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DSM-V: Criteria B

B. Recurrent gaps in the recall of everyday events, important personal information, and/or traumatic events that are inconsistent with ordinary forgetting.

This is one of those "wait, stop — I don't understand?!?" criteria. Because how do you know what is "ordinary forgetting" and what is "extraordinary forgetting"?

Also if you forget something, how do you remember if you forgot it?

Let's start somewhere: PTSD comes with intrusive memories of traumatic events, flashbacks, and "total recall" moments where everything is happening over again. In other words, most one-time trauma survivors have a hyper-awareness of what happened. It's not always the same with Complex PTSD arising out of chronic abuse situations.

Crisses says: "I hear you saying, 'But I was never chronically abused.' I believe you. However, consider this catch-22: If you were, and you were made to forget, how would you know that you were never chronically abused? So it totally sucks to be in this position of being told (by way of being diagnosed with DID) that you're having memory gaps, but no memories of ever being abused or having recurring traumatic experiences."

The DSM is glossing over "memory tampering" and "memory deficits" as a dissociative criteria. So let's use "gaps" in the broadest sense: "dissociative gaps" let's call it for the sake of clarity. It doesn't need to be that a memory is totally missing.

A dissociative gap in memory can be:

  • a significant event that is "simply missing" i.e. you do not recall your wedding day. Period. You know it happened, but the memory is not there.
  • experiencing a significant memory without full-recall: something started, and then you don't remember what happens next i.e. you remember getting dressed for the wedding, but you don't remember anything after the Wedding March started playing (this is probably rare because it leaves evidence that something is missing — if this is what you're searching your memory for, you're potentially underestimating how skilled your brain is at hiding memories)
  • significant sensory impairment in the memory such as it being foggy, dreamlike
  • memories missing sensory elements such as experiencing numbness, having no recall of audial input (as if you were deaf or under water), touch-memory without visual memory, etc. (assuming that you have no other reason for the sensory gap such as being in the dark, blindness or deafness).
  • experiencing a memory with full dissociation from your body i.e. being "out of body" in a memory, experiencing it as if you're standing in the room watching it happen, floating above it, etc.
  • having no recall of a specific and significant memorable event such as graduation, family vacation to a theme park, traumatic event, rite of passage, etc.
  • a lack of immediate recollection of routine matters (this is typical or "normal" dissociation i.e. highway hypnosis)
  • "back-editing" memories: you would have remembered something significant a day or week later, but over time the significant memory "goes missing".

Evidence of memory impairments can be difficult to dredge up. And may not be worth dredging up, although that's an argument for another page.

In the majority of DID cases, the reason one's psyche created dissociative gaps in the first place is to keep painful memories separate and locked away from conscious memory. It's likely some of these memories contain impossibly difficult-to-process information. The likely reason the gaps in memory started is that while they are inaccessible, the memories won't be intrusive, create flashbacks, or ignite vivid painful recall.

Crisses says: "You know how lies beget lies to cover up the lies? Memory gaps can start to do that too. They start as a benign act, just covering up the traumatic memories to survive. But let's say you get a flashback anyway and remember a little something -- now that has to be covered up, but that could leave a drastic hole in memory making the gap evident, so maybe more information from around that has to be covered up and stuffed under the rug. It can become a slippery slope and whatever conscious or subconscious mechanisms are attempting to protect the 'system' can get overzealous with hiding things. Sometimes out of necessity. Maybe you had to lose memory of your wedding day because your abuser (as a member of or friend of the family) was in the room and it could have triggered recall, even if you were remembering the day, or maybe sound was edited out because their voice is a trigger. So now, you lost true full recall of your wedding day even though it's not in itself an abusive or traumatic event.

In most clinical settings, all the evidence a professional needs is a conversation with you that you cannot recall just minutes later. That's an easy way to check this box off. Why does this happen? If the conversation goes in a direction that starts to approach the locked-away memories, the system will often defend itself by redirecting the therapist and then stealing the recall of the "hot zone" topic entirely and locking it away. It may do this by any mental means necessary, not necessarily by having another alter front.

Crisses says: "I know when we're poking too close to a 'hot zone' topic when we're thinking or writing because suddenly we go from fully alert to foggy and falling asleep."

In summary, this shows a part of the range and depth of possible memory issues associated with DID, but also how easy it can be to check off this criteria for the practitioner because forgetting a conversation minutes after it takes place is inconsistent with ordinary recall.

This information is not presented as a means of self-diagnosis, but to attempt to explain the criteria to persons already diagnosed who may be confused about how the criteria apply to themselves.

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