Some of this webpage has been translated into Romanian
Some people have developed a remarkable ability to do things while other parts of them are asleep. What I’m referring to has certain similarities to sleep walking but there are differences. For instance, sometimes a part of the person sleeps not just for hours but for months or even decades while the rest of the person continues to mature and interact with the world. Some of these remarkable people are able to divide their consciousness so perfectly that not only do they remain oblivious to what they sometimes do, but they are unaware that they even have this ability.|
Imagine having this gift. For part of you to do things that you have no knowledge of would at times be confusing and your mental powers would be so divided that you would be unable to focus your full intellectual capacity on any single task, even though you would manage to do certain things quite well, and you would not realize the loss because it has always been that way for you. Nevertheless, it could be worth all the disadvantages if you sometimes found yourself forced to do things that are so highly distressing that you would rather not know about them.
When circumstances compelling you to do these unpleasant things are completely over, you would greatly benefit from reconnecting with every part of you and no longer having parts act independently. For example, things that for children are terrifying and unresolvable can become much easier to bear with adult input, but for decades parts of you could have been in needless torment through being cut off from your now-mature outlook. By reconnecting, you would find a peace and wholeness and mental clarity beyond anything you have ever enjoyed.
Once parts have lost awareness of each other, however, it could take considerable time and effort to discover lost parts and to muster the courage to let them finally have the relief of no longer keeping from you knowledge of what they had felt forced to do behind your back. Moreover, some parts could be so disconnected from current reality that, even decades later, they still have no idea that the source of trauma has gone and that it is now safe to stop hiding and unburden themselves to you.
When people suffer something so horrible that their mind recoils from the very thought of it, we can understand them desperately trying to suppress all memory of the event. A simple blocking of the past would not work, however, if a person were continually reminded of the trauma by, for example, the trauma being repeated every few days. When the trauma is on-going, the mind has to employ a more sophisticated approach to maintaining sanity by giving itself as big a reprieve as possible whenever the trauma is not occurring. The mind divides itself so that part of it is kept unaware of the bad times. That way, whenever the bad times are not occurring (perhaps when one is at school, for instance) part of the mind can function without being oppressed by an awareness of the horrors that occurred yesterday, nor by the paralyzing fear that the horrors might be repeated tomorrow. If, for self-protection, there is no sharing of information between the two parts, however, the part that is not conscious at school cannot benefit from an education. The two parts will develop quite differently and can be expected to have a different outlook on life, depending on how uplifting or depressing the store of experiences that a part’s memories allows him/her to draw upon.
Additional sources of trauma can cause further fragmenting of the mind.
As a child’s brain develops it becomes increasingly rigid and the ability to compartmentalize itself through Dissociative Identity Disorder is lost if the process is not initiated by around about seven years of age. If someone learns the technique when young, however, the person can continue further compartmentalizing his/her brain later in life.
The advantage of fragmentation is that the mind-crippling task of trying to cope with an awareness of every upsetting thing at once is broken down into smaller, though still highly challenging, pieces. It is not only memories that are divided up, but with them go other intellectual abilities as well. Some abilities are replicated in another part of the brain, just like right-handed people can further develop the side of their brain that controls their left hand so that they can write with their left hand almost as well as with their right. Not all skills are replicated, however.
So if you have Dissociative Identity Disorder, you are part of a more complex, capable and knowledgeable person that you had realized. You might be beginning to understand this but there is probably even more to you than you have so far discovered. Trauma – which you might not even recall at present – caused you to lose contact with vital, irreplaceable parts of you, each of which has enormous potential and each of which has not only a unique set of memories but independent thoughts, desires, opinions, goals, emotions – everything that a full person has, except, of course, that they have only one physical body between them all.
Sharing one body means that each part has the potential to control the body but, of course, only one part of the person can do this at a time. Moreover, some parts can be internalized for so long that they have lost awareness of their real body’s current limitations and appearance. Often when one part of the person has control of the body, it is like sleep walking for the other parts in that they are unaware of what is happening.
A train can have not only multiple carriages but several engines linked together, with each engine having its own controls and each being a different design. The train can be operated from any of the engines but the driver’s view will differ according to the position of the engine and the layout of the controls will also differ. This is rather like what it is to have one body but several personalities.
If each part of a person’s consciousness has access to a different set of memories and is capable of independent thought, it is not surprising that conflict sometimes occurs. In fact, one’s plans are likely to sometimes be either deliberately or inadvertently sabotaged. This is serious: in the powerful words of Jesus, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand,” (Matthew 12:25). If conflicting parts begin to share their knowledge and experiences with each other, however, each is enriched and empowered by the other’s information and perspective and they begin to see things the same way. Information sharing would also enable the person to make better decisions, because not only are “two heads better than one” (there is more intellectual power through pooling their abilities), no one can be expected to consistently make wise decisions while being prevented from accessing some of the critical facts.
Previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder, the newer term sounds like gobbledygook but it is actually more meaningful than it first seems. If you were suffering, you might make it more tolerable by seeking to lessen your awareness of your current situation and imagining you were somewhere nice. This is called dissociation and although it would not stop all pain, it is likely to genuinely help. Instead of thinking of yourself as being somewhere else, an alternative is to think of yourself as being someone else – someone who is never subjected to this distress. That is called taking on a dissociative identity. This would become an obvious choice if, for example, you were a little child singled out for severe beatings simply because of who you are – the child of an abusive parent.
This coping mechanism becomes a disorder – a disadvantage rather than an advantage – if part of you got trapped in that dissociative state and could not return to normality even when external circumstances become normal. Becoming permanently disconnected from part of yourself would not be because of an inadequacy in you but because of the severity and prolonged nature of the trauma you suffered and because it began in your formative years.
On-going disconnection could occur if, for example, you remained too scared to let yourself remember what happened when you were in that dissociated state. Being unable to access unpleasant memories might superficially seem desirable but it is likely to keep you from ever healing from those memories. How could anyone resolve a problem that he refuses to think about? To live in denial is to let a problem grow. Moreover, you would probably lose not only access to certain memories but to skills you had developed while you were in that state and to certain intellectual potential that this part of you has. So remaining disconnected would prevent you from being as consistently skilled as you have the potential to be and keep you from accessing the full extent of your intellectual capacity. We need go no further than Jesus’ parable of the talents to understand how important this is to God (Matthew 25:14-30).
Therapists commonly refer to each disconnected part of a person that has its own consciousness as an alternate personality, usually shortened to alter (spelt with an e). In some ways this term is unfortunate because it sounds like altar, which has scary connotations for some whose trauma had religious (often satanic) overtones. Some people use the term insider but this, too, is confusing because any of these parts has the potential to relate to the outside world.
An older term for Dissociative Identity Disorder is Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). Regardless of name, its existence has been recognized by researchers at least as early as the 1800s.
In a sense, we all have multiple personalities and switch between them according to our circumstances. We would act differently, for instance, in each of the following circumstances:
* In the presence of a head of state
Just as we have work clothes but alternate sets of clothing for other occasions, so it is usual to have alternate personalities for different occasions. For someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder, having a range of different personalities is simply more pronounced, and yet awareness of them is usually significantly diminished.
In other ways, too, everyone has “multiple personalities.” For example, we might say, “My heart says one thing, but my head says another.” The ability to see things from such different perspectives can be a significant asset. When indecisive, we speak of being “in two minds.” When dieting we are not sure which part of us will win – the part wanting to be thin or part wanting to keep eating. In Romans 7, Paul devoted almost an entire chapter detailing the battle within myself between the part of him wanting to obey God and the part wanting to indulge himself. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).
So having multiple personalities is not nearly as abnormal as it first seems. Moreover, dissociation is normal. In order to focus on the task at hand, for example, all of us sometimes temporarily put unpleasant memories out of our minds, or tune out to such distractions as background noises. It is just that for some people this natural tendency is done to a greater extent. For them, shutting off awareness of certain distressing things is done so effectively that a separate consciousness forms within the person, with part of the person knowing, feeling and thinking some things that the other part does not.
We all have a part of us that consciously interacts with the outside world, but there might be parts of us we have so deeply buried that we have lost awareness of them. Moreover, keeping such parts of us so deeply buried is likely to keep them from much, if any, awareness of changing circumstances and the passage of time.
Not surprisingly, any such parts of us end up, as it were, frozen in time; not only forced to bear their anguish alone but unable to benefit from awareness of improved external circumstances (such as the relief of knowing that all childhood abusers have left) nor benefit from our increasing physical, emotional, and spiritual maturity. Until this isolation ends, they remain cut off from everything that could help them move on from the horrific consequences of any trauma they suffered.
Burying painful memories does not mean that what is disturbing us has died, any more than it kills parts of our brain. Moreover, there is a high and never ending price associated with not letting ourselves think through the implications of past experiences until the issues are resolved. Even more disturbing than never finding peace, is that to refuse deep connection with parts of us that are in torment is to sentence ourselves to the impairment of having an otherwise healthy brain riddled with no-go zones.
We might suppose we are just burying pain and memories but we are actually losing access to vital parts of ourselves, each of which, like any child, has tremendous potential for intellectual and spiritual development. To disconnect from these parts of us is to condemn ourselves to limp through life with access to only part of our mental and spiritual potential. Still more alarming, we would be not just losing memories and letting parts of us writhe in needless agony without the benefit of spiritual and intellectual insights gained later in life, we would be losing contact with parts of us that are capable of independent thought and action. This opens the disconcerting possibility that in their pain and confusion they might at times take over and, while keeping us out of the loop, do things that not only horrify us but we could have prevented, if only we knew.
For our mind to protect itself by sealing off certain dreadful memories from our consciousness means that not only are there certain past experiences we are unaware of, we have walled-off parts who are aware of little else but those events. They are left without access to our happy memories or incentives to live, and with a mindset and self-image based almost entirely on how their tormenter treated them. We either break the seal of secrecy so that these parts benefit from our input, or we keep open the possibility of these tormented parts taking over our body and doing things without our awareness.
Embrace these parts and, without exaggeration, they will become the best friends you could ever have. Choose to ignore them, however, and you risk turning them into the worst possible enemies. You can always win them over but only by bravely loving them unconditionally in the way that Jesus has taught us.
We might be so skilled at ignoring wounded parts of us that they are completely forgotten, but these neglected parts of us will continue to trouble us as much as neglecting deeply infected wounds will endanger our lives. When parts of us are suppressed, those parts that relate to the outside world end up quarantined from many of the details of past horrors and from the vividness of the resulting anguish. As impressive as this quarantining is, however, some of the anguish and turmoil leaks out, and we are left with little understanding of why those feelings keep gnawing away and unable to address the underlying cause.
Healing hinges on us reconnecting with any lost parts so that they can finally benefit from all the knowledge and maturity gained since they were left behind and we can finally benefit from their intellectual and spiritual potential. Reconnecting, however, is a two way street. Solving a problem involves becoming aware of the problem. To connect with a part of us that is hurting, initially means connecting with it while it is still hurting. That takes courage. The rewards, however, are immense.
Far from being freaks, people with D.I.D. have, from an early age, stumbled upon an ingenious mental strategy for coping with situations that are almost beyond human endurance. It is an emergency response to an extreme situation, however. There are significant disadvantages to remaining fragmented, such as the inability to simultaneously draw upon one’s full intellectual resources to solve problems and heal from trauma.
If you suspect you could have Dissociative Identity Disorder, then finding, comforting and supporting your every alter and organizing them into a tightly knit team working in unity towards a common goal should be a higher priority to you than your marriage, your children, your job, your ministry and even your relationship with God. Why? Precisely because each of those other responsibilities are so important and each of them is profoundly impacted by how harmoniously and effectively your alters pull together. What could happen if parts of you are able to take over your body without your knowledge? Ponder the possibilities if those parts are allowed to remain cut off from your knowledge of morality or even from the knowledge that you are married. Consider even the legal implications of a sexualized alter in an adult body who believes she is a young teen getting involved with a boy her own age.
Every aspect of your life and future will suffer if you are disorganized inside, and everything you touch will thrive if you are exquisitely functioning within.
For much more help in understanding and healing from D.I.D., see Christian Index of Help for Dissociative Identity Disorder.