Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder

I recently ran across information online about Separation Anxiety Disorder, which is a panic/anxiety disorder that afflicts adults.  I was really surprised to read about the variety of symptoms included within the disorder, all of which are related to the core issue: a fear of being alone or abandoned.

Here is the DSM IV criteria for Separation Anxiety Disorder:

A. Developmentally inappropriate and excessive anxiety concerning separation from home or from those to whom the individual is attached, as evidenced by three (or more) of the following: 

  1. Recurrent excessive distress when separation from home or major attachment figures occurs or is anticipated. 
  2. Persistent and excessive worry about losing, or about possible harm befalling, major attachment figures. 
  3. Persistent and excessive worry that an untoward event will lead to separation from a major attachment figure(e.g.; getting lost or being kidnapped). 
  4. Persistent reluctance or refusal to go to school or elsewhere because fear of separation.  
  5. Persistent and excessively fearful or reluctant to be alone or without major attachment figures at home or without significant adults in other settings. 
  6. Persistent reluctance or refusal to go to sleep without being near a major attachment figure or to sleep away from home. 
  7. Repeated nightmares involving the theme of separation. 
  8. Repeated complaints of physical symptoms (such as headaches, stomach aches, nausea, or vomiting) when separation from major attachment figures occurs or is anticipated. 
B. The duration of the disturbance is at least 4 weeks. 
C. The onset is before age 18 years. 
It's strange how much I identify with this disorder.  Every symptom could have been written specifically about me.  I'm going to outline a little about how this disorder impacts my life. 
I suffer from a fairly frequent fear of being kidnapped and forced to be isolated from my significant other.  I also fear that he will be killed or will be taken away from me through a variety of scenarios (some more peculiar than others).  I'm afraid he will meet someone else and leave me because he will like them more than me or find them more interesting. 
When he has to go anywhere for any reason for any length of time my immediate response is to panic.  A million scenarios run through my head.  He has to go visit his grandma in the nursing home and my brain goes on panic overdrive: he likes his grandma more than me, he'd rather see her than see me, he just wants to get out of the house and be away from me, there might be a cute nurse there and she could be better than me and they could have an affair and maybe he'll never come home at all or maybe his car will wreck and he'll get amnesia, what if I am kidnapped while he's gone and he can't find me?  It's silly and outside of the moment I can identify it as silly, but in the moment the fears feels very real and very valid.  
My separation anxiety also causes me to miss out on doing things I would otherwise enjoy.  I will avoid scheduling things for times when my significant other is at home, even if the overlap is less than an hour.  I can't stand reducing the amount of time we have to spend together by even a few minutes.  If there is a scheduling change for either of us, I panic.  If I feel that he had control over the change and scheduled something during a time when we could have been together I get frustrated and accusatory.  I panic and I behave irrationally.  
Over the last three years, I have spent a total of maybe 15 nights away from my significant other.  Those nights I couldn't sleep.  I laid in bed and cried.  I felt like he had abandoned me.  I felt like he didn't love me anymore and didn't care that we were apart. 
And that brings me to one of the major issues I struggle with.  Because I place such importance on being together, when he does not show signs of separation anxiety when I'm not around I feel betrayed, unloved, undervalued.  By my (flawed) logic: I love him and want to be with him, so I'm devastated when he's not around.  He's not devastated when I'm not around (he's not even bothered!), so how can he love me?  Does he even like me?  Maybe he never wanted to be with me at all!
And this is the trap of Separation Anxiety Disorder.  The more you try to make the person like/love you, the more you push them away and the reason for this is simple: to this other person, there is no issue.  You are fighting a war in your head that doesn't really exist.  It's as simple as that, but it's a damn hard lesson to learn.  The reason he doesn't care when I'm not around is because it doesn't matter to him, not because he doesn't like me or love me or want to spend time with me, but because he does not share my fear that significant people might not return once they leave.  From his perspective, since he knows I will always come back he is fine.  Why shouldn't he be fine?  He is secure in our love and attachment, he has no reason to believe my departure would or could mean anything other than that I have something in my schedule, so he finds something to do on his own and is just as happy as a clam.  When I return home it's as if nothing has even happened, because nothing has happened, separations and reunions are a natural, normal part of life. 
People with Separation Anxiety Disorder have a reason to feel the way that they do, they have a reason to fear abandonment.  Many adults with this disorder were once neglected, abused and abandoned kids.  They were hurt or not protected by the people they trusted.  The important thing to remember is that other people have not had the same experiences and thus do not feel the same way.  Adults who have had healthy relationships (particularly in childhood with their parents) are not afraid of being left alone.  Their fundamental beliefs about the world are different from those of people with separation anxiety.   Accepting and understanding this is the first step at overcoming the disorder. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Why My Parts Are So Young

I'm constantly mulling things over in my brain and trying to decipher my parts and my past.  Since I have dissociative amnesia, I have very little information of the abuse and my childhood to work with, but recently I realized why all my parts are so young (11 and younger).

I believe the abuse ended at age 9.  I don't know this for sure as I have virtually no memories whatsoever, but I tend to believe this is the case based on a number of factors.  At age 9 we suddenly moved to a new house and I was taken out of school to be home schooled, both with little to no explanation as to my parents' motivation for these decisions.  This was also the age when I began self harming the most (although I had definitely done so many times prior to 9).  In general, 9 stands out in my mind as a significant year for me despite my near complete lack of memories.

What I believe happened is that all childishness was pushed aside during the abuse.  I hid away everything that made me a child and I behaved as an adult.  I took care of myself, took care of my sister, handled my own emotions and I had to be very mature.  I remember thinking a number of times throughout my childhood that I was not really a child, that people just thought I was a child.  I also remember pretending to be more childish so that people would not realize how "weird" I was.  For example, I would pretend to play childish games when adults were in the room and as soon as they left I would play torture and abuse games or just completely dissociate.

So, when I was 9 years old and we moved, a lot of things changed: the abuse ended (though I could be wrong about that), I made friends with the neighbor kids, my sister was 3-4 and needed less constant care and could be more of a playmate, so I was finally given a chance to be a child.  That is not to say that I didn't suffer greatly throughout this time period.  I self harmed on a daily basis, I didn't sleep well, I had nightmares, anxiety, a lot of suffering and difficulty in a lot of ways, but I had a fair amount of time when the young parts could come out and be kids.

When I hit puberty just a month or so after my 12th birthday, these child parts were really shut down.  After just 3 years of experiencing the world as a child, I wasn't a kid anymore, I couldn't be a kid anymore, so I couldn't do kid things or play with kid toys.  There was this expectation that I would be older and so I felt compelled to meet this expectation.  When I didn't meet this expectation I was criticized and ridiculed by my mother.  This resulted in most of the child parts being stuffed down and only allowed out on rare occasions when adults weren't around and the situation was just right.

So as a result of this, I frequently feel a deep unrest at being 21.  Internally, I feel like a child.  I want to play.  I want to cuddle innocently.  I want the things that I didn't have as a child, because I never had a chance for those needs to be fulfilled.

So my parts are all kids, they're 11 or younger.  There seems to be a cluster of parts that slide around between 5-7 and another cluster that are 9-11.  There are also a few outliers that seem extremely young and a few that are hard to attach any age to because they are very guarded or come out very infrequently.

Having all these little kid parts is both very challenging and a lot of fun.  I imagine it's a lot like being transexual.  It's very painful when you are forced to pretend to be something you are not, but those times when you can truly be yourself results in great relief and deep happiness.

My child parts are allowed out now almost whenever they want, which I believe will help them grow up and find peace in the world.  But I don't want to rush them.  They were robbed of most of their childhood, if it takes them 10 or 20 years to have those needs fulfilled, they deserve that.  Forcing them to grow up didn't work in my childhood and it won't work now.  I love, appreciate, and sympathize with these parts.  They are children that never really got to be kids.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Dream: A Strange One

I couldn't think of anything to title this dream that wouldn't be triggering or just bizarre.  Here goes, I dreamt this last night:

(For: genitals, sexual acts, bodily fluids) 

There was an older man lounging on a couch and he pulled out his penis, but it was very very tiny, like freakishly small, about the size and thickness of a woman's thumb.  He asked me to give him a hand job and I really didn't want to and I was kind of disturbed and surprised, but he kept insisting, telling me to just touch it a little and he demonstrated how. 

Reluctantly I walked over and touched it.  He almost immediately orgasmed and when he did he ejaculated across the side of my head and over onto my back.  It was warm and I was really bothered by it. 

That's the end of the dream as far as I can remember. 

I find it strange, because the man had a little penis.  I've dreamt about men with freakishly large, frightening penises, but never a little tiny one.  I'm struggling to understand what the meaning of this dream could possibly be. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Key to Staying Present and Fighting Dissociation

The last few days have been phenomenal for me.  I've been working really hard at staying present in my mind, body, and emotions and I feel wonderful.  I've heard many times that staying present is the key to healing from dissociation, but none of the exercises for mindfulness ever really worked for me.  I was unable to get any more present no matter what I did.

Over the last few weeks I have discovered the key to staying present and fighting dissociation and it's acceptance.  When you've been falling back on dissociation as a primary coping technique for years, most, or even all of your life, it's very difficult to break out of that habit, because it's uncomfortable.  It's scary to not dissociate.

For me, the key to being able to break out of dissociation was simply acceptance.  It sounds so simple, but it's so much harder than it seems.  I thought I had accepted myself for a long time, but once I truly accepted myself I realized that what I felt before was just an illusion.

So here is a contract that I am subscribing myself to, I urge you to try to do the same.  The only way to feel safe and secure with being present is to accept everything that it entails, so here goes.

Starting now, I vow to put forth my greatest effort towards achieving and/or maintaining acceptance of myself.  This includes, but is not limited to the following acceptances:

  • I accept my emotions as necessary, healthy, and valid, even if those feelings are scary, painful, uncomfortable, negative, aggressive or intense.  
  • I accept that uncomfortable feelings will pass if I do not hold onto them. 
  • I accept my body as my own. 
  • I accept the sensations that go along with owning my body, even when they are painful, scary, uncomfortable, or sexual. 
  • I accept that negative sensations in my body are normal and will pass. 
  • I accept my past, both the things that I remember and the things that I have not yet remembered.  
  • I accept that the past was not my fault even if someone told me it was, even if I seemed to enjoy abuse or seemed to be acting of my own free will.  
  • I accept that I can have a happy and productive life despite my past. 
  • I accept all parts, alters, fragments, and dissociated pieces of myself as a valid and necessary part of my survival. 
  • I accept ownership for the experiences and emotions of all parts, alters, fragments, and dissociated pieces of myself. 
  • I accept that I will make mistakes and that's okay.  I am doing the best that I can.  If I don't know something or can't do something it is because I was not given the opportunity to learn it. 
  • I accept that I am a strong, lovable, beautiful person and no one and nothing can change that. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dream: Trapped in a House

For once I had a dream that probably won't be triggering to anyone, but just in case, it does feature some mild violence.

This was a couple of nights ago that I dreamt this and it was a very vivid and beautiful dream, despite horror elements:

I was trapped in a house by some omniscient sort of captor whose voice could occasionally be heard (this voice only captor is a recurrent concept for me) and there were a group of good guys and a huge group of bad guys, who were these strange bluish partially zombie, partially ghost people (another recurrent image). We had to fight them with these huge swords and kill them (also recurrent concept).

Well I fought a huge group of these bluish people that were in a large room that was like an auditorium of some sort.  I could hear people yelling in the adjacent room that it was full of these zombie-ghost children who were having their first communion.  A man from the other room did such a good job fighting the zombie-ghost people that he was rewarded by the omniscient captor.

He had this snow globe, which he opened up and more, larger pieces of snow were added to it and he closed it back up.  It was just a small reward of peace for doing a good job.  he flipped the snow globe over and it began to snow in real life.  Somehow we were within his snow globe, while at the same time he was holding it.

I walked outside to see the snow and it was so beautiful and peaceful.  it was a large field with some trees visible in the far distance and some small long mounds that were very strange sort of hills.  I started walking out into the snow despite the danger, because it seemed so beautiful and peaceful there.

A man was the only other person there and he told me that I shouldn't go, that it was too dangerous, but I wanted to anyway, so I did.

Once I was a good distance into the field these black shapes started becoming clear in the distance.  After a while I could see that they were black cows.  I got scared and started running towards another doorway into the house.  As I was just making it to the doorway one of the black cows bit me on the fingers and I kept pulling and pulling and eventually I got them free and got inside.

I know there was more to the dream before and after this, but that's all I remember now.  It was so strange and vivid.  I'm not sure what it could mean as of yet.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

DID 104 - Dissociative Identity Disorder Symptoms

**This is part 4 of an educational blog series I am writing about DID.  It is based on scientific research, my experience, and the experiences of others with DID. To view all posts in the series, click on the tag “educational” on the sidebar.**


This section is not intended to diagnose.  My motivation is to provide a detailed overview of symptoms of DID, which I will break down into smaller, more specific sections.  Everyone experiences DID/DDNOS in their own way.  For this reason, I have found that very detailed lists of symptoms are more beneficial than vague ones.  I have attempted to cover the majority of symptoms in each topic.  Let me know if you think any should be added. 

General Child Abuse Symptoms

These symptoms may be present during adulthood, childhood or both. 
  • Inability to trust
  • Feeling "worthless", "bad", "defective", or "damaged" 
  • Difficulty controlling or regulating emotions
  • Extremely compliant or extremely aggressive behavior (sometimes alternating between both) 
  • Fear, anxiety, withdrawal 
  • Lack of attachment to caregiver
  • Regressive behavior - acts younger than biological age 
  • Unusually adult behavior - acts with maturity or responsibility beyond what is typical for biological age
  • Frequent flinching, jumpiness
  • Inappropriate sexual knowledge or behavior 
  • Layered clothing, fear of being seen naked
  • Urinary tract or yeast infections (in children) 
  • Imagining or reenacting (with toys or own body) abuse scenarios
  • Stomach aches, nausea, illnesses without a known cause
  • Suicide attempts, suicidal ideation
  • Feeling that you want to die
  • Toilet problems or accidents
  • Self harm
  • Depression
  • Fear of the dark
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Attraction to movies, books, media about abuse
  • Sleep and eating disorders
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Flashbacks
Ritual Abuse Symptoms

Many individuals with DID were ritually abused.  These symptoms are common, but not entirely exclusive to ritual abuse.  Note that ritual abuse also includes extreme abuse and torture, which can occur outside of a cult or religion. 
  • Extreme distrust
  • Feeling "evil" 
  • Believing that you cause people to be "bad" or hurt you
  • Believing there is something foreign or evil inside of your body
  • Feeling that something terrible happened to you as a child, but you have no memory of the experience
  • Images, concepts, flashes, or dreams of sexual or physical violence or torture 
  • Disposition towards violent thought without the desire to act on it
  • Daydreaming or imagining traumatic situations 
  • Chunks of missing childhood memory or complete lack of childhood memory
  • Feeling that loved ones will be tortured, kidnapped, or killed
  • Fear that you will be suddenly taken away
  • Asking others to hurt or injure you 
  • Self harming, especially bizarre self harming 
  • Rectal bleeding 
  • Scars on body without memory of cause 
  • Fear or fixation on/of: knives, Halloween, blood, insects, medical procedures, ritual behavior, religious ceremonies, dolls, death, coffins, electricity, needles, baths or showers, extreme fear of mundane objects
  • Extreme reaction to dead animals
  • Fear in groups, avoidance of groups
  • Fear of being removed from bed at night
  • Head banging
  • Fear of using the bathroom or refusing to use the bathroom
  • Lack of emotional expression 
  • Intense shyness, inability to communicate with or relate to peers
  • Obsessed or addicted to escape techniques: drugs, alcohol, constant reading or watching movies, daydreaming
  • Joint pain, frequent limb dislocation or popping, cracking, etc in joints 
Dissociative Identity Disorder Symptoms

Individuals with DID will have some or all of the following symptoms.  
  • Amnesia/memory loss - any or all of the following: very little or no memory of childhood, gaps in childhood memory (not remembering school, home life, your parents, a particular family member, etc), losing periods of time in adulthood (not knowing where you were or what you were doing for minutes, hours, or days). 
  • Evidence of having done things you can't remember doing - finding writing or drawings you don't remember producing, items you don't remember buying, the dishes clean without remembering having done them, or being told you said something you can't remember saying. 
  • Derealization and depersonalization (will explain in next section) 
  • Feeling that you have self states or other personalities with partial, full, or no amnesia of what they do and say.
  • Having identifiably different sets of mannerisms, attitudes, beliefs, vocal styles or inflections, or feelings of age. 
  • Symptoms of abuse without memories of abuse 
  • Difficulty maintaining interest in a hobby, project, or job for more than a few days or weeks at a time
  • Absentmindedness, frequently forgetting what you are doing, dropping projects without even realizing you started them.
  • Frequent headaches and migraines 
  • Sudden experiences of intense emotion (especially anger, fear, and sadness) without a cause
  • Auditory hallucinations - hearing voices of alters or voices of abusers 
  • Periods where you feel, think, act, and talk like a child 
  • Jerks, spasms, or unexplainable seizures 
  • Unexplainable body pain
  • Feeling like you have two thought processes or that there are two or more people controlling your body or thoughts.
  • "Coming to" in conversations you did not know you were having or finding yourself doing things you didn't know you were doing
Derealization and Depersonalization Symptoms 

Derealization and depersonalization are on the dissociative spectrum.  Most people with DID and many people without experience some or many of these symptoms.  All dissociative disorders are caused by severe trauma, almost always during childhood. 
  • Feeling empty, soulless, non-human 
  • Feeling intoxicated, high, or in an altered state without the use of drugs or alcohol 
  • Feeling that your life will be cut short, sense of impending doom
  • Extreme fear and worry almost all the time
  • Dead eyes or a mile long stare
  • Full or partial loss of one or more senses (feeling physically numb, difficulty seeing, etc) 
  • Overstimulation - everything is too loud, irritating, painful, etc. 
  • Feeling as if you are walking on an uneven plane, each step feels lower or higher than the one before 
  • Poor concentration, feeling like you have ADD
  • Feeling as if you are going to have a heart attack, seizure, or stroke without having one
  • Shaking, hot flashes, difficulty breathing
  • Overanalyzing or over observing yourself 
  • Feeling as if you are seeing things from too far behind your eyes
  • Things appear foggy, blurry, flat, or two dimensional 
  • Feeling like you are in a movie or dream
  • Feeling or believing that you are invisible 
  • Inability to feel joy, excitement, or love 
  • Fearing that you will wake up in another reality, that your life is not your true life
  • Remembering things in third person
  • Disconnection from your body, not feeling like your body is a part of you
  • Believing you will feel disconnect forever, despite periods where you are not dissociative
  • Feeling paralyzed, unable to move or speak 
  • Feeling like someone is speaking for you or that your voice is not yours
  • Difficulty balancing, vertigo, dizziness, 
  • Feeling as if your physical orientation could suddenly change, gravity could suddenly switch, etc. 
  • Nothing feels as if it is yours, your belongings, bedroom, house, etc. feel unreal, foreign, or as if you don't own them
  • Feeling like you are running on auto-pilot 
  • Having moments of clarity where you suddenly feel more alive or turned on 
  • Feeling as if you don't exist when you're alone 

Please leave a comment or email me ( with any questions or comments. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Family Affair

This is something that most child abuse survivors can relate to: a crazy, messed up family.  It's been on my mind off and on throughout my healing journey that being "screwed up" seems to be a family affair.  But I guess it's these types of environments that create the proper breeding ground for abuse and dissociation.

Both of my mother's parents were/are dependent on drugs and/or alcohol.  At this point my maternal grandmother has disappeared and no one in my immediate family has heard from her years, so I'm not sure what her standing is with substance dependence.  During my childhood I remember seeing her drunk off her gourd, throwing pill after pill down her throat.  She eventually went to rehab, which seemed to actually do some good.  My maternal grandfather manages to get drunk at every family occasion, falling over or tumbling down stairs, acting like an idiot, the whole deal.  For this reason, I refuse to touch alcohol or drugs of any kind.  I don't want to risk it.

In my extended family, there are several children with severe problems.  Three siblings were severely neglected, one had all their baby teeth rot out of their head, a baby had raw skin in its fat folds from being neglected and never cleaned and he had fetal alcohol syndrome.  They told social services that their parents put cigarettes out on their bodies and hit them and that there was no food in the house, but they were not removed.  The oldest girl (about 5-6 at the time) showed many signs of sexual abuse.

These kids' father's father (confusing I know) was convicted of sexual assault and was accused by one of his daughters of sexually abusing his children, but it was not taken to court.  I was exposed to the three siblings mentioned earlier's father and father's father throughout my childhood on a regular basis.  I don't know if I was abused by them (my memories are hidden from me by dissociation/alters), but it wouldn't surprise me in the least.

Another child in my extended family was put into therapeutic foster care and threatened to kill her family, held knives to their throats, the whole deal, when she was only 8-9 years old.  She also shows signs of sexual abuse and reactive attachment disorder.

My brother has had experiences where he lost time, which were chucked up to unexplained seizures despite the fact that no medical cause was ever found.  My mom frequently jokes about her "other personality" having done or said something.  I'm not sure whether or not this is just a joke or if she's hinting at her own truth (I suspect the later).

Anyway, I could go on and on, but my point in a messed up, screwed up family is challenging and it's something that many child abuse survivor's face.  Having no "safe" family members is extremely stressful and the perfect breeding ground for dissociation.  Families like mine also show the importance of breaking the cycle of abuse.

I guess it makes me sad to not have the normal family experience that other people have.  Even abuse aside, it would have been nice to have a kindly grandmother or have my grandfather teach me to fish or go camping.  Instead, I lived in fear of everyone in my family and spent most of my childhood isolating myself for my own safety.  Sometimes I feel really alone in this even though I know many other abuse survivors feel this way too.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dream: Killing Abusers

Recently, I've had several dreams about my sister.  In the dreams, she always looks only vaguely like my sister and intellectually I "know" she is my sister during the dream, but I'm not sure whether or not she truly represents my sister.  I think it's possible she represents alters, myself as a child (she's 6 years younger than me), or perhaps even my best friend during childhood (we used to say we were twin sisters).

Regardless, I have been having many dreams about her for the last handful of months.

(For: molestation, violence)

I have also been having many dreams about killing people by smashing their head into the ground or beating their heads with objects.  I haven't been able to figure out what these dreams mean other than that they indicate some sort of repressed anger or rage. 

So anyway, last night I had a very upsetting dream:

I was sitting on a couch and to my right there were two men.  I saw this from the first person perspective, which is rare for me and everything was very clear, although I didn't recognize anything from my real life.  

The man farthest away from me on the couch had dark hair and I believe some stubble, he was probably around 40 or so years old.  A young girl walked over to the couch and stood in front of him, she was probably 9-11 years old and was wearing an old brown T-shirt that just barely covered her panties.  She looked very somber and didn't react to anything that happened throughout the dream, never speaking or exhibiting any sort of emotions. 

While I was sitting there on the couch, the man closest to me occasionally poked the other man in the face and looked angry.  The other man didn't really react and it took me several seconds to comprehend that the man farthest way was molesting the little girl and the man closest to me was poking him every time he touched her to try to get him to stop without saying anything out loud. 

When I looked over at the girl, I saw him rub her right thigh with his hand and then reach under the hem of her shirt and pull down the band of her panties.  He stuck two fingers between her legs. 

The details of this scene are extremely clear: the shape and appearance of the girl's body and genital area, the movement of his hands, the way he was touching her.  It's all still disturbingly clear. 

As soon as I saw what he was doing I started screaming at him to stop.  I don't know what I had in my hands, but it was something heavy and hard.  I started hitting him on the back of the head with it.  I kept hitting him until he died.  I took the girl out to the driveway and there were two men in a car.  I don't remember, but I must have recognized them or something, because I bashed the two of them in the head until they died. 

I can't remember much more of the dream, but I know I was trying to protect the girl and she didn't say anything and seemed catatonic. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

DID 103 - Dissociative Identity Disorder and Switching Personalities

**This is part 3 of an educational blog series I am writing about DID.  It is based on scientific research, my experience, and the experiences of others with DID. To view all posts in the series, click on the tag “educational” on the sidebar.**


One of the largest misunderstandings about DID are the symptoms.  Everyone has seen Hollywood movies like Sybil and TV shows like United States of Tara that hype up the disorder, seem to be real and ultimately cause a lot of confusion.  I urge you to wipe these preconceptions about the disorder out of your mind and act as if you know nothing of the symptoms of the disorder. 

DID is an extremely variable condition.  Everyone with DID has different numbers and types of alters, different experiences, levels of amnesia, and types of dissociation.  There is no mold to conform to, there is no right or wrong way to experience alters.  DID is vastly different for different people and that’s okay.  It’s a coping mechanism, a last resort, it’s not always going to look the same.  Sometimes it’s going to be confusing, disorganized, and chaotic.  

DID is a spectrum disorder and like any spectrum, there are people at both extremes as well as all the places in between.  If you or someone you know doesn’t fit where it seems like they should on the spectrum, don’t worry: there is no “normal” when it comes to DID. 

Do people with DID have no idea what their alters say or do when they come out? 

This is the most commonly represented symptom of DID in the media and unfortunately, it is extremely misleading.  There are some people with DID that always have full amnesia of what their alters do and say when they come out.  There are some people with DID who always remember what their alters do and say when they come out.  Most people with DID have a combination of both experiences as well as a more middle of the road experience where they are partially aware of their alters’ behavior without full memory or full amnesia.  This “middle ground” experience is the most common. 

Often, more than one part or alter is aware of what is going on and is influencing what is being said and done.  This can happen with or without the host personality or other alters’ awareness and is called co-consciousness. 

Just because an individual always knows some or all of what an alter said or did, does not mean they are faking or do not have DID.  This is a fairly common manifestation of the disorder. 

What is co-consciousness? 

Co-consciouness is when more than one part is aware of what is going on outside the body and is influencing the thoughts, actions, or emotions of the individual.  This experience can vary greatly from actually hearing the voices of the alter (internally or externally) or simply feeling their emotional presence as an “other”. 

Co-consciousness is the most common experience of alter personalities for many individuals with DID.  For others, achieving co-consciousness or more cooperative co-consciousness will be the goal of therapy.

Co-consciousness can feel like many other things.  Many individuals with DID live much of their lives without realizing the way they think and feel is not “normal”.  Sometimes it just feels like your emotions are not coming from you or when you speak your voice doesn’t sound like your voice.  Sometimes individuals with DID even feel like they cannot control their own bodies. 

How often do people with DID switch personalities? 

As with all aspects of DID, this depends greatly on the individual.  Some people with DID switch constantly.  Others switch very rarely.  It is not uncommon for individuals with DID as well as friends and family to be unaware of personality switches, especially if those switches are co-conscious and the host personality is present the majority of the time.   

Why do people with DID switch personalities? 

The most common reason someone with DID switches personalities is because of a trigger.  A trigger can be a word, phrase, emotion, situation, experience, or anything else that encourages a particular part to emerge.  Alters are usually created with a specific job in mind, which means that particular interactions are likely to cause particular alters to emerge.  For example, there may be an alter that deals with hostile interactions, an alter for school, or an alter for sex. 

A trigger may also be involuntary.  For example, a part that holds a trauma related to water may emerge every time an individual takes a shower. 

Alters may also come out against their will when they are forced out by other alters or when no other alters want to be on the outside.  It is also possible for alters to come out to do something they like to do or when they are around someone they like. 

Some alters never come out and exist only on the “inside”.  This does not invalidate them, they are still alters.  Some people have whole systems of alters that rarely or never “come out”, but that can still be felt as an internal presence. 

**Please leave a comment or email me ( with any questions or comments.** 

Monday, February 7, 2011

DID 102 - All About Alters

**This is part 2 of an educational blog series I am writing about DID.  It is based on scientific research, my experience, and the experiences of others with DID. To view all posts in the series, click on the tag “educational” on the sidebar.**

What are alters?

Alters are parts of an individual’s consciousness that have been set apart from other parts of a person’s consciousness.  The severity of this separation can vary between alters and across time.

Many people with DID and sometimes supporters of individuals with DID are concerned about the “original” personality and whether or not the presenting personality was the birth person.  While an individual with DID may be able to find a portion of their personality that seems to have been around the longest and tag that part as the “original”, it really doesn’t matter. 

Imagine a person with DID as a piece of glass.  If you snap off a piece of the glass, which part is the original?  Is it the biggest piece, the best shaped piece, or something else?  What happens when another piece breaks off and another and another?  Which piece is the original now? 

DID is not about having a “real” personalities and some other “fake” personalities.  DID is having one personality that was broken into pieces and compartmentalized so the person could keep functioning. 

How are alters created?

Alters are created when a piece of the child’s perception is isolated from the rest of his or her mind.  This can happen in several different ways, including organically and inorganically.  The way in which alters are developed depends upon the individuals intelligence, creativity, personality, circumstance, degree of abuse, type of abuse, the security of the environment, and many more factors. 

Organic Alter Creation

One way the mind can create an alter is to isolate the experiences of abuse.  An alternate personality is created and the memories of abuse are placed with that personality rather than the birth personality.  This allows the birth personality to live as if the abuse had never occurred and he or she may or may not have any conscious awareness of the past or present abuse. 

Another possibility is that an alter personality is created in the midst of a particularly traumatic or painful experience of abuse.  Sort of a “last straw” situation where the child can no longer deal with the abuse.  The child dissociates and disappears into his or her mind and another personality is created to take the abuse.  The difference between this creation and the one listed above is that the abusive experiences of the past were not isolated in an alternate personality and only future instances of abuse will be compartmentalized with this alter. 

Sometimes the original or birth personality goes entirely into hiding and may never come out again or may emerge at the very end of healing. 

Some people create different alters for every traumatic experience (this is usually referred to a polyfragmented DID), others have only one alter to take all the trauma, most people are somewhere in the middle.  Having different alters for different types of trauma seems to be fairly common: a sexual abuse alter, a physical abuse alter, etc. or even more specific: an alter for rape, an alter for oral rape, an alter for molestation, etc. 

Inorganic Alter Creation

Some people are surprised to find that alters can be created inorganically.  By inorganically I mean deliberately rather than naturally or accidentally.  This is commonly the case in ritual abuse.  I don’t want to get too far into ritual abuse as it is a very complex subject and could fill a thousand blog posts, but I do want to cover the basics as this is a pretty common cause of DID. 

Perpetrators of ritual abuse use the creation of alter personalities for two main reasons.  The first is to hide what they are doing to their victims.  If you can compartmentalize abuse in a child’s mind so that it cannot be easily or deliberately recalled by the child, than pedophile and child prostitution rings can run much more smoothly.  

In addition to alters, these groups often create unbelievable scenarios to discredit child witnesses.  For example, they may wear masks, dress up as cartoon characters, stage satanic rituals, or use special effects to trick a child into believing they witnessed or participated in a murder.  When the child finally comes forward and tries to get help, no one believes their outrageous stories and the very real abuse goes unpunished. 

The second motivation to create DID is to test the limits of the human brain for research into torture techniques and mind control.  This was done in the 70’s (there are many official government papers available online that document this) and this form of abuse may or may not be going on today.   

Many different techniques are used in the actual creation of the alter, but the most common techniques seem to be pairings of extreme fear, pain, and a disorienting drug.  The child is abused, tortured, and disoriented until he or she can no longer take the pain and dissociates, then the perpetrator(s) use suggestions and threats to form the characteristics of the new personality.  Often the perpetrators have the ability to call out particular alters through trigger words, phrases, or sounds. 

How many alters do people with DID have? 

The number of alters present in people with DID range from one to hundreds.  The number of alters depends on the intelligence, creativity, circumstances, home life, and personality of the child, among other things.  There is no way to predict the number of alters an individual with DID has. 

The average number of alters has been estimated at around 10.  There is a subset of people with DID who have what is called poly-fragmented DID, these are individuals who have dozens to hundreds or even thousands of personalities.  This is usually caused by ritual abuse and most alters may hold only an emotion or a single memory.

Do alters dress up in different clothes or have different accents? 

Not really.  Some people have alters who prefer to dress differently, although the difference is usually subtle enough to go unnoticed and it is extremely rare for people to have alters that insist on changing clothes if they appear after the individual is dressed.  Differences between alters are usually subtle and can only be detected by those who are very familiar with DID and the individual’s alters or when the alter wants other people to be able to tell it’s them.

Alters have vocal patterns than can range from nearly identical to the presenting personality’s or radically different.  Most people are in between.  Child alters are usually the most detectable, because they move and speak like children.  

**Please leave a comment or email me ( with any questions or comments.** 

DID 101 - What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?

**This is part 1 of an educational blog series I am writing about DID.  It is based on scientific research, my experience, and the experiences of others with DID.  To view all posts in the series, click on the tag "educational" on the sidebar.**

What is DID?

Individuals with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) experience disruptions in their perception of self, memories, awareness, and senses.  DID is a dissociative disorder, not an identity disorder or a psychotic disorder as people sometimes believe.  It is caused by trauma. People with DID (or other dissociative disorders) are not “crazy”, dangerous, mentally ill, or disabled (despite what the media may lead you to believe). 

When does DID develop? 

DID is caused by repeated and severe early childhood trauma.  The exact age of onset is unknown, but research indicates the trauma and onset of DID must occur before the age of 4-8, usually on the lower end of the spectrum.  

Can Adults develop DID?

DID cannot develop during an individuals teenage or adult years, but awareness of DID may not occur until an individual is much older, leading some people to believe they developed the disorder out of adult experiences.  Adult traumatic experiences may trigger a resurgence of DID symptoms, but it is important to note that these traumas are not the cause of DID. 

What causes DID?

99% of individuals with DID have a history of repeated abuse or severe trauma.  Many cases of DID are caused by ritual abuse (deliberate, often systematic abuse by cults, religions, pedophile or prostitution rings, scientists, governments, and sometimes by individuals), medical or psychological experimentation, and torture (executed by individuals or organized groups).  Some people with DID were abused by only their parent(s), but arguably, their parents tortured them.  The level of abuse required to cause DID is frequently unimaginable and generally accepted as being quite severe. 

Can I or someone I know have DID without traumatic memories? 

Not remembering part or all of childhood trauma is not uncommon in individuals with DID.  After all, the whole point of DID is to allow the child to function as normally as possible, which usually means alters are the ones receiving the abuse, not the presenting or “host” personality.  Individuals with DID usually begin recovering memories after they accept and work with their alters.  Beginning to recover memories may take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years of working with alters.  Most people will continue to recover memories throughout their life as parts begin to either communicate or integrate (become one with) the host. 

How does DID help the child? 

DID is beneficial to an abused child because it allows them to escape their pain, suffering, and dread.  There comes a point when the child has to forget the abuse to function, because to live with constant knowledge of their mistreatment would leave them incapacitated.  DID is a last resort.  It’s the mind’s final option.  

Isn’t DID obvious?  Isn’t it like Sybil?  Don’t people with DID act crazy? 

No, no, and no.  One of the biggest mistakes people make about DID (with no thanks to sensationalized media!) is that DID is an obvious disorder.  Most people with DID do not realize they are different from other people until well into adulthood.  Most people who know someone with DID do not know it. 

DID is a disorder designed to be hidden.  It is created to keep the individual safe by allowing them to lay low, escape the abuse, and simply survive.  The vast majority of DID symptoms are subjective, which means they cannot be observed by those outside the body. 

Even when people interact with DID alters, they will most likely not know it even if they know the individual has DID.  The alters know how to present themselves as one cohesive person.  Unless the system starts to break down through healing work or therapy, the system will run smoothly and be virtually undetectable to everyone besides the individual with DID and perhaps his or her therapist and/or romantic partner. 

There is a small subset of people with DID that manifests as dramatically as Sybil’s, but that is the exception rather than the rule.  Most alters will not feel comfortable to come out so flamboyantly in front of others.  As alters become more comfortable with a therapist, partner, or close friend, they will be more likely to appear as significantly different from the host.  Alters have a tendency to mimmic the host so as not to attract attention.  This allows them to go to school, hold down a job, and maintain relationships.  They may shed this tendency with people they are very comfortable around, which means they may begin speaking in their own voice (accent, tone, intonation) and moving with their own mannerisms. 

Are people with DID able to function?  Hold down a job?  Go to school? 

Yes, people with DID are able to function at a level as high (and sometimes higher!) than individuals without DID.  There are some people with DID who require hospitalization or supervision, but this is very much the exception.  It’s important to note however, that although individuals with DID are physically and mentally able to function at a high level, they are still struggling on a deep emotional level.  Most people with DID suffer from flashbacks, nightmares, depression, anxiety, and many other difficult problems that they are generally very good at hiding. 

**Please leave a comment or email me ( with any questions or comments.**

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Illusion of Back Seat Driving

I just had an argument with my boyfriend that I don't remember.  I know it happened.  I can see it in my mind, printed in nice neat still images - one from the beginning, one from the middle, and one from the end.  I don't know what was said or what happened.  It's just an impression, an illusion of memory left behind by a part who decided those were the only things I needed to know.  Accept it, digest it, and move on.  This worked for years and I was unaware.  Now I know what's going on and it's ten times more difficult.  At the same time, it gives me some ability to understand and explain "bad" behavior.

The thing is...I thought I was in control.  Well, I didn't specifically think I was not in control.  It's like sitting in the back seat of a car the whole drive and then believing you drove the car, until you sit back and think about how you don't remember making the turns, or fiddling with the radio, and don't really even remember what was on the radio and the whole thing starts to feel like a dream.  The illusion is shattered.  Were you even in the car at all?

I guess I'm okay with what happened.  At least I understand, which gives me peace. I just hope I can find a way to identify when I'm slipping away and someone else is coming forward.  At the time it feels like I'm there, sometimes it even feels like I'm in control.  The depersonalization I feel even when I really am in control makes this ten times harder.  My body always feels a million miles away, let alone the people around me and the words coming out of my mouth.  So when someone else takes over it feels little different.  How can I become more aware?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Everything Always Changing

I haven't written in a while, which is a shame, but is mostly expected.  Sometimes I'm doing better than others and sometimes I have a greater need to reach out while other times I just need to keep my thoughts in my head.

Right now I'm a bit frustrated with it all, because everything is always changing.  I don't know if anyone else out there feels this way, but it's almost like my issues change and change and change all the time just to keep me off guard, just so that when I get used to something a new issue comes up and the old ones disappear and then I start to think that maybe I just made them up or exaggerated the whole thing.  Maybe nothing happened to me at all and something is just wrong with me personally, but then I guess I know deep down that that's not the case.

Since I last wrote a new part appeared.  A young part, similar to my punk part, but more emotional, more wide-eyed and childlike, but very precocious, outgoing, and silly.  I'm not sure of the age, but I'm guessing about 6-8. 

Oddly, most of the other parts haven't come around.  Are they gone, hibernating, hiding, integrated?   I don't know.

This is all one confusing thing after another and it's so exhausting.