Neural Plasticity and Dissociative Identity Disorder

Seven years ago Karen and I began a healing journey together: her from dissociative identity disorder and me from myself so that I would be a good partner for her healing journey. Seven other girls have joined my wife and our family along the way. We started this journey like most people: completely ignorant about d.i.d. But from the start I purposed to welcome these new girls into my life, and the attachment wiring in me kicked into high gear as I did so.

As I began reading the literature about d.i.d., I learned that the genesis of this disorder typically comes from early childhood trauma. But the trauma that causes the dissociation then metastasizes throughout the personality, arresting and truncating the abilities that each person holds within the system. And so I’ve come to view these as the unholy trinity in this disorder: trauma, dissociation and arrested/truncated abilities. It’s not enough just to deal with the trauma that a person experienced. The dissociation and arrested/truncated abilities must be addressed too.

And so today I’d like to discuss what should be seen as a source of hope for people with d.i.d.: neural plasticity. For further and better information you can follow the addresses below or google it for yourself.

Neural plasticity refers to the changes in neural pathways and synapses of the brain due to changes in a person’s behavior and environment. Scientists used to think that only children exhibited neural plasticity but adults were ‘set in their ways.’ We know now that’s not the case. The human brain remains changing and adaptive throughout life. However, our brains ‘reward’ use of neural pathways and ‘punish’ disuse. In other words if you use a skill constantly or begin stimulating the brain in new ways, your brain strengthens the pathways that are necessary for said skill and/or stimulation. The converse is true as neglected pathways can atrophy from disuse. Sadly that’s the chasm that someone with d.i.d. must overcome: neural pathways atrophied from a lifetime of dissociation.

Those of us who aren’t dissociated can ignore skills we had in the past, but if we choose, we can pick them back up and with some effort reinvigorate those pathways. But for someone with d.i.d. they must face the unholy trinity that drives this disorder. It’s not enough to heal the trauma, stop the panic attacks and flashbacks and body memories; and undo the lies and programming of the abusers. The person with d.i.d. must begin to establish the pathways between the people within the system network. For older d.i.d. patients like my wife who is almost 50, it means creating or invigorating pathways some of which have been dissociated more than 45 years. And that doesn’t even address the last part of the trinity: maturing and connecting all the abilities that were frozen inside with each of the other girls.

This process is not linear. We did not address the trauma, then the dissociation, and finally the arrested abilities. The girls came out of their own accord or in response to my efforts. And each girl addressed issues on her own schedule or again in response to things I did to connect with her. Some girls were previously connected. Others had no connections and so we had to start from scratch. It was a messy, collaborative effort!

It can be done, BUT it takes effort! They still spend hours each day, seven years later, playing computer games, reading, surfing the internet and crafting and scrapbooking together. We encourage these and any other activities that most or all the girls in the group enjoy. But we still make time for more individualistic activities which validate the importance of each girl.

I like the analogy of creating neural pathways on one of the websites below. In the woods of your brain you regularly use certain footpaths to go to various destinations: the market, the stream to wash clothing, a friend’s house, and such. But one day you discover an abandoned fort filled with things to discover. There is no pathway there, but you are so intrigued by this discovery and what it contains that you wear a footpath to the fort with your constant treks to and from it. That is what must happen for each person in the system to become connected to the others: daily activity between the people of the system until the new neural ‘footpaths’ are fully established.

Sometimes when I read the d.i.d. literature out there, there seems a superficial naiveté about the unholy trinity this disorder has at its command. It’s not enough to heal the trauma and then wave the wand of integration over all the disparate people in the network. The neural pathways MUST be re-established or, more probably, established after a lifetime of atrophy caused by dissociation. I try to find things that all the girls enjoy doing, but the rules of neural plasticity mean they must WORK to connect everyone by repeatedly doing games, tasks, or whatever they can to capture the attention of the motley crew of strangers until they become an intimate group of friends.

Blessings,

Sam, I Am

P.S. to use the addresses below, remove the (dot) and replace with “.” Sorry for the inconvenience, but a sidebar addresses the problem that wordpress makes when using hyperlinks.

ncbi.nlm.nih(dot)gov/pmc/articles/PMC3226705/

whatisneuroplasticity(dot)com/pathways.php

en.wikipedia(dot)org/wiki/Neuroplasticity

thebrain.mcgill(dot)ca/flash/d/d_07/d_07_cl/d_07_cl_tra/d_07_cl_tra.html

wisegeek(dot)org/what-is-neural-plasticity.htm#didyouknowout

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11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. luverley
    Jul 24, 2015 @ 04:34:08

    Thanks sam for giving us some info and ideas to help my system. X

    Reply

  2. luverley
    Jul 24, 2015 @ 04:35:06

    Reblogged this on adifferentlifebeinglived and commented:
    A spouses guide to DID. I really like reading what he has to say. And it gives us hope.

    Reply

  3. Twerner
    Jul 25, 2015 @ 20:34:22

    Sam,
    This was encouraging. Thank you for posting it. I do get a little overwhelmed thinking I may need to do this with 20 others. I cannot imagine finding anything all 20 enjoy, or would even be willing to do together. And it is so far down the road anyhow. I don’t even get to talk with all of them yet. I only know they exist because the others tell me they are there. But I do appreciate the spark of hope you give, maybe it will be true for us someday, too.

    Reply

    • Sam Ruck
      Jul 27, 2015 @ 00:03:29

      Hi Twerner,

      thanks for stopping by. For my wife crafting was kind of magical and all of them like different parts of crafting. And in the beginning even though the littlest girl, Sophie, had no abilities to craft on her own, we bought her an embossing machine and a laminating machine and so every time the other girls used her machines she felt validated.

      In some of my earlier entries I thought I had to get 100% involvement. I no longer think that. I try to get as many involved as possible. Sometimes that’s enough to get the others interested (not wanting to be left out) but if not, then you are still building unity with those who are involved and then I would encourage individual activities for those who weren’t ready to be part of group activities and eventually once they were validated enough on their own, eventually they would gravitate toward the others. but I tried not to push them…maybe entice them to join the others, but never make them feel coerced.

      Oh, and don’t be too discouraged. Only Sophia and I (and our son) can talk to Tina. And no one except our son and I can talk to Jenny. We’re still in the process of connecting everyone.

      Sam

      Reply

  4. CassandCo
    Aug 04, 2015 @ 12:58:10

    Me and my alters have a bunch to say about your post.

    How wonderful that you’re so supportive of your partner – it reminds me how lucky I am to have such a supportive partner too.

    Neural plasticity is fascinating and gives me hope. Previously it did when I believed I was only suffering from depression but in terms of recovering from developmental trauma…well it’s the light at the end of the tunnel really.

    It’s heartening to see someone being invested enough to learn about the science. My partner is open to hearing about my reading but would be too overwhelmed to seek out information independent of me. Good on you.

    Atlas tells me you’re too good to be true and that it is suspicious. But when I think about what I’d do for my partner…well, I’d support her through anything.

    Thanks for your post.

    Reply

    • Sam Ruck
      Aug 04, 2015 @ 14:26:09

      Hi CassandCo,

      Thank you very much for visiting my blog. My wife(my girls) and I have been on the healing journey together for over 7 years. I’m glad Atlas is suspicious because I tend the other way: gullible and naïve since my childhood didn’t have much trauma in it. But my wife and I are learning together, and I’m glad you found something of value here.

      Good luck to you on your journey!

      Sam

      Reply

      • CassandCo
        Aug 04, 2015 @ 14:37:23

        Definitely of value. It’s really helpful to see even one perspective of a partner.

        I hope my other comments don’t cause offence. I can be harsh when I don’t know someone, but questioning really is my way to gauge a person. Feel free to tell me to buzz off if I come across as too confrontational.

      • Sam Ruck
        Aug 04, 2015 @ 16:52:12

        I don’t mind questions or suspicions. I’ve had to win the trust of each and every girl in my wife’s system who has joined my life. I understand as much as possible how scary things can be for some and how angry others can be at the injustice, neglect and pain that was caused. So questions are welcome especially when you don’t have a clue who I am.

        Sam

      • CassandCo
        Aug 04, 2015 @ 21:20:44

        That’s a great attitude to take. Yeah, when my partner first met some parts she said they looked at her like they wanted to kill her for “prying.” That’s lessened over time as they’ve realised that she’s trustworthy and not just trying to manipulate us.

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