissociation; and the learning of new life skills.

This leads into the final phase of the therapy work. There is continued processing of traumatic memories and cognitive distortions, and further letting go of shame. At the end of the grieving process, creative energy is released. The survivor can reclaim self-worth and personal power and rebuild life after so much focus on healing. There are often important life choices to be made about vocation and relationships at this time, as well as solidifying gains from treatment.

This is challenging and satisfying work for both survivors and therapists. The journey is painful, but the rewards are great. Successfully working through the healing journey can significantly impact a survivor’s life and philosophy. Coming through this intense, self-reflective process might lead one to discover a desire to contribute to society in a variety of vital ways.

Braun, B. (1988). The BASK model of dissociation. DISSOCIATION, 1, 4-23. American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author. Loewenstein, R.J. (1991). An office mental status examination for complex chronic dissociative symptoms and multiple personality disorder. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 14(3), 567-604.

Mills, A. & Cohen, B.M. (1993). Facilitating the identification of multiple personality disorder through art: The Diagnostic Drawing Series. In E. Kluft (Ed.), Expressive and functional therapies in the treatment of multiple personality disorder. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas.

Putnam, F.W. (1989). Diagnosis and treatment of multiple personality disorder. New York: Guilford Press.

Ross, C.A. (1989). Multiple personality disorder: Diagnosis, clinical features, and treatment. New York: Wiley.

Steele, K., & Colrain, J. (1990). Abreactive work with sexual abuse survivors: Concepts and techniques. In Hunter, M. (Ed.), The sexually abused male, 2, 1-55. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Steinberg, M., et al. (1990). The structured clinical interview for DSM III-R dissociative disorders: Preliminary report on a new diagnostic instrument. American Journal of Psychiatry, 147, 1.

Tasman, A., & Goldfinger, S. (1991). American psychiatric press review of psychiatry. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.

Turkus, J.A. (1991). Psychotherapy and case management for multiple personality disorder: Synthesis for continuity of care. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 14(3), 649-660.

Turkus, J.A., Cohen, B.M., & Courtois, C.A. (1991). The empowerment model for the treatment of post-abuse and dissociative disorders. In B. Braun (Ed.), Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Multiple Personality/Dissociative States (p. 58). Skokie, IL: International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality Disorder.

Joan A. Turkus, M.D., has extensive clinical experience in the diagnosis and treatment of post-abuse syndromes and DID. She is the medical director of The Center: Post-Traumatic & Dissociative Disorders Program at The Psychiatric Institute of Washington. A general and forensic psychiatrist in private practice, Dr. Turkus frequently provides supervision, consultation, and teaching for therapists on a national basis. She is co-editor of the forthcoming book, Multiple Personality Disorder: Continuum of Care.

* This article has been adapted by Barry M. Cohen, M.A., A.T.R., for publication in this format. It was originally published in the May/June, 1992, issue of Moving Forward, a semi-annual newsletter for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and those who care about them. For subscription information, write P.O. Box 4426, Arlington, VA, 22204, or call 703/271-4024.

Myths about BPD

The DSM (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual) contains the definition of psychiatric disorders.  These criteria based definitions are the results of a consensus created from hundreds of psychiatrists of many different perspectives and beliefs from all over the world.  As research becomes available, these definitions are revised.  The latest publication of the DSM IV was in 1994.
Physicians have the right to explain and treat disorders according to their knowledge, training and expertise-but not to establish their own criteria for a particular illness.  And in most cases, all of the criteria for an illness does not have to be apparent for a diagnosis.  Therefore, a physician cannot say, for example–“I don’t believe you have diabetes because you are not thirsty”.  All areas have to be considered carefully.  Also if a physician disagrees with the established criteria, he/she needs to explain the reasoning in the chart.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of Borderline Personality Disorder, there are many misconceptions about the diagnosis:
1.  that the diagnosis is based on why it may have happened—NOT TRUE!    There is no one clear cut biological or environmental factor that causes a person to develop BPD
2.  that the diagnosis is based on severity of symptoms–NOT TRUE!   BPD is unique to each person.  Some people with this illness are severely dibilitated while others are high functioning.   Some are habitually suicidal while others never reach that point.
3.  that the diagnosis somehow requires a response or lack of response to  certain medications be made—NOT TRUE!   Because of the many biological and environmental factors that effect a person’s development, there is no one medication that can effectively treat all persons with BPD.  Plus each person’s chemical makeup reacts differently to medication in regards to dosage, side effects and effectiveness.
4.  that the diagnosis is based on the actual brain or thought mechanisms involved–NOT TRUE!  No clinical proof has yet been given to verify actual brain functioning or thought patterns related specifically to BPD.  Although it is currently believed that the serotonin levels in the brain may have something to do with this disorder.
5.  that missing some symptoms–such as self mutilation–means the diagnosis is not present–NOT TRUE!  A person does not have to meet all nine of the diagnostic criteria, nor do they have to show symptoms relating to specific criteria on the list.  Any five of the nine criteria need to fit this definition for a diagnosis.
6.  that the diagnosis has a predictable outcome for everyone–NOT TRUE!  Like any illness, the outcome of a BPD is related to many factors including proper diagnosis and med treatment, willingness of client to participate in treatment and therapy, and a qualified and knowledgable physician.
7.  that it’s a label and not a diagnosis—NOT TRUE!  Persons with BPD have an illness, they are not the illness, much in the same way the a person with cancer is ill, they are not cancer.
8.  that having the BPD or Bipolar diagnosis means one cannot have the other diagnosis as well–NOT TRUE!   They are not mutually exclusive and many individuals have more than one diagnosis, including both BPD and Bipolar.
It’s crucial to remember that it is a criteria based illness and is described as a “pervasive pattern…beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts…”  For the BPD to be diagnosed, five of the nine criteria need to fit this definition.
The following information was compiled from an article written by Dr. Leland M. Heller, M.D.


In contrast to neurotic personality organization, in which the patient’s defensive organization centers on repression and other advanced or high-level defensive operations, borderline and psychotic levels of organization manifest predominately primitive defenses centering on the mechanism of splitting. Splitting and other mechanisms related to it (for example, primitive idealization, projective identification, denial, omnipotent control, and devaluation) protect the ego from conflict by dissociating contradictory experiences of the self and of significant others.

The presence of splitting and its related primitive defense mechanisms may be elicited in the analysis of the patient’s personality, as reflected in interactions both with significant others and with an interviewer.


The division of self and external objects into “all good” and “all bad” results in sudden and complete reversals of all feelings and conceptualizations about one’s self or views about a particular person.-Primitive Idealization.

This mechanism exaggerates the tendency to see all external objects as good. The qualities of goodness in others are exaggerated in a pathological way, to the exclusion of commonplace human defects. The patient does not tolerate any imperfection in the idealized person. The counterpart of idealization is the complete devaluation of others, or the perception of others as persecutory and dangerous.-Early forms of Projection; Projective Identification.

In contrast to higher levels of projection, characterized by attributing to other persons an impulse that the patient has repressed, projective identification is characterized by: (1) the tendency to continue to experience the impulse, which is at the same time projected onto the other person; (2) fear of the other person, who is viewed as being characterized by or under the sway of that projected impulse; and (3) the need to control that person, often done in such a way as to elicit behaviour in the person that seemingly validates the projection. Thus, whereas projection is based on an ego structure centered on repression as a defense, projective identification is based on a structure centered on splitting, or primitive dissiciation.-Denial.

In borderline patients denial is exemplified by the presence of emotionally independent areas of consciousness. These patients are aware that their perceptions, thoughts, and feelings about themselves or others at some times are completely opposite those entertained at other times, but this recognition has no emotional relevance and cannot influence their current state of mind.-Omnipotence and Devaluation.

Both omnipotence and devaluation are derivatives of splitting and are represented by the activation of ego states that reflect a highly inflated grandiose, omnipotent self and that relate to depreciated and devaluated representations of others, including the projection of devalued aspects of the self. A corollary of the omnipotence fantasy is the devaluation of other people, the patient’s conviction of his superiority over them, including the therapist. -The Subjective Experience of Emptiness.

There are patients who describe a painful and disturbing subjective experience which they frequently refer to as a feeling of emptiness. In typical cases, it is as if this emptiness were their basic modality of subjective experience from which they attempt to escape by engagement in many activities or in frantic social interaction, by the ingestion of drugs or alchohol, or by attempts to obtain instinctual gratifications through sex, aggression, food, or compulsive activities that reduce their focusing on their inner experience. Other patients, in contrast, seem to succumb to this experience of emptiness and to aquire what might be described as a mechanical style of life -going through the motions of daily activities with a deadening sense of unreality or a blurring of any subjective experience, so that they seem to merge, so to speak, with whatever immediate inanimate or human environment surrounds them… This experience becomes particularly strong when active mechanisms of primitive dissociation or splitting constitute a predominant defense against intrapsychic conflict.-Self Harm/Mutilation.

Some patients have tendencies toward self-mutilation, and tend to relieve tension of any origin by inducing pain in themselves (by cutting themselves, burning their skin, etc.). One [may even] observe a real pleasure or pride in the power of self-destruction.[From ‘Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism’, and ‘Psychodynamic Psychotherapy of Borderline Patients’ by Otto Kernberg]

The Diagnostic Interview for Borderlines, Revised

Gunderson and his colleague, Jonathan Kolb, tried to make the diagnosis of BPD by constructing a clinical interview to assess borderline characteristics in patients. The DIB was revised in 1989 to sharpen its ability to differentiate between BPD and other personality disorders. It considers symptoms that fall under four main headings:

  1. Affect
    • chronic/major depression
    • helplessness
    • hopelessness
    • worthlessness
    • guilt
    • anger (including frequent expressions of anger)
    • anxiety
    • loneliness
    • boredom
    • emptiness
  2. Cognition
    • odd thinking
    • unusual perceptions
    • nondelusional paranoia
    • quasipsychosis
  3. Impulse action patterns
    • substance abuse/dependence
    • sexual deviance
    • manipulative suicide gestures
    • other impulsive behaviors
  4. Interpersonal relationships
    • intolerance of aloneness
    • abandonment, engulfment, annihilation fears
    • counterdependency
    • stormy relationships
    • manipulativeness
    • dependency
    • devaluation
    • masochism/sadism
    • demandingness
    • entitlement

The DIB-R is the most influential and best-known “test” for diagnosing BPD. Use of it has led researchers to identify four behavior patterns they consider peculiar to BPD: abandonment, engulfment, annihilation fears; demandingness and entitlement; treatment regressions; and ability to arouse inappropriately close or hostile treatment relationships.

DSM-IV criteria

The DSM-IV gives these nine criteria; a diagnosis requires that the subject present with at least five of these. In I Hate You — Don’t Leave Me! Jerold Kriesman and Hal Straus refer to BPD as “emotional hemophilia; [a borderline] lacks the clotting mechanism needed to moderate his spurts of feeling. Stimulate a passion, and the borderline emotionally bleeds to death.”

Traits involving emotions:

Quite frequently people with BPD have a very hard time controlling their emotions. They may feel ruled by them. One researcher (Marsha Linehan) said, “People with BPD are like people with third degree burns over 90% of their bodies. Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement.”

1. Shifts in mood lasting only a few hours.

2. Anger that is inappropriate, intense or uncontrollable.

Traits involving behavior:

3. Self-destructive acts, such as self-mutilation or suicidal threats and gestures that happen more than once

4. Two potentially self-damaging impulsive behaviors. These could include alcohol and other drug abuse, compulsive spending, gambling, eating disorders, shoplifting, reckless driving, compulsive sexual behavior.

Traits involving identity

5. Marked, persistent identity disturbance shown by uncertainty in at least two areas. These areas can include self-image, sexual orientation, career choice or other long-term goals, friendships, values. People with BPD may not feel like they know who they are, or what they think, or what their opinions are, or what religion they should be. Instead, they may try to be what they think other people want them to be. Someone with BPD said, “I have a hard time figuring out my personality. I tend to be whomever I’m with.”

6. Chronic feelings of emptiness or boredom. Someone with BPD said, “I remember describing the feeling of having a deep hole in my stomach. An emptiness that I didn’t know how to fill. My therapist told me that was from almost a “lack of a life”. The more things you get into your life, the more relationships you get involved in, all of that fills that hole. As a borderline, I had no life. There were times when I couldn’t stay in the same room with other people. It almost felt like what I think a panic attack would feel like.”

Traits involving relationships

7. Unstable, chaotic intense relationships characterized by splitting (see below).

8. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment

  • Splitting: the self and others are viewed as “all good” or “all bad.” Someone with BPD said, “One day I would think my doctor was the best and I loved her, but if she challenged me in any way I hated her. There was no middle ground as in like. In my world, people were either the best or the worst. I couldn’t understand the concept of middle ground.”
  • Alternating clinging and distancing behaviors (I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me). Sometimes you want to be close to someone. But when you get close it feels TOO close and you feel like you have to get some space. This happens often.
  • Great difficulty trusting people and themselves. Early trust may have been shattered by people who were close to you.
  • Sensitivity to criticism or rejection.
  • Feeling of “needing” someone else to survive
  • Heavy need for affection and reassurance
  • Some people with BPD may have an unusually high degree of interpersonal sensitivity, insight and empathy

9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

This means feeling “out of it,” or not being able to remember what you said or did. This mostly happens in times of severe stress.

Miscellaneous attributes of people with BPD:

  • People with BPD are often bright, witty, funny, life of the party.
  • They may have problems with object constancy. When a person leaves (even temporarily), they may have a problem recreating or remembering feelings of love that were present between themselves and the other. Often, BPD patients want to keep something belonging to the loved one around during separations.
  • They frequently have difficulty tolerating aloneness, even for short periods of time.
  • Their lives may be a chaotic landscape of job losses, interrupted educational pursuits, broken engagements, hospitalizations.
  • Many have a background of childhood physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or physical/emotional neglect.

Mapping Your System
by Sara Lambert

Two words used frequently by multiples to describe their experience of MPD, especially early in the healing journey, are chaos and confusion. Many are skeptical when they are told that everything about their inner self-system was designed for a logical reason. But in fact it is true in most cases that the systems of multiples are masterworks of mental engineering. Some are highly regimented, with strict rules about communication and co-existence that maintain the boundaries of awareness and so keep the system safe; others are an incomprehensible jumble that allows no-one to figure out how it all fits together and functions – again, the purpose is to keep the system safe.

By creating a map of the system, a multiple (and her therapist) can come to under-stand that there is a method to the apparent madness, and can learn how to work with that method. One word of caution about maps: because the primary mission of multiple systems is safety, exposing the names, conditions, whereabouts, and means of communicating with the inner selves may feel just too dangerous to some at this time. It is important each person respects their own needs around safety and secrecy. If an inner self does not feel ready to have his/her name put down on paper, then s/he should be allowed to remain anonymous for the time being. Creating a map is not about doing “the right thing” or as a type of therapy homework. It is about YOU getting a better sense of yourselves. There are many ways of creating a map, and it’s a matter of finding the appropriate one for you.

MAKE A BOOK OF YOUR SELVES: Write about each of your selves on separate pages and bind them together. You could use a scrapbook, exercise book, photo album, or make a book with an elegant cover. You could have colored paper or card which you have spiral-bound at your local copy center (for a cost of about $4) – you may choose a different color for each part/ person/page. You might have dividers between the sections of children, teens and adults. Suggestions of what to write about your selves include – their name, why they were born, their skills, hobbies, favorite things, and a photo or drawing of them. Each self may wish to create his/her own page, although they may leave space for other inner selves and outside friends to add appreciative comments about them.

YOUR INNER HOUSE: If your internal world is constructed as a house, you could draw a layout of the rooms. Each self could describe their room in words, drawings, or clipouts from magazines like “Home & Garden.” The decor of each room could be an indicator of the personality and preoccupations of the person who lives there. The position of the room in the house (eg, in the attic or the space under the stairs) could also provide clues about the occupant’s position in your system. You may discover that corridors, doorways, and windows in your house represent the lines of communication in your system. If this is so, then redesigning your house could be a good metaphorical way to open new access to different selves.

THE LAYERS OF YOU: This exercise is especially good for those who have large, complex systems. Using sheets of transparent paper, draw each layer of your system on separate pages and then bind them together. Each self may be represented by a symbol, and their various relationships with other selves may be denoted by different types of lines (i.e., solid, dashed, dotted, colored).

DRAW A PIE CHART: This design helps emphasize the fact that all are part of the whole. Some questions you may want to think about as you draw the chart include – what is at the heart, are the segments colored, how thick are the boundaries between segments and around the edge of the circle? Co-centric circles of different colors could indicate life experiences. This exercise may not be possible for people with polyfragmented systems.

MAKE A COLLAGE: Sort through magazines and photo albums to find images representing each of your selves and/or the emotions, behaviors, or tasks they have. You could also include drawings, symbols, pieces of fabric and things like leaves or pressed flowers. Like the pie chart, a collage provides a single image of the multi-faceted whole. Once you have completed your collage, you could have it laminated and framed.

CONSTRUCT A FAMILY TREE: You may wish to do a family tree in the traditional manner, where it branches down from the point alter selves split from the birth child, and then further as new selves split from the first group. Alternatively, your tree could spread upwards, with the birth child as a seed from which the tree of yourselves grew, the roots being the first selves, the branches being those selves which were subsequently split off from those selves.

MAKE A JIGSAW: There are a couple of ways you could do this. One is to enlarge a photograph of yourself and then cut it in pieces, each piece representing an individual self. You could write their details on the back of the piece, or illustrate their qualities in some way (eg, with color) on the picture side. Or you could cut a large sheet of card into pieces and draw your own designs, significant of different selves, on each piece. You can reassemble the pieces immediately to see the big picture of how you all look together; otherwise, you can put the pieces back together again over time as each self tells its story or begins communicating with you.

DESIGN A MANDALA: Start by drawing a constellation of your selves, each indicated by a point, then join them with lines representing balance compensation, communication, heritage, or other types of relationship.

PHOTO COPIES: For this you need a photograph of yourself, sheets of white tissue paper, turps, and a rag. Lay the tissue paper on a hard surface. Do an enlarged photocopy the photo and place it face down on the tissue paper and rub its back hard with a turps-soaked cloth. Do this for about a minute. See if the image has transferred by gently peeling back one corner of the photocopy. The result should be layers of images on each of the sheets of tissue paper, representative of your layered selves.

MAKE A LIST: Some people’s systems are too complex and fragmented to map. Writing a list of names may be the only feasible option.

A mystery is something that is a puzzle because there is no reasonable explanation for it.

DID,(Dissociative Identity Disorder),is not a puzzle in this sense – it is the most reasonable, normal and practical way of dealing with something so hard for a mind to grasp that it has to create a way to cope with and handle it.

For example, if we are standing on the sidewalk and see a car crash into another vehicle resulting in gory and massive injury to the occupants, it is perfectly normal to block the scene out of consciousness. This is a normal reaction and often happens, to refuse what the eyes are seeing and the ears are hearing because to retain such trauma consciously is too much to think about. We deny it, shut it out, block out any memory or thought of it – all these are ways our minds try to cope with something far beyond our ordinary experience.

This example is talking about a trauma that is NOT connected to us personally. Let’s bring it into the personal arena.

It is documented that the cause of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), is extreme sustained abuse ( physical, sexual, emotional and psychological , usually a combination of all four) over a prolonged period of time. Usually beginning before the age of five and often occuring in infancy.

However, DID can actually occur because of one incident, e.g. a particularly vicious rape, or finding a loved one after their murder or suicide, which, if the person’s ability to cope with such horrific events is extraordinary low, it can cause them to dissociate to forget, and the mind creates another entity, alter/part, ego state, to keep the event out of consciousness.

DID is the presence of two or more distinct personalities within one body.

I would like to add here that there is NO automatic assumption that DID crtiteria must include sexual abuse for dissociation to occur. For those who present with symptoms and behaviors of multiplicity from sustained abuse and who might be confronted with needing to admit to sexual abuse or be delegatd to a fictitious or malingering desire to be called Multiple, it behoves us as therapists to focus on what the client is telling us.

Sustained abuse of ANY kind where the severity of the abuse in a single traumatic event, and/ or the length the abuse is sustained can cause the mind to dissociate to survive and will result in multiplicity.

It does grievous disservice to those seeking help for DID , and indeed, creates a magnification of their dilemma if focus is put on one kind of abuse be it sexual trauma, criminal neglect, or emotional abuse where absence of such history would put the diagnosis in question.

When I was in practice whether the client was mulitple or mono, I was not interested in a criteria for the diagnosis. For me, good therapy is all about the CLIENT’s agenda, not the Therapist’s thoughts, preconceived ideas, stereotyping or textbook theories.
Definitely not in a label or tag plastered on by a code in the DSM IV.
What I have learned about Multiplicity has been far more from my clients and DID friends than from any text book.

My main objective in this DID section focuses on cult-related issues and healing, but we cannot afford to OMIT an equally important FACT, that DID can have its origins in non-cult, and cult- associated sexual abuse.

It is hardly a mystery, but rather very logical, that in the case of severe and unbelievable ritual abuse of a child that continues for years, in the home and/or in a cult setting of any fanatical persuasion, a young child traumatized and having noone to turn to or trust, will look for ways to stay alive psychologically, emotionally and physically.

The only safe place for the child to hide because there is nowhere that cannot be reached in the outside world is to go deep within him/herself and create a friend in thought to take his/her place during the abuse. To, in one sense, pretend, ” it isn’t happening to me, and my little friend will protect and step in for me”.

We have all at one time or another, when something momentous occurs that we simply cannot face, e.g. we lose all our possessions in a fire, or earthquake, say to ourselves, ” This isn’t happening to me” – but in fact, it IS.

I have done this more than once, it is a common phenomenon. Do we become abnormal when our experience of abuse exceeds a certain level ? Those of us who think we are normal and people with DID are in some way defective, need to search ourselves and ask what difference is there between us ? When we dissociate, as we do, in times of extreme adversity, if we bide by this concept, then we become as “abnormal” as anyone with DID – the variable being that we do not have to dissociate over a long period of time, which we would do if that is our lot. It is the time and severity that distingishes between me and my DID friend if I have one.
Let us not deceive ourselves in this and think it not so.

For the person with DID,raised in a cult environment, (satanic/sadistic abuse), not once, but over and over and over, when the body is being beaten or tortured along with verbal abuse and emotional starvation and other extremes of deprivation, or when having to witness others being treated this way, (including watching sacrificed babies, children, adults and animals), the child, and/or adult who experiences this, will, instead of saying, “This isn’t happening to me”, very creatively deal with the unthinkable by shutting down and dissociate everything from conscious thought and awareness.

In this state of dissociation, another part of him/her, takes over to be present during the abuse and the more this part does this, the more established he/she becomes as an alter personality who thinks, behaves and feels in their own individual way.

This is logical, is it not, that there would be differences in these parts or alters, because if they were exactly the same as the host, or original person, there would be no need for anyone to take their place !! Their contribution to the life and survival of the host person cannot be measured.

In my mind, people with DID are a lot more ” normal” that those of us who are monos, who deal with our traumas in most UNcreative ways.

We use denial, we repress anger/rage, hurt, pain, squash memories, lash out at others because we won’t deal with our own “stuff”, so we, instead of creating safe measures and acknowledge we have things too much for us, jump to a conclusion that anyone with DID is abnormal, and has some strange mysterious disease or condition because they ARE, in fact, dealing with extra-ordinary suffering.

The myth that no abuse is severe or extreme enough to cause a mind to fragment in dissociation is, in my mind, the worst damage done to someone with DID.

It is when we, as therapists, as relatives and friends of these normal, sane and creative people, WAKE UP to the fact that we MAKE a mystery out of normal (documented) reaction to prolonged and extreme stress, terror and trauma that we will be in the place to help and treat such folk with respect and understanding.

We will learn how wonderful is the human resilience to pain and suffering, and bring awareness to the general public in an effort to stop this vicious mirage where society thinks it sees craziness,weirdness, and unreasonable behaviors, which, if it came close enough to touch, would be as unsubstantial as a mirage. The reality, substance and TRUTH could then be embraced in such a way as to heal and give the sufferers Hope.

Retired Therapist