Let start with a definition: A psychological defense mechanism in which specific, anxiety-provoking thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations are separated from the rest of the psyche. Dissociation can cause/be a state of acute mental decompensation (deterioration of mental health in person with previously maintained psychiatric illness/system functionality, leading to a diminished ability to think and carry on daily activities) in which certain thoughts, emotions, sensations, and/or memories are compartmentalized because they are too overwhelming for the conscious mind to integrate.

That’s pretty broad but it covers most of the bases. From here on the discussion deals with Multiples (w/trauma histories) and how dissociation effects/drives their life experiences. I will use ‘selves’ instead of ‘person/people’ in an attempt to be therapist friendly. NOTE: These are personal views w/extensive reading in the field.

Dissociation in a multiple has a great many faces, but for most it’s the mechanism which keeps the separation of selves, it does not ‘make’ the selves. Usually it’s not a deliberate use of the coping skill by multiples. Where there was trauma it was used when no other coping mechanism was available due to age and development. The nasty thing about dissociation; it becomes addictive and unlike alcohol, which is easy to identify as an addictive agent, dissociation can use itself to mask and hide it’s own use. It’s like putting a mirror up to another, it spirals into what can become a never ending cascade of dissociative moments. It’s a life that never really quite stays in the present, not a poor me broken, but a generally functioning person that skips across the surface like a flat stone.

If there’s been trauma to cause the dissociation it’s going to grow on itself to keep that trauma separate from the selves. That was the original purpose, sequester the threat to self so you (which ever self is present at the time of trauma) can survive. The catch, it’s never just used once, because trauma has the wicked side effect of being triggered in the present. Which means the reuse of dissociation to keep the new ‘threat’ sequestered and thus the spiral. Add more trauma to this whirlpool and you have a stew of trauma base dissociative stock. The selves start using dissociation to cope and keep the constant threat at bay only to find there’s no solid ground, no where that’s actually linear present.

We, as a multiples, walk into a therapist office for ‘help’ dealing with some perceived disfunction and all hell breaks in the above system of selves’ established protection. If you have no clue you’re even multiple, sadly you’re probably in for retraumatization from a mental health system that will marginalize and at times flat out re-abuse you in order to keep their own world view status quo. Society’s need to keep persons who’ve experienced trauma outside (societal dissociation) only serves to encourage continual dissociation to protect the selves from threat in the present while the past continues to loop. Added to that is the average therapist who has only a general knowledge of dissociation, it falls on the multiple to educate themselves and their therapist more times then not. At best therapists are laboring under the over used example of driving a car and getting to your destination without being present. Quaint, but doesn’t really cover the complexity of dissociation that’s used to hold a multiple systems in its centrifugal motion. This gets even more dangerous if the therapist has bought into the back-lash FMS community speak.

Somewhere in all the above is the hope that said multiple figures out the whirlpool they’ve been living in has a name. Name it and you have half a chance of getting a grip on something solid to build a co-op between the selves. Also the possibility of finding a therapist willing to take the journey through the mentally challenging work of entering the waters of dissociation without blaming the multiple is often dicey.

Jumping from Dissociation–201 to 404s.

You’ve figured out you’re multiple, that now becomes your base, you walk back into a therapist’s office looking to deal with the blow-out of your centrifugal motion. We’ll make it a given that this new therapist is willing to work with a multiple client. Unless this therapist has worked some years in the field of DID, they probably haven’t experienced working with the level of dissociation you as a multiple are bringing. Still if they’ve worked with PTSD and trauma they’ve at least had exposure to dissociation. What they might not have ever grasped is the degree to which this one coping mechanism can feed off itself and mutate. They run the risk of being overwhelmed and burnt out by the degree to which their own capacity to witness and redirect the selves is sorely tested.

Dissociation is hard to wade through, it can make a therapist ‘crazy’ if it isn’t recognized up front as the coping skill being used. A multiple who’s never had a chance to learn and use anything else can set up hazards lights all over the place so that all they and the therapist see is reflections of bright lights. Remember these hazard lights are there to keep the system safe. It takes patience, understanding and (gentle but firm) confrontation on the part of the therapist to help the selves first see there’s a possibility of safety without dissociating. This is by no means an easy task and will not happen without work by both parties building a foundation of the most basic trust.

When trauma causes the use of dissociation it’s going to be entangled in everything. It will be part of the selves personal use and part of the system’s architecture. There will be layer upon layer of dissociated material/history. The idea is to keep the trauma buried, to protect the perpetrator at all cost (not consciously). So any attempt to circumvent the dissociation will cause a scramble to set up new walls/road blocks or more trance to forget. Not forget as in not remember, but as in ‘put away’ because it shouldn’t be seen.

If severe trauma through torture was experienced the selves have probably been conditioned to never seek each other’s councel. The difference in this dissociation of the selves is a deliberate use of the mechanism to keep actual selves from ever communicating. The idea is if they never hear each other’s history they will never be able to tell enough to be believed, they will never ‘know’ themselves. Getting these selves to tell their history ‘together’ is one way to break through the dissociative separation of selves. Not toward integrating selves but simply the communication between selves. For example: Mary experiences the putting of vile things into her vagina, there’s a switch of selves, Jane is now present for the emptying of her vagina of vile things and she is promptly told it’s proof of her being evil. If the two never speak the truth of what was done, a realization of the lie/abuse won’t be possible. Dissociation keeps the selves experiencing the world and events in black and white thinking, it keep them from knowing the truth.

Dissociation has to be ‘given up’ as a primary coping skill, which means learning to live with the ambiguities of life, no easy change. This takes time and work, guided through repetition of confrontation, questioning and a realignment of the selves toward a position of cooperation for ‘the greater good’ of the system. The therapist’s task (should they accept) is to provide a safe place to ‘tell,’ to be a compassionate witness and partner in the journey through the past and present, as well as be strong enough to withstand the crashing waves, of reenactment of past trauma, with the benevolent power of sand. Of course there’s more to the therapeutic relationship and hopefully that’s already been covered in the training and experience of the therapist taking said journey.

So that’s my first installment. Questions & comments welcome.



13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Susan Kramss
    Jul 11, 2010 @ 17:55:21

    I was DID w/9 selves after multiple traumas from childhood into adulthood. Each had a specific strength or weakness and would come out in responce to preceived attacks (mental, emotional or physical). Yes indeed, life had became too much to cope with back then. BPD didn’t help. I hated “me”. In time, with the help of a wonderful therapist I began putting the pieces of my shattered psyche together again, although one or two remained as constant companions (just pushed back quietly into the rhelms of my mind).

    My beings included the core (a Sandra Dee), a female James Dean type teen,
    a shrink (male), a lawyer (you always need one of those and the retainments fees were free), a mystical “sensitive” prone to encounter with the paranormal, a sentinel, a victim, the hulk like demon (violent and out to destroy the others) and the Diva (move over Joan Crawford).

    Years later while in remission, slowly recovering from 20 years of confusion, craziness and pain I began writing an autobiograpy of my life and experiences. In doing so, one by one I saw how each “being” emerged (when, why, the source of its conception). Each was a part of me in one small way or another, yet, in a moment of anxiety, stress or adversity it became amplified so much so it pushed the “others” into the background leaving them helpless.

    My doctor knew me and my “beings” all too well. He appropriately responded to each as an individual while helping me to understand the “whys” of the condition. By the way, I’m still happily married after 30 years. BPD & DID does not have to be the demise of a relationship if you find the right one.

    Alone a being could be strong, able to cope and confront any situation without the weaknesses of the others getting in its way. Often would either lead to triumphs, something that felt good for the moment, but being as insecure and lost as I was by nature, I could not credit myself for the others achievements. Or it would lead to humiliating failures, and an ocassional fugue which was really weird, not only for me, but those who witnessed it. I had been brought up by a BPD who taught me that I was either capable of running the country, winning an oscar or nobel prize, being admired for charms and beauty I didn’t see OR I was an unlovable creature that caused pain and suffering to all I met. Never once in between.

    Unlike current theories that the therapist creates the beings in working with the patient, mine were all in place long before I knew the meaning of the word or sought help.

    I am now recovered and reintegrated. Although, one person asked me how I know which I had to admit was a difficult question to answer other than – I just know. Will it last? You tell me.


    • moreheads
      Jul 11, 2010 @ 19:33:54

      Thanks for reading and leaving your comment. Always good to hear from folks. That you have had a positive journey is always encouraging.

      I wouldn’t even begin to tell you if your integration will last. It’s such an individual thing. Which is why I get annoyed at what is out there as treatment standards. If you feel all put together and whole then you go with that, totally run with it and live life to your fullest!

      Thank you again for the time you spent posting.



  2. Splinteredones
    Jul 11, 2010 @ 19:26:24

    Nice treatment hon.


  3. Anne Pratt, Ph.D.
    Jul 11, 2010 @ 19:41:37

    Wow! What a great explanation for the beginner, or even for those of us with long experience. I liked your focus on cooperation as the goal of treatment; too many times, folks with DID have heard that the only way to get well is “integration,” which often feels abhorrent to the system.

    I’ve never held the belief that integration needs to be the goal, unless it is the individual’s wish. It just wasn’t the wish of any of the people with DID with whom I’ve worked!

    I think this blog is going to be a great one!



    • moreheads
      Jul 11, 2010 @ 21:22:42

      Thanks Ann, for the comment and the encouragement.

      We’ve never felt integration would work for our system, but we’ve met folks who have pulled it off. Like you said they had to want it, if not then “healthy” seems to have to be a well rounded co-operation.



  4. Anne Pratt, Ph.D.
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 03:46:22

    I have met people who say they are integrated. But all of my clients felt that integration meant death for insiders, or “getting rid” of them. And that never felt like a goal to them.



    • Wounded Genius
      Jul 12, 2010 @ 07:05:44

      BTW – to be “on topic” – I wouldn’t mind some level of integration.. a lessening of numbers perhaps. More control over some parts behaviours but I think its normal to feel that “getting rid of” parts would be seen as a terrible loss as they feel so real and still “part” of the whole.

      Perhaps the issue is that therapists (even trauma specialists) have a hard time communicating what this means for the individual. I remember taking extreme offense at being told that parts are “fiction” that must be “gotten rid of”. And that by someone who works with DIDers every day.



      • moreheads
        Jul 12, 2010 @ 08:14:05

        Our present talk-doc tried to encourage folks in our system to accept being nothing more then “aspects” of one mind. She’s since changed that thinking once she realized it was hardly helping our therapeutic alliance.

        We’d love for some of the really negative folk in our system to maybe get more positive, but rid of, not so much.

  5. Wounded Genius
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 07:02:49


    I loves a shiny new blog. Looking forward to reading your stuff here MV!



  6. Anne Pratt, Ph.D.
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 13:42:02

    The least-separate person I know who clearly had parts, but always had co-consciousness, felt no need for integration at all. She still can access one of her littles, but after the memories were worked through, it seemed the need for more voices/insiders was just not there. She feels she could access them if need be.

    But, as I said, she was never all that separated to begin with.


    • moreheads
      Jul 12, 2010 @ 21:16:05


      Those I’ve met who integrated did so as the need for sepretness left and also their selves were not very defined to start with. So true death or “getting rid” of selves does not feel right. We also have no “host” in our system so integrating “into” one wouldn’t really work out.


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