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.

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Anchoring Insiders to the Outside in Dissociative Identity Disorder

My wife and I have been on a healing journey together from her dissociative identity disorder. When I look back over the last 7 years we’ve been walking this road, I know she is not the only one who has radically changed. I have had to change to become the kind of man who was safe for everyone in the network. And I had to deal with my own issues and demons to do that. I couldn’t view this as her problem: it was and is our problem, our journey.

And so there’s been a lot of self-discovery that I’ve made during this journey. One thing I learned about myself is the term ‘singleton’ as it is commonly used in d.i.d. circles isn’t accurate when it comes to non-dissociated people. I’ve mentioned it in the past, but if you watch the things you read, you’ll see ‘multiple language’ used concerning non-dissociated people. We talk about ‘part of me’, ‘not being fully engaged’, ‘being divided’ on an issue, being ‘double minded’ and a host of other terms that describe the multi-faceted nature of everyone’s personality.

Then earlier this year someone made a comment on this blog about her inability to ‘switch at will’ like 7 of the 8 girls in my wife’s network can (and I am working on it with Jenny). Her comment has had me thinking about that ever since. I suggested that my wife collectively can switch ‘at will’ with 7 of the girls in the network because I’ve trained her brain. But I struggle with explaining what I’ve done to make that transformation. Or to put it another way: I think I changed my wife’s subconscious experience of d.i.d. and made it something that she (collectively) consciously controls now. And that conscious ability to switch among various parts of her personality is simply what non-dissociated people do all the time; I think.

In the ISSTD guidelines they state only 6% of people have ‘florid’ or ostentatious showings of d.i.d. which I take to mean switching with the others in the network:

Most clinicians have been taught (or assume) that DID is a rare disorder with a florid, dramatic presentation. Although DID is a relatively common disorder, R. P. Kluft (2009) observed that “only 6% make their DID obvious on an ongoing basis” (p. 600). R. P. Kluft (1991) has referred to these moments of visibility as “windows of diagnosability” (also discussed by Loewenstein, 1991a). Instead of showing visibly distinct alternate identities, the typical DID patient presents a polysymptomatic mixture of dissociative and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms that are embedded in a matrix of ostensibly nontrauma-related symptoms (e.g., depression, panic attacks, substance abuse, somatoform symptoms, eating-disordered symptoms). (isst-d dot org)

But it is the ability to switch ‘at will’ and instantly access the abilities of each member in the group personality that truly separates a dissociated multiple from a non-dissociated multiple (singleton). Sadly most of the dissociated multiples that I follow on wordpress fight against switching instead of realizing that learning to switch ‘at will’ with everyone in the group is the path toward full healing. But I do understand their fears if they don’t have someone alongside to help limit the scary aspects of letting go (switching) during the connecting process.

With Jenny’s entrance into our lives, I have the opportunity to train another part(girl) of my wife’s mind to come under her (collective) conscious control using the various means I have detailed in past entries. I call the process ‘anchoring’ the insiders to the outside world.

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An Update on Jenny

Well about 2 months ago I announced that we had an unexpected addition to my wife and marriage: Jenny. Since then I’ve been actively trying to establish a relationship with her in all the ways I did with the other girls. I have bought her various gifts to validate her importance to me and so that she can “have her own things”. It still amazes me how very important it is to each girl that she has things she can call her own. Jenny has repeatedly ‘asked’ (via pantomime) me about her various gifts to reassure herself that these truly are for her. But she shares them with the other girls just as they share their things with her.

Jenny’s entrance has not been without hardships. Because of the swooning issue we lost their Surface tablet to the bathtub shortly after she joined us. So I had to play mediator and stop the finger pointing. In the end they were happier with the replacement that I bought them. Then the very next week, we had a much larger incident, which I am not allowed to detail. That event forced me to redo the hallway in our upstairs and clean the carpets downstairs. It’s a renovation and task that have desperately needed done for many years. Karen has said that ‘other than the trauma’ from the incident, she’s happy that I finally was motivated to fix the hallway.

The swooning issue has caused us all some concern about letting any of them drive the car. So far we seem to be able to tell Jenny to ‘stay inside’ if Karen or the others are driving, but there’s a real fear of ‘what if she comes out’ unexpectedly? Can she drive? Would she panic and go back inside and swoon the body which undoubtedly would cause an accident? It’s a fear that is being magnified as my wife has to leave next week for Boston to help our son move back home. I was going to try to do it myself in a two-day marathon during the weekend, but the time-frame is such that without taking vacation days, I really can’t. Plus my wife and I don’t want to lose our few, precious vacation days unless absolutely necessary.

Her entrance has also put on hold some of the things we were doing to connect Amy and Shellie to Tina. That is a huge disappointment because I really thought we were getting close to expanding Tina’s world greatly on the inside. Tina is still separated from all the girls except her sister, Sophia. That needs to change!

As Jenny has moved outside the debilitating headaches that each girl caused initially are back. Unfortunately the headaches that Jenny’s arrival has caused have only been surpassed by those that Tina caused. My wife has spent the last 3 weeks lying on the couch or bed nearly unable to function. We hope that the duration will not be anything like Tina caused, or we could be looking at a full year of this. Only time will tell.

Another challenge with Jenny is that just like Tina initially, she is scared of me. So if I’m holding the other girls and Jenny pops out, she leaps away from me. When we are on the couch ‘together’ I’m not allowed to sit next to her. That’s a boundary I am actively working to make healthier as I started out having to sit on the floor while she was on the couch. Then I moved onto the near end of our L-shaped couch with one section between us. And now there’s only 10″-15” between us most days. She will still motion with her hand for me to scoot a little further away, and then I will move an inch or so. But we are making progress there.

Jenny is also challenged by her inability to speak. However, unlike Tina who still cannot speak without the help of her sister Sophia after being outside 3 ½ years, the part of the brain that Jenny controls has been working to give her the ability to speak. Just a few days ago she spoke a number of sentences to me on the level of Sophia. However, the stress of doing so causes her more headaches. So I’ve encouraged her to pace herself until her brain is able to accommodate the new ability without causing pain to everyone.

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Swooning the Body

My girls and I have been on a healing journey from their dissociative identity disorder for the last 7 years. And the last 2 girls have brought about a phenomenon that is in one respect laughable but in another aspect terrifying. I call it swooning in my journal.

 Tina and our newest girl whom I will call Jenny on this blog were completely dissociated from all the other girls. Unlike the others who had limited contact with some of the girls in the network before they joined us on the outside, these two had ZERO contact with everyone else. But that makes for a problem when either of them started coming outside on a regular basis. The problem is this: if either girl was on the outside and then decided to switch and go back inside, neither of them could ‘hand the baton’ (give executive control in d.i.d. geek speak) to someone else. So pretty much if either of them was out and then went back in, the body swooned or collapsed until I could pull someone else back outside to take over.

 Like I said, in one respect, it’s almost comical. For the first year that Tina came out she would swoon the body anytime she went back inside. She would close her eyes (or they would roll back) and then the body would begin to sway. That was my signal to race over and wrap her up in a bear hug if she was standing up. I was afraid she would keel over like in the movies where the character makes no attempt to catch him/herself. But what is comical in the movies is a little unnerving in real life. The thought of either girl crashing the body into a nearby object or hitting the floor full force kept me on my toes for that first year with Tina. At this point Tina seamlessly switches with the other girls. But Jenny’s entrance into our family has brought this phenomenon back into our lives.

 Anyway, there’s really not a lot to say. Once I get Jenny attached to myself and then she begins to connect to the others, the swooning will eventually go away because she will be able to hand executive control to someone else whenever she switches with the others. But until then, I’ll have to stay on guard to keep my wife’s body safe from harm.

 Take care,

 Sam

 

I Didn’t See that Coming…

…because I closed my eyes to the signs, sigh.

Well we have now officially finished up 7 years on the healing journey that my wife and I are taking thru her dissociative identity disorder. Over three years ago Tina joined my life and my wife’s network, and I announced later that she was the last insider because it seemed as if there weren’t signs of any others. In the past I’d always been visited by other girls sporadically even if they hadn’t yet decided to join our family. Alley would come out to reprimand me whenever I screwed up (couldn’t miss her, lol).  Shellie would come out to gaze at her beloved crafting card stock. KA would come out silently but clearly when we visited the Smithsonian Museum of Art, plus Amy talked about KA regularly. And Tina would come out and immediately try to get away from me no matter where we were…even if we were in a speeding car. These 4 girls made their presence clearly known to me and our son even if they hadn’t yet joined the family and day-to-day life.

But a couple of weeks ago my girls’ counselor got a call from someone who spoke of Karen in the third person, and none of the other girls admitted to the call. So I began to review the last 3 years, and it was apparent, in retrospect, that I had simply been ignoring this girl’s presence because of how overwhelming the healing process for Tina has been. The subtle signs were there. I’d even noted them in my daily journal, but I had simply chalked them up to other things.

The entrance of another girl into the group has many of the girls upset. They were finally coalescing with each other, and now that balance could disappear. Each girl has different concerns, but the unknown seems the greatest concern. And that is where we as supporting loved ones can help the healing process in a way no one else can.

Karen is concerned about the time loss that invariably will return with the emergence of a girl to whom NONE of them is connected. When time loss happens, I am the anchor and point of reference for all of them. I never let anyone completely dominate things on the outside; so no one loses days or weeks like I read in other experiences. But I’m also able to fill in the gaps and when necessary, I am happy to repeat an activity, over and over so that no one fills cheated.

Another thing that I do when someone joins the group is attach them to me first. I push attachment theory on this blog as most know. When someone new decides to join us on the outside, I do whatever it takes to help her feel safe and loved by me. I make sure she has things she can call her own. And when she is ready, I always give her a piece of jewelry like I did Karen when I married her into my life. At that point the girl is emotionally attached to me, and I act as a stabilization in her life. I am a safe harbor for any emotional storms she may have, and I am also her primary attachment figure.

I don’t understand it fully, but somehow in the attachment process, I’m kind of like the sun, and I snag the dissociated and free-flowing girls (planets) in my wife’s (solar) system doing what I said above. I guess I’m kind of a temporary ‘sun’ for them while they are shaping their own personality  system. Once I connect them to myself, it gives each the stability and proximity (to the others) to begin the hard work of connecting to the others. I act as a mediator when the inevitable misunderstandings and selfishness threaten group healing and harmony. And being mediator means I also pass along a lot of messages until the girls learn to talk to each other and care for each other. I also spend a lot of time reassuring the “old” girls that they will not be replaced by the “new” girl. I never, ever play favorites with anyone which is also an important part of the healing and connecting process for each girl. Moreover, she needs to know I love her and consider her important in her own right. Each of them wanted to know if I would love her regardless of Karen.

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Attachment Theory and “The Risk of Rescuing”?.: The Roadmap for Healing D.I.D

My wife and I are finishing the 7th year on our healing journey from her dissociative identity disorder. When we first began this journey, she begged me to stay away from the professional and popular literature because she and the girls liked how I was helping them: they were afraid I’d change how I was doing things if I read what others were doing. But eventually I began to read what others had to say. It was then that I understood why they hadn’t wanted me to read some of the destructive things that people suggested when helping sufferers of d.i.d. But 2 years ago I came across attachment theory literature, and this was completely different.

When I began reading attachment theory literature, I realized that somehow I had naturally followed this theory. Maybe it was hard-wired in me, and once I took care of my own issues, I was able to ‘do what comes naturally.’ I don’t know. But whatever the case, I found the scientific theoretical backing for so much of what I do to help my girls heal from d.i.d. But as I continued reading the professional literature about d.i.d. that claims to be pro-attachment theory as well, I noticed that they seemed to have compartmentalized their theoretical paradigms. Instead of making attachment theory the bedrock of their therapeutic methodology, they pick and choose parts and pieces and mish mash it with other therapeutic paradigms. More

Our Changing Journey

For the past 7 years my wife and I have been on a journey together to help her heal from dissociative identity disorder. But when I made a post about the United States of Tara last week and how our experience differed from it, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a firestorm over a comment I made. I was accused of being a pedophile and grooming other littles on wordpress for my nefarious intentions by a woman I once considered a good friend. So I switched this blog to private to give myself some time to think and consider where to go from there.

First, for any of you still willing to read this blog, let me state how disturbing I find the accusation of being a pedophile. My wife’s life and my life have been marred by the pedophile who abused her when she was 2 years old. To this day I cannot understand what could drive any person to find a toddler sexually attractive. Hell, at my age I’m having trouble seeing 20-year old “women” as anything but “she’s young enough to be my daughter.” But beyond that even though the little girls are part of my wife, they ALL know that they are completely safe with me. I have given the littlest girl, Sophia, hundreds of baths at this point without EVER doing more than give her a bath. Moreover, all of us are often naked together simply because we live together, and yet all of them know they are safe with me. They never worry that I would do something unsolicited with them. More

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