People with DID generally experience the full range of dissociative experiences: dissociative amnesia, DP/DR (depersonalization derealization), fugues (switching and running away somewhere else), conversion disorder (symptoms or sensory abilities that change depending on whom is front, with no other medical explanation as to why they come & go), (complex) PTSD, BPD symptoms (especially where there's additional insecurities and attachment problems), etc. We don’t need a dual or comorbid dx to have all of these experiences, they’re all already “explained” by DID alone.
If another dissociative symptom is in itself profoundly troubling rather than just occasional, a therapist or psychiatrist can diagnose you with both, basically to make it absolutely clear that these other symptoms or episodes are profound enough or active enough to warrant a comorbid diagnosis. Thus sometimes we do get a dual dx of PTSD & DID, or BPD and DID…
To help with dissociative symptoms, make sure your life is as safe as possible, that you are dealing with safe people not past abusers as much as possible, and that you eliminate environmental triggers if possible. Lowering anxiety can help with symptoms like DP/DR and greatly improve emotional regulation, mood and allow folk in your system to relax somewhat so that y’all can work on your system rather than being in high alert or defense mode.
More about this below.
Subjective Experiences of Dissociation
These are all along the range or spectrum of dissociative experiences. By themselves they are usually not an issue, but some are quite disturbing and if they happen in ways that make one unsafe or are traumatic or deeply disturbing then they need attention.
- highway hypnosis
- "ignoring" pain
- escapism/forgetting how much time has passed while having fun/playing games/reading books/etc.
- the world goes away
- parts of your senses are disconnected or detached from the world
- you aren't fully in your body/the room - floating, distracted, not all there
- wide awake one minute, sleepy the next, wide awake again (esp. if thinking about something troubling)
- you're so engrossed in something you "forget" you have a body/are hungry/etc.
- you lose sense of time/place/reality
- you don't feel real — you're a robot/ghost/empty shell/faker/mask
- others don't feel real, they're robots/puppets/zombies
- you don't even realize you're in pain because you disowned part of your body
- your identity feels foreign or like someone else has lived part of your life
- you are watching your body do things that you are not directing; you've been hijacked
- You go to sleep but things moved, changed, or were done that only you could have done, but you were asleep. Or were you?
- You find someone else has written in your journal
- you meet someone and they insist you have a different name or they know you. You've never met.
- You come to your senses in an airport, bus depot, train station — and no idea how you got there, or how you got a ticket.
The following is the modern clinical-esque definition of dissociation.
Dissociation involves separating parts of oneself from other parts of oneself, be it sensory input or mental processes.
Dissociation is a protective mechanism that exists in nearly all people. In its most mild forms, it's a part of escapism -- when you get so absorbed into a movie or book that you stop paying attention to your surroundings or body, that's dissociation. Someone may walk up to you and say your name three times and you don't hear them. This is normal.
Dissociation can involve suspension of one's awareness of time passing -- you get absorbed into a task and don't realize how much time has passed. This is a mild version of time loss.
Dissociation can be a valid coping mechanism. When you distract yourself with something so that you can ignore physical pain, then you're dissociating from the portion of your body which is experiencing the pain.
Dissociation has a wide range, from exceptionally mild through all-out separation of one's mind into distinct portions, each with its own identity, personality, morals, ethics, goals, skills, memories, etc. When this happens, psychologists like to call it dissociative identity disorder. At what point it becomes a disorder, however, is up for interpretation. See Challenging Dissociative Identity Disorder for more about the controversy surrounding this.
The definition of dissociation has changed somewhat over the last century. Originally, dissociation referred to the rejection of aspects of one's own mind or personality that were deemed unsuitable or inappropriate. In the days when behaviour inappropriate for your gender or station warranted a diagnosis of moral insanity and incarceration in a mental hospital, a young woman who dreamed of a college career might suppress this "side" of herself in favour of a more socially acceptable role as devoted daughter, wife, mother, etc. Women who were diagnosed with multiple personalities generally presented with stress-related conditions such as chronic headaches, just as they did in the 1980s. Under hypnosis, the suppressed or rejected elements of their personalities could be elicited. If enough characteristics had been rejected, they might form an independent mind. This wasn't called an alter back then but a "persistent subconsciousness".
There was a good deal of the seance room in these early explorations (particularly in the Doris case, where mediums and a terrific battle between Good and Evil on the astral plane ultimately played a part). Freud's theories of Id, Ego and Superego, and Jung's ideas about Archetypes, played major roles in deciding what was going on with these young women. Physical and/or psychological trauma -- not necessarily in childhood -- was a frequent feature not necessarily in causing personalities to develop but in throwing an already existing operating system out of whack.
In the meantime, cases of dissociative phenomenon are very well documented throughout all sectors of humanity, from losing track of time, through the entire spectrum of dissociative phenomenon up to and including multiplicity. Trance states, self-hypnosis, hypnosis, and some forms of meditation can create dissociative states, and it's no coincidence that most multiples are highly hypnotizable. One common hypnosis trick is numbing someone by causing them to visualize a limb immersed in icewater. This is a terrific example of dissociation of a body part.
Caution about Hypnotizability
It is said in psychology literature that multiples are often highly hypnotizable, and studies show a very high correlation between dissociation and hypnotizability. Take extreme care about live hypnosis shows, live group relaxations or meditations, group past life regression, allowing a therapist to hypnotize you, etc. You must trust the practitioners and you must be certain that they will not accidentally or purposefully lead you down a path that you do not want to be led down.
Dissociation and Heredity
There have been studies showing a high correlation between members of the same family having high scores on the Dissociative Experiences Scale (a psychology tool for measuring an individual's proclivity towards dissociation). This typically leads to the question "Is this nature, or nurture?" and is typically followed by a twin study, where they look for the trait in twins separated at birth and raised in different environments to see whether both twins have the same trait.
A twin study did indeed find that being highly dissociative is very likely to be an inherited/genetic trait, and not simply a factor of environment.
It is also important to note that environment plays a critical role in developing DID, and genetic traits do not account for being multiple. See Born Multiple for more on the developmental environment and how it affects persons with a tendency towards dissociation.
Lowering Dissociative Responses
Basically dissociation is a symptom and so the more anxious, threatened, insecure, frightened, unsafe, etc. that someone is, the more dissociation will increase.
Lowering anxiety and stress will help with controlling dissociation, as such check out emotional regulation New techniques. Presence skills (such as grounding techniques) are important as well. We don't, however, suggest grounding directly into the body. Folk with physical trauma or chronic pain can find being fully in their body very triggering and it can cause a series of flashbacks (called "flooding") and at worst can send them into crisis. So be cautious about using body-based grounding techniques. Look around the room, but don't do progressive relaxation. We (Crisses) often say "3 inches to the left" (of the body).
To lower anxiety (and thus dissociation), control environmental and interpersonal triggers and improve on safety. Being anywhere around former abusers, known triggers, in the same place(s) that traumas took place, even circumstantial and unrelated sensory foo (we Crisses have a huge trigger for the smell of coffee or cigarette smoke because one of our major abusers was cross-addicted and always brewing coffee and smoking).
In addition to the work we can do to regulate our emotions, we also can eliminate triggers, increase system safety New, and lower stressors in our life so that our symptoms become more manageable.
We also find things that help lower our anxiety or help us control it like CBD oil to be helpful, if that's a possibility. We dissociate less because we're less anxious while on it. It doesn't directly lower dissociation. there's no meds to lower dissociation. Avoid dextromethorphan (cough syrup) because it increases dissociation — and check other over-the-counter and prescribed medications for dissociative side effects.