Dissociated Self-States Theory
Psychology faces an enormous challenge as a science. It's a science that attempts to either make (or fake) objective observations regarding people's entirely subjective internal experiences.
This makes it very awkward. There's really no way to prove when a developmental theory is correct or not. You can't craft experiments and hypotheses that would require messing around with early childhood development; it's unethical. So psychology is stuck when it comes to figuring out exactly what's going on when a child is newly born.
The developmental theory of a newborn coming into the world having many detached self-states is one of a series of theories that supplanted Freud's original ages & stages theories with something that researchers and theoreticians home is closer to the truth. We can study brain activity, but we cannot study consciousness in itself, and we can't even ask a newborn what they think is going on in their head. Even doing brain activity studies on a newborn is going into sketchy territory that interferes with secure attached neonatal development.
So, basically, this is an area where — no matter how well-intentioned, or how well-informed — psychology as a science is fucked.
As far as researchers and theoreticians are concerned, the theory that all newborns are born with self-states is "good enough" at the moment, even if it may not be true. Certainly under the proper circumstances a child goes through certain well-known cognitive developmental milestones and comes out the other end as what society considers a well-adjusted adult, and no longer has certain markers that therapists consider to be signs of the fusion of these various self-states.
Note, however, all developmental theories of consciousness and agency are reductionist in nature. They're taking an unobservable, organic, dynamic process that shapes billions of neurons and cells over the course of millions of minutes, and then crunching it down to far more simplistic terms mainly for the sake of being able to fit on a few slides of a presentation when conveying ideas from instructors to students. That's when the developmental theories are used the most.
So — what if more than one theory is correct? Or what if they're all so oversimplified that they're missing vital factors of what is really going on? Maybe one day science will figure out how to observe consciousness. Maybe one day we'll be able to follow individual neurons, or figure out how a brain creates what we experience as consciousness.
That day is not today.
Based on the idea of "self-states" theoreticians go one step further for folks with dissociative disorders and the issue of C-PTSD in very early development. It goes something like this:
An infant is born with the ability to dissociate. For some subjectively significant time in the first 5-6, or maybe up to 9, years of development, the child is traumatized, repeatedly. A confounding factor is also the lack of secure caregiving or a safe place for the child to process the traumas before PTSD forms. This interrupts the normal process of fusing the child's self-states and thus because the child has the ability to dissociate they remain separate and develop separately. They end up with 2 types of "parts" of what should have, under typical circumstances and healthy caregiving styles, merged into one person. The "ANP" and the "EP" — apparently normal part, and the emotional part. The ANP does what is necessary to pass as a typical person in between traumatic episodes. The EP stores the traumatic incidents and panic reactions without being able to fully process them (hence the EP has obvious PTSD or C-PTSD).
This theory — the theory of structural dissociation — works to some degree, even though it has flaws.
One flaw we can see are that it's developed by people who have (theoretically) never experienced these issues. Many who have adhere to it since it does not require that we have an "original" or "core" that we "split" from – and many with the DID syndrome do not experience these phenomenon that were required by earlier theories.
Closer to the truth, or better explaining the truth, does not make it the truth.
Developed with Bias
People who are singular put bias, perhaps unintentional bias, on the desirability of being a singular entity and the broken-ness of outliers or the need for those who are different to be fixed. Creating singular-centric theories of development they actually stumbled on a somewhat plural-centric theory of development that is actually rather flattering in some ways, even though it still comes around in the end to merging being desirable, and remaining separated being undesirable.
It's a less stigmatizing theory, it's one that goes an extra step towards explaining why some plurals have absolutely no sense of an "original" or "core" identity. And we're honestly flattered that you (by accident or design) took this issue with prior theories into account.
This does make it a better theory, but still doesn't make it a correct theory.
Alternate Plural-Centric Theory
So for shits and giggles, let's play with an alternate theory which will show at the very least that there could be more theories, that they could be true. We'll base this vaguely off of structural dissociation theory to lend it a progenitor and some basis in credibility.
We're going to call this The Quantum Theory of Development.
Humans are born ready for nearly anything. The same infant (in terms of genetics and neonatal development) adapted to the Bronze Age as the one that adapted to the Dark Ages, or the Industrial Age, the Information Age. An infant is ready to adapt to a first world nation, or a third world nation, an urban or suburban, rural or agricultural environment, tribal living or nuclear family, migrant or with stable housing. It's a marvel what an infant is ready for in terms of developmental possibilities. One might say that an infant is ready for anything.
One could say that an infant is born with a consciousness that is a whirling mass of possibility. (See, that's where Quantum comes from.) An infant is born with myriad possibilities to adapt to nearly any external circumstances, any culture that it's born into. An infant is ready to absorb cues from the environment and interactions with other humans as to whom they need to be or become in order to fit in to society.
This is beyond myriad self-states. This is basically rudimentary unformed wiggling masses of potential — billions of neural connections waiting for direction.
Unless there were cues before the infant was even born. During fetal development, there are sounds that pass into the womb environment. The maternal heartbeat. External voices. Are those voices loving and calm and nourishing? Or are they raised in anger? What about movement? Speeds and g-forces of vehicles, horse gait, running. What about hormones and other chemical signals that pass through the placental barrier? Cortisol? Epinephrine? Oxytocin? Endorphins? What cues could an infant have about the environment they are about to be born into, and how could that affect the quantum consciousness before it even emerges from the womb?
We would like to theorize that if an infant is subjected to stressors and potentially even trauma in the womb they are far more likely to emerge in a heightened state of hypervigilance, ready for an antagonistic environment. To support this idea, the nesting parent's state of anxiety has been shown to affect fetal development. This infant is ready for adversity; let's call them a proto-panic persona.
An infant who does not have these additional stressors emerges with a quantum consciousness but without hypervigilance. Still develops ready for anything from a cave dwelling environment through space travel, and has the ability to adapt to adversity, but not as prepared for what is unlikely to be a drastically antagonistic environment. Let's say this is a proto-peace persona.
[In terms of what is normal in humanity in its millions of years of development, I would wager the proto-panic persona would be the more likely to emerge upon birth in a longitudinal study over the millions of years humans were on this planet. It's a lovely but very modern luxury to live in a (more) peaceful world, but that is unlikely to have happened for much more than the last 5,000-10,000 years. Folk could argue whether or not bringing children into a safe and peaceful world is false advertising or sets them up for later adversity, but that's not the point of this article; this is merely a developmental theory. Adults who grow up sans trauma from a proto-peace infant persona are expected by their fellows to be more resilient when adversity does occur.]
Thus infants are born with the potential to become many types of people, dependent on their environment. Some possibilities may be influenced by genetics and heritage, but for the most part the possibilities are dominated not by the materials on which consciousness is formed, but on the signals received during development both before and after birth that groom the formation of consciousness to fit the expectations and needs of the surrounding environment.
On top of this, the infant has some very rudimentary communication mechanisms and needs-monitoring that are common to all humans. The fall and startle reflexes, crying, pain sensors, etc. Outside of these very basic sensory states and mechanisms, and the proto-persona formation from pre-birth with preparation for either an antagonistic environment or a peaceful environment (whether they have a heightened sense of sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system activation), a newborn is a quantum consciousness being.
Also, whether activated or not, children appear to be born with a certain level of ability to (or lack of ability to) dissociate.
An infant born with a proto-peace persona who gets showered with adequate love and attention in a positive-attachment environment will most likely shed the possibilities of entering a panic environment. Use it, or lose it. Like unloading ballast, as their neural attachments form around having safety and stability, their brain develops with the expectation of continued safety and stability. Why be prepared for adversity that never manifests? Of course, this is desirable. We don't wish harm on people, even in a theoretical model.
An infant born with a proto-panic persona who is continually startled, frightened, hurt, triggered and traumatized will grow up ready for adversity and panic.
This article is a Stub. We're on the road and need to pack to travel.