Thursday, January 20, 2011


Dissociation is a common psychological defense or unconscious coping strategy of the mind. At it's most extreme, there is the phenomena of multiple personality disorder which is really quite rare. In comparison, the fairly common experience of deja vu may in fact be a form of dissociative experience.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is commonly associated with dissociation. Out of body experiences are also dissociative phenomena. The traumatic experience is seen to cause a person to enter and altered state. If this defensive removal of self to the other not being traumatized, away from the trauma into a compartmentalized self or other worldly self were to persist and develop another actual 'person' might occur.
In alcoholism and drug addiction there appears to be a dissociative phenomena occurring as expressed in the 'doctor jeckel and mr hyde' character. The person who had an addiction will experience a sense of not being themselves. They might indeed say "I'm not myself." A person in rage may have a similar sense of loss of self, the 'self' being the central and original cohesive person.
In treatment of addiction it's been helpful to refer to the addicted 'self' as the 'addict'.
In trauma, two identities can develop, the traumatized and not . If more develop this can give give rise to different genders and persons of different ages in the full blown multiple personality disorder.
In those who had dissociated in the act of sexual abuse there is commonly a vistigial person who is the age of the actual trauma. The experience of trauma may cause a person to 'lose the child' that was and become the 'adult' with the child persisting in a compartmentalized form and not growing up. With adult hood such individuals commonly have unconscious and uncontrollable childish behaviours and regressions. Therapy expedites the process and connects the two 'states'. "Persons", "states", "alters" have all been terms used by various people to describe the actual phenomena. Dr. Colin Ross in his classic, Dissociative Identity Disorder uses the latest words which have a common acceptance in the medical community. The term "multiple personality disorder' having been replaced by the more accurate term "Dissociative Identity Disorder."
The key is that an actual full 'identity' may not develop but only a vestigial aspect. For instance it's commonly said that an 'adult is acting like a child' or they sound they are 30 years going on 5 years old.
Emotional development is often arrested in trauma so that in recovery and therapy a person who may have stopped developing in child hood or adolescence will slowly regain the emotional maturity consistent with their biological age. A balanced well developed person doesn't stop being a child or having the capacity to act like a child or enjoy life in a child like way. Its just that in this person the adult person can choose when this is appropriate. It doesn't occur in an unconscious way driven by some trigger such as an adult challenge where fear is experience but expressed as anger and the experience of out of control in such a scenario throws one back to the developmental stage of the trauma or the point of maturity achieved in addressing the trauma. Because of the compartmentalization of identity and the warding off of the conscious encounter with the fear associated with the experience of trauma overall such people are limitted in their learning and commonly have difficulty with concentration and memory.
The computer with it's hard drive and ram are marvellous models for understanding the dissociative phenomena. If a hard drive is segmented and various identities are like a partitioned ram the computer owner will have less energy and computer power left because at any time the whole of the hard drive and ram can't be brought together in the dissociated individual.

At the simplest phobias are a form of dissociation where a person who has had an accident such as being caught in an elevator failure develops intense fear and panic in elevators. This panic and fear is not from being in a functional elevator today but rather because the intense fear engendered by the accidents breaks through from memory into the present.

Dissociative is worst where there has been extreme violence or childhood sexual trauma especially penetration with threats to family if disclosure.

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1 comment:

haykind said...

Thanks, Susan, for pointing out the epidemiological inaccuracy which Ive corrected.