Dissociative Disorders -G.T.Health Newsletter 9

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Dissociative Disorders

 

 

“Dissociative Identity Disorder is the result of creativity, strength, intelligence, power, and the desire to survive; not weakness.”

 

– Unknown 💙

 

 

January 2022, Volume 9

The G.T.Health Letter

~Adding a dose of mental health awareness to our community~ 

 

What’s Inside: 

  • Special Announcement!
  • Mental Health Spotlight – Dissociative Disorders
  • Literature Spotlight 
  • Xtra Scoop of the Week – Dissociative Disorders and the Media
  • Weekly Testimonial – Researching and Imagining Dissociation

 

 

 

 

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SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT:

GTL will be hosting its first WINTER CAMP PROGRAM from Monday, January 17 to Sunday, January 23!!! If you are interested in joining, please call, email, or otherwise message us using the information below! I hope to see you all there!

Mental Health Spotlight – Dissociative Disorders

What are Dissociative Disorders? 

Dissociative disorders are characterized by problems with memory, self-identity, emotion, perception, and behavior. As with any other disorder, dissociative symptoms are intensely mentally impairing, and are usually associated with a previous experience of trauma, either recurrent or singular. There are three distinctive types of dissociative disorder: Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID; formerly referred to as Multiple Personality Disorder), Dissociative Amnesia, and Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder. DID is more specifically associated with intense childhood trauma, and criteria for diagnosis include the following: ongoing gaps in memory about daily life, personal information and/or past trauma; significant functional impairment; and the existence of two or more distinct identities (“alters”) who are accompanied by changes in behavior, memory, and thinking. Alternate personalities can be incredibly distinct: they can be a different gender or age from the host body/main personality, ‘dead’ or non-human (a demon or animal), and they can even have distinct physical features, like psychosomatic allergies or fatigue. This is because each alter holds a piece of the person’s trauma, preventing all the trauma from coalescing at once or drowning the host. If the individual had a traumatic experience involving water, the alter holding that memory might be petrified of water, whereas the host isn’t. An alter can serve many functions, such as protecting the host from external triggers, guarding them from traumatic memories, persecuting the host or others for the experience of trauma, or being a ‘ray of sunshine’ preserving the individual’s childhood innocence. Interestingly, when a non-host alter ‘fronts,’ or takes control of the body’s functionality, the host will usually experience amnesia; that is, they will not remember what happened whilst they were not in control. This could cause problems in areas like driving, working, or maintaining relationships. Dissociative amnesia involves inability to recall information about oneself in a way that does not follow the pattern of normal forgetting. This amnesia can follow one of three alternate patterns: localized, wherein the person forgets a specific event or time period; selective, wherein the person forgets a specific part of event or certain events in a time period; or generalized, wherein the person’s complete identity and life history is forgotten. These types are listed from most to least common. Dissociative amnesia might exist beneath a person’s awareness and is often associated with childhood trauma. Finally, depersonalization/derealization disorder can take the form of depersonalization and/or derealization. Depersonalization involves the experience of detachment from one’s mind/self/body, akin to an out-of-body experience. Derealization involves detachment from one’s surroundings, as if the world and its inhabitants are no longer real. These experiences are highly distressing for the individual, who is usually aware that they are in a dissociative state. Symptoms almost always (over 80% of the time) emerge in childhood/adolescence, on average around age 16. Dissociative disorders in general are also related to, and could even be seen as a relative of, PTSD.

 

How can you help someone with a dissociative disorder?

As with any other disorder, compassion and judgment-free friendship are essential when helping a person with a dissociative disorder increase confidence in themselves. A major aspect of dissociative disorder is, of course, past trauma, so your friend will likely benefit from as much support and love as you can give; because this kind of support-giving can be mentally exhausting even for neurotypical people, you as a friend are encouraged to seek support for yourself, either in therapy or in another type of confidant. It is not helpful for you to burn yourself out, thus opening up the possibility that you might project your frustrations onto your friend, who will certainly not appreciate this type of treatment. On this topic of self-care, it is also important that you keep calm during your friend’s alter switches or periods of dissociation. The change can be quite distressing or disorienting, and it is harmful to anyone’s mental health to see their peers uncomfortable around them. A third tip, which might tangibly benefit your friend the most, is to learn to recognize and avoid triggers, which are stimuli that might bring forth a traumatic memory. Triggers are not always negative; for example, an alter might be encouraged to ‘front’ if a specific song is played or a specific food is smelled. However, whether or not the triggers are positive, they are always uncomfortable to experience, and it will likely cost you the trust and security of your friendship if you purposefully or negligently introduce a trigger. Although your friend might not be readily able to speak about their triggers, a bit of empathy can go a long way in helping you read and appropriately react to a situation. It is obviously impossible to have your friend’s back at all hours, but you can have a positive impact on their day if you stop, look, and listen.

To help increase your awareness of DID in particular, I would HIGHLY recommend you follow “DissociaDID” on Youtube; this is a channel run by Kya, the host of the DissociaDID system of alters!
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6kFD5xIFvWyLlytv5pTR1w 

 

 

Dissociative Disorders

How are dissociative disorders treated? 

Dissociative disorders are so distressing to live with that over 70% of individuals with DID have attempted suicide. With this in mind, it is clear to see why mental healthcare and professional help so important for the dissociative disorder community. Psychotherapy, specifically aimed at gaining control over the dissociative process and symptoms, is a major aspect of treatment, helping individuals integrate their identities, recognize triggers, and cope with past experiences. Because dissociative disorders arise as defense mechanisms against trauma, it stands to reason that, with many years of therapy and hard mental confrontations, symptoms could actually lessen; if the brain comes to terms with its memories, it has less to defend itself against. For example, a person with DID can experience the integration, or fusion, of two or more alters, wherein these identities combine into a new alter who holds the memories and experiences of both the previous entities. This does not necessarily mean a person is ‘healing,’ as mental health is not a linear journey, but it does mean that the brain is fluidly responding to its environment and its understanding of the past trauma. Since more alters often come into existence during periods of intense stress, integration could be seen as the converse and a sign of coping. There are not necessarily any antipsychotic medications that treat dissociative disorders, but things like antidepressants can help with often-comorbid symptoms of depression and fugue that occur surrounding dissociation.
 

Why do some people develop dissociative disorders? 

As we covered, dissociative disorders are most commonly associated with the experience of trauma, such as childhood abuse/neglect or a single, life-altering event. At its core, dissociation is a psychological defense mechanism; it serves to protect the conscious brain from remembering the unthinkable trauma it has witnessed. To achieve this protection, dissociation can include putting up mental ‘walls’ of amnesia that prevent certain memories from being recalled without triggers, or environmental primes mentally associated with the trauma. Officially, dissociation is a disconnect between thoughts, memories, feelings, and sense of self. With DID, a person associates certain memories with an alter, thus distancing their core self from those memories and entering an inner world wherein a whole community exists to protect against, contain, and even seek revenge for the trauma. With dissociative amnesia, the dissociation is achieved through the systematic forgetting of certain aspects about one’s past, thus again distancing the current self from experiences by blocking them out entirely. With depersonalization/derealization disorder, the person experiences a break with reality wherein they are segregated mentally from their body or their world, thus again dissociating their past with their present. Everyone can experience dissociation; I myself use it to cope with stress, either getting lost in a book or clinging to stories I narrate in my head that represent alternate, impossible realities. However, losing awareness of my environment is not, for me, a life-or-death necessity; it is assumed, at least by the brain of the traumatized individual, that said individual will be literally incapable of coping with their own memories because of their horrific nature, which makes it essential to quarantine those memories. This is especially poignant because many sufferers of DID in particular were abused as children, whilst their personality and identity was forming, and so as the brain matures through cycles of trauma it sequesters each life stage within a different alternate identity, thus keeping them separate and not allowing the child to truly accept that all these memories of abuse do, in fact, belong to them.

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/dissociative-disorders/what-are-dissociative-disorders
https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/mental-health/dissociative-identity-disorder/related/how-to-help-a-friend-with-dissociative-identity-disorder/

 

 

 

 

Literature Spotlight 

 

 

 

What Dissociation Feels Like: Each Type Described in a Poem (excerpts)

Depersonalization
I unlock from my body.
These arms are not my arms.
This face is not mine.
I float in the air,
watch my body
,
curled in a fetal position,
moaning.

Derealization
My head is spinning.
I am driving fast,
trying to escape my life.
The world around me blurs,
I become confused.
Am I driving or is the car driving me?

Dissociative Amnesia
There are holes in my life
I can’t seem to fill
I know I lived in that house
but can’t remember what happened
within its walls.
I feel like a piece of me
is lost within that hole
.

Flashback
Out of nowhere
I’m triggered.
I am in a different place,
a different year,
I’ve become a former self.
I’m living the memory again.

DID
There are five others
in me:
three personalities
who are younger versions of me,
and two personalities who are different.
I just discovered recently
that they exist.
It’s nice to have a way to understand
all the strange happenings inside my mind.
One of them is mean to me
and shouts at me for hours,
calling me cruel names and pressuring me
to self-destruct.

https://psychcentral.com/blog/counseling-confidential/2018/03/what-dissociation-feels-like-each-type-described-in-a-poem#11

 

 

There is little that can be said about these poems that isn’t covered in their contents already. They are such brilliant, haunting messages about the reality of dissociation, and I am honored to share them with you as part of our journey to spread awareness about mental health. Read them, learn more about the disorders they mention, and teach others so that we can make our world a more accepting one.
Dissociative Disorders

 

 

Dissociative Disorders
Xtra Scoop of the Week – Dissociative Disorders and the Media

Dissociative disorders, especially DID, are some of the least well-understood or accepted disorders of all. Most of what we know about DID rests on the testimonials of people with the disorder, since it is difficult to truly understand the mechanisms of the dissociating brain at psychologists’ current level of neurological comprehension. Therefore, many people with DID are discredited, their experiences invalidated. It is of crucial importance that we in the neurotypical community, in response to this backlash, combat misinformation and spread awareness of DID. I mentioned a Youtube channel called DissociaDID earlier in this newsletter, which I STRONGLY recommend to you; there are also multiple documentaries shedding light on DID that you can find and watch.

I am assuming that many of you have watched, or at least heard of, the M. Night Shyamalan movie “Split” from 2016. Given their apparently-extensive research process, the producers actually created a film with fairly accurate information about DID, as well as a fairly accurate portrayal of DID by James McAvoy, complete with inter-alter amnesia and unique alter personalities. However, the end of the film completely unravels any positive progress the rest of the plot made. Yes, I am about to spoil it; in the end, Kevin’s (the protagonist’s) body is taken over by his ‘monster’ alter, who consumes the entire system and wreaks havoc. While it is true that alters can be inhuman (i.e ghosts or animals), this portrayal is incredibly dehumanizing; specifically, it superhumanizes Kevin, making him seem distinct from and therefore unrelatable to ‘normal’ humans. This is exactly the opposite of what DID awareness movements should strive to do. People with DID do not have superhuman abilities; they have a past riddled with pain and trauma. They are not different in any sense other than that they are survivors. Making Kevin a child kidnapper also doesn’t help my opinion of this film, as it is harmful to associate DID with criminal activity and deviance. Therefore, despite Shyamalan’s likely intention to create a supernatural thriller, to me all he made was a film that could have incredibly negative consequences for the DID community.

 

 

Weekly Testimonial – Researching and Imagining Dissociation

 

 

 

As I mentioned, I am (as most humans are) capable of dissociation. When I am stressed or having difficulty coping with my current situation (i.e studying for an exam, failing to achieve a goal), I self-soothe by removing myself from reality, falling back on a running narrative in my head or a work of fiction, getting lost in a life that is not my own. Sometimes I even have difficulty stopping my dissociative cravings and focusing on the real world, and can become more emotionally invested in my dissociations than my reality. However, I am completely in control at all times when I dissociate. I decide when to stop and start, I decide what I am thinking about (which is usually an autonomously fabricated alternate universe), and I am never distressed by my dissociations (unless I’m getting mad at myself for shirking my external duties). This places me in stark contrast with someone with a dissociative disorder, who lacks this control and this desire to associate. Disordered dissociation is an automatic response to a traumatic past, not a decision to remove oneself from a stressful moment.

I have written a short fictional piece about depersonalization/derealization, which of course required research on the topic, and this process of researching and perspective-taking gave me an entirely new perspective on dissociation. I have also immersed myself in media about DID, specifically in the teachings of content creators with the disorder, and I cannot encourage you enough to do the same. It is so important to learn about the realities other people experience, especially when those people are such a marginalized part of the neurodivergent community.

 

 

 

 

That’s all for this week, folks!

Next week’s topic:
Bullying

 

 

Dissociative Disorders
 

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