Dissociative Identity Disorder
Dissociative identity disorder (D.I.D) (formally known as multiple personality disorder – MPD) is a condition associated with severe trauma suffered in early childhood – generally extreme physical, sexual, and / or emotional abuse, usually over a period of years. This article is intended to give a basic working knowledge of D.I.D, and it's impact upon the life of those living with it.
Dissociation – What is it??
Dissociation is an ability to escape ‘within oneself’ during a traumatic event – saving the memories and emotions associated with those events as if it had never occurred. It is similar to the minds ability to simply ‘forget’; and to the ‘repression’ of memories - but is a much more advanced form of this: “The memories are actively pushed out of the Childs mind into a separate, hidden, split off unconscious mental space.” 1
DID is often referred to as “a highly creative survival technique” 2, rather than a disorder per sea. This is because of the way it allows people enduring a severe level of abuse to continue functioning healthily in many ways.
Dissociation is not found only in the condition of DID, but can be found (on a sliding scale of severity) in many peoples experiences. At one end of this scale are very mildly dissociative experiences, common to most people - such as daydreaming; ‘highway hypnosis’; or becoming ‘lost’ in a book 2 – actions which cause one to lose awareness of their immediate surroundings. At the other end of the scale are much more complex, generally chronic, dissociative symptoms, which in some people can cause loss of or inability to function.
D.I.D does not neccesarily imply a loss of function, however. The affects of D.I.D very much vary from person to person. Some people with D.I.D, are very ‘high functioning’ : holding down responsible & often demanding jobs, and appearing to function normally.2
Development of DID
When a child continues to dissociate over a period of many years, it can result in the development of a set of separate entities, or mental states – which eventually can become individual ‘personalities’ (sometimes called ‘insiders’ or ‘alters’) These insiders often each carry specific memories and emotions, but these memories are not integrated into a ‘complete self’. These personalities may each have different ways of relating to people, and therefore could appear completely different. These insiders make up the ‘system’ of a individual with DID. The changing between these alters is known as ‘switching’.
Individuals with DID usually have more than one insider, and have been known to have as many as 200. These alters may, or may not, know of other alters within the system. Usually, each insider will have specific roles to carry out - both on the inside, and the outside .. taking care of one another, and carrying out day to day responsibilities such as working, driving, or cooking.
Individuals with DID often refer themselves for counselling or therapy, not knowing their condition, because as the stresses of life continue into adulthood, depression; mood swings; memory loss; and confusion often become prevalent. Often, a certain experience in adulthood can trigger the return of emotions or even memories which up until that point in time have been segregated in an insiders experience.
“People with DID may experience any of the following : Depression; mood swings; suicidal tendencies; sleep disorders; phobias (flashbacks; reactions to stimuli ‘triggers’); alcohol and drug abuse; compulsions and rituals; psychotic-like symptoms (including auditory and visual hallucinations); and eating disorders. Some people with DID have a tendency towards self persecution; self sabotage, and even violence (both self inflicted and outwardly directed)” 2
Most individuals with DID spend years in the health care system after referral to a therapist - but sadly, there is still much misunderstanding & scepticism regarding the condition within the health care system. Many clients still receive misdiagnosis’ and are therefore are mismanaged : moving from ‘expert’ to ‘expert’ & taking different medications, but making little or no progress. Many people also acquire secondary diagnosis’ such as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and clinical depression.
Individuals with DID have almost always missed out on many essential things in childhood, such as learning about normal social interaction, and relationship building – as this excerpt from a case study shows :
“Because Julies parents were so abusive, she was unable to trust them with her fears, her pain, or even her joys. Julie was never given a safe space or safe person in which to confide her real emotions” 1
The article goes on to explain how “this is the starting point for effective therapy, for anyone suffering the kind of severe abuses that lie at the root of most cases of DID.”1 - Due to the complex nature of DID, and its accompanying problems; and the internal environment caused by lack of love as a small child, ongoing individual counselling or therapy with a therapist experienced in the successful treatment of DID, is paramount! For the reasons mentioned above, group therapy or short term treatment can be very frightening and therefore ineffective, and even damaging to its recipients. There needs to be time given for trust to be gradually built up between the client and therapist, making it a safe relationship for the client to share within.
As each person consists of three parts – body, soul, and spirit – the capacity of severe abuse to damage does not stop at merely the emotional and physical. The abuse and its effects can cause major pain and confusion in a persons spiritual life. Many individuals with DID struggle with anger towards God, for allowing their abuse; or feel alienated from Him, believing that God could never love them. Many will have been taught that they are 'bad', or 'evil', and therefore are hated by God. This is an incredibly damaging belief for a person of any religion to carry ... and can cause massive internal conflict – between alters who identify themselves as Christians and those who do not. 1
In addition to this, many people with DID have found themselves in the situation of being the subject of 'exorcisms' – the churches in question believing that the cause of the alternate personalities can only be demonic. (Particularly when the alter in question displays anger or violence!) However, this belief discounts the normal reaction of a person when anger is not allowed to be safely admitted as a child. The angry, rebellious part of that person can be split off into an entirely separate alter – creating a personality who may hate God, and even experience a violent reaction to the name of Christ. This does not mean that the alter is a demon – merely that that person has been incredibly damaged, and are angry, disillusioned and confused. DID is not caused by demons or demonic influence, but by severe and continuing abuse - to such an extent that the child has to resort to drastic coping mechanisms to survive!
“Because DID seems so bizarre and unusual, and because one or more of the alters may be furious with God, some people conclude that DID is directly caused by demon possession. While Satan is ultimately the cause of all evil in our world, including fractured and abusive families, that does not mean that problems like DID are directly caused by demon possession or demon activity. In DID, the most likely explanation for trance states, amnesia, hearing voices, subjective feelings about the presence of other identities, and different voices or handwriting styles is early childhood trauma.
Although the New Testament offers several descriptions of the effect of demons on people, including instances when multiple demons influence a person, there are no biblical examples of demon possession creating multiple personalities. Further evidence that DID is not directly caused by demon possession is the fact that many individuals suffering from DID are cured by psychotherapy (including psychotherapy with non Christian therapists). If DID were caused by demon possession, it could not be cured without supernatural intervention.”
During therapy, an experienced therapist will enable a person with DID to work through their spiritual issues in a safe, non-judgemental environment, allowing them to openly discuss the many questions they have of God, such as : ‘How could he allow this to happen to me?’. They will also help individuals to face issues of trust, and shame, and help them to build belief in their acceptance by God. 1
The process of healing for people with DID is a long and complex one, with very different outcomes for different people – but healing is attainable. Some systems will come to a place where they are actually able and willing to 'integrate', or 'blend' their alternate personalities into one whole person; whereas others will reach a place of high function, with the alters happy to remain separate, but co-conscious (able to communicate) with one-another - functioning together much like a family. With the healing power of God, many DID systems learn to move away from the shame and pain that has been so integral to their makeup, into a true experience of Gods love and acceptance!
© Susannah Grace, CS Ministries 2002