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Integration and Dissociative Identity Disorder Treatment

Last night I listened to the HealthyPlace Mental Health Radio Show interview with Sarah Olson, the author of Becoming One: A Story of Triumph Over Multiple Personality Disorder. She talked about her integration experience and I greedily took in every word. Here was someone who had achieved what was once my most fevered wish. After I got over the initial shock of my Dissociative Identity Disorder diagnosis, my focus narrowed to one elusive, coveted dream: the complete integration of alters. This shining promise of a cohesive, unified identity was all I wanted out of Dissociative Identity Disorder treatment.

51gdr0720glIntegration Isn’t Possible without Dissociative Identity Disorder Treatment

But it wasn’t really recovery I was after. Treatment for Dissociative Identity Disorder isn’t easy. It’s a painful process consisting of years of therapy and no small amount of hard work. I didn’t want that. I wanted simply and only to be free of DID. I searched libraries and bookstores for a guide of some kind; a manual that would provide me with a checklist of steps to achieve integration. I became increasingly frustrated and angry each time I eagerly brought home a book, searched its contents, and discovered nothing like the quick and easy recipe for integration I was looking for. I saw my alters as the problem, and I just wanted them to go away.

Integration is a process, as opposed to an actual event, that begins as soon as DID-focused therapy begins. To view integration simply as a time when all the internal parts come together to form a unified self does not do justice to the process. – The Dissociative Identity Disorder Sourcebook, Deborah Haddock

Treatment for Dissociative Identity Disorder Reveals the Truth about Integration

My ideas about integration reflected a lack of understanding of DID itself. My perception of my alters as entirely separate beings is part of my disorder. This idea of integration as something that makes them go away is born of that same mindset. Part of Dissociative Identity Disorder treatment is learning that though we experience ourselves and operate as individual people, we are ultimately fractured pieces of one identity. Integration is therefore the opposite of what I thought it was. Rather than a final and total rejection of my alters, integration involves embracing them more fully. It dissolves the barriers between these alter states, but not the alter states themselves.

It took a long time to learn that integration isn’t the miracle solution I was looking for. That, in fact, what I was desperately seeking wasn’t integration at all but simply an escape from Dissociative Identity Disorder. And even though I know better now, listening to Sarah last night I couldn’t help but hope for a moment that I was about to hear the recipe I’d been searching for.

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42 thoughts on “Integration and Dissociative Identity Disorder Treatment”

  1. This is a discovery I’ve just come to myself. I have looked at my alters as the enemy & not the hero’s they are. As I have begun to embrace them …one by one, I have found a lot more peace inside.

    1. I’ve had the same experience, Lenore. Well, “peace” might not be the right word for me … but I’ve discovered that embracing my system allows for more communication and negotiation. Which certainly paves the way for peace, anyway.

  2. I struggle a lot with wanting to be integrated so that switching and time loss never happens again. I don’t know if that will ever happen, and that realization makes me want to cry for days because I just want to be like everyone else. I don’t want to have to spend all of my energy managing dissociative symptoms and keeping order amongst my system.

    I, like you, keep hoping for some miracle cure. I have come a long way in respecting my alters for allowing me to survive what I needed to survive, but DID is a scary, horrifying disorder to live with. And to know I may have to live with it for the rest of my life, or for a really long time, feels unmanageable. I have friends who had DID who, in just a few years, managed to integrate and I don’t know how they did it.

    Integration has been on my mind a lot recently, so this article is very well-timed for me. Thinking on it for too long makes my stomach hurt, though, so I think I’ll stop there. Thank you for voicing how I’ve been feeling for so long.

    1. Hi Stephanie,

      “I have friends who had DID who, in just a few years, managed to integrate and I don’t know how they did it.”

      This has been a huge source of frustration and even jealousy for me. When I was first diagnosed, I started reading about Dissociative Identity Disorder and book after book, article after article, reported the estimated total treatment time as 3 to 7 years. I’m in my sixth year of treatment now and nowhere near an end point. I don’t even feel near the halfway point. I can’t help but feel embarrassed about that and like I must not be “doing treatment right.”

      “I don’t want to have to spend all of my energy managing dissociative symptoms and keeping order amongst my system.”

      Yes. DID is confusing, frustrating, and makes me feel powerless in my own life. It’s exhausting to constantly try to keep things from falling apart, only to be disappointed yet again when they eventually do. That sounds a little defeatist, I suppose, but it’s how I genuinely feel.

  3. I’m just approaching the end of year 2 in this & only recently accepted it. One thing I’m doing that has been very helpful in being able to see a better picture of who is inside & what they are like, is to make a scrap book, each having their own page. We find pictures in magazines that best portray each one of us & add what ever each wants to see happen in the future. It has helped us find common ground & respect for others feelings & wants. I am also meeting more who reside in me that were to afraid to come out & be heard. This seems to have been a hit & is working well.

    1. Lenore,

      I love your scrapbook idea! I abhor doing system maps in a traditional way (i.e. writing down the names, ages, and other pertinent information of every system member on paper according to where they are within the system). The anxiety that activity provokes is almost unbearable. So I’m always curious about other ways for a system to express itself, less exposing ways. I don’t know why the traditional map feels so exposing to me and your scrapbook idea doesn’t, but there you have it. Thanks so much for sharing that. I’m looking forward to trying the same thing.

  4. My thoughts on integration have changed over the years, and are exactly in line with the sorts of things you describe. Maybe someday I will be integrated, but the path to get there is to accept who you are now (meaning with parts). I have often thought I could never live the rest of my life with parts. But as I heal and there is more collaboration and awareness, I think I might actually be able to. And not only will that be okay, it will be good for me. The ability to dissociate, to become fractured, I think is always there whether one “integrates” or not. I think I have said before “integration is way over-rated”.

    1. Hi Paul,

      “Maybe someday I will be integrated, but the path to get there is to accept who you are now (meaning with parts).”

      You’re so right. It took me a long time to learn that.

      “The ability to dissociate, to become fractured, I think is always there whether one “integrates” or not.”

      That’s one thing that was hard for me to accept. Because I have Dissociative Identity Disorder and have had it for most of my life, I believe dissociating is what my brain does best. And it’s my brain’s go-to method of managing … well, life. I wanted DID to be an illness that, with the proper treatment, went away like a cold or a fever. But now I know that integrated or not, DID may always be a part of my life in some manner. Dissociation certainly will be.

  5. I have been very blessed w/ an awesome therapist from the start. The freedom to be creative in expression has always been encouraged. I also rely heavily on God for help & He does. The scrap book idea has really propelled me forward in this healing process & has helped me so much to listen & understand to those who have been my help & protection when I needed them.
    I’m glad you like the idea & I hope it helps you also!

  6. I appreciate those of you who have shared your journey and struggles, as well as how you are coming to peace with D.I.D. As I read your responses I just cried, because I do feel alone in recovery apart from my therapist and family. I was diagnosed with D.I.D. approximately 3 years ago, but have been in therapy for almost two years. I’m so exhausted and of the chaos and confusion of getting to know my “Insisder’s”. There is so by much to learn and it is a “gruelling” process for me at times. I’ve made some progress, but at times I feel like things are becoming more confusing. I to thought recovery was a complete intergration of my Insider’s. Reading the book Dissociative Indentity Sourcebook by Deborah Bray Haddock, has helped, but I want to give up sometimes because it is exhausting and draining work. I have a husband and kids and it’s so hard to juggle all these things, and try to maintain some sense of “normality for my family. I need to go back to my scrapbook and start fresh with all my Insider’s and wotk towards patience.

    1. Hi Leslie,

      Thanks for your comment.

      “I have a husband and kids and it’s so hard to juggle all these things, and try to maintain some sense of “normality for my family.”

      This struggle to maintain some sense of normality is so incredibly draining, I couldn’t agree with you more. It really takes a toll on me, particularly when I’m having a hard time with things that most people who don’t have DID couldn’t possibly understand. They don’t get it, and so I try very hard to appear as normal as possible. Inevitably I fail from time to time. And that’s hard.

      The book you mention by Deborah Haddock is the first book I recommend to people wanting to learn more about Dissociative Identity Disorder. She covers the basics in a really accessible way. And in my experience, the more I know about DID the easier it is to live with it. If nothing else, I understand my life better. And though that doesn’t make any of the pain or frustration go away, I at least feel that I know what I’m dealing with.

      Grueling is an excellent word for the recovery process, Leslie. I hope you know that though having DID can be a very isolating thing and feels incredibly lonely a good deal of the time, there are so many people in the world who are struggling with DID too and feeling those same feelings of isolation and loneliness. I know it doesn’t make the loneliness go away, but maybe it helps to know that someone, somewhere understands.

  7. As another idea for a system map, I did a video clip. It helped express some of the emotions attached to certain areas through the music I used. It also avoided getting caught up in the categorisation of the system, which worried me for some reason – odd considering I’m a librarian, but there you go.

    1. Hi CG,

      You’re a librarian! You have my secret dream job. 🙂 Surrounded by books, categorizing and alphabetizing. Sounds heavenly.

      It’s interesting to me what you said about avoiding categorizing your system. I have a tendency towards putting things into categories and groupings. It helps me understand things. But I’ve found that when it comes to Dissociative Identity Disorder and understanding my system, it’s counter-productive. I try to approach getting to know them just as people, not as “protectors” or “gatekeepers” or any of that label lingo. When I try to categorize them, I end up not seeing them for who they are. Which isn’t to say that labels can’t be helpful to my comprehension of myself, my disorder, and the world around me. I believe there is absolutely a place for labels and categories. But like you, I avoid that when it comes to mapping.

      The video is a great idea. Thanks for sharing it. I’m getting some good ideas here from readers!

  8. Sorry… pushed wrong button and didn’t finish my thought. Don’t know if the earlier got posted so will repeat. I have been in therapy alot of my 64 years, but only found out about having DID until 9 months ago. When I shared the diagnosis with close friends all said of course, so that explains it. I also heard of experience and observations that I didn’t consciously know about.
    Early in therapy I chose to attempt fusion… a step past integration. But then I got to the point of each of mees talk to each other and take turns being themselves, I realized how dampened the effect will be when my adventurous 9 year old boy is merged with my 60 year school master man. So now I’m not sure.
    When I experience things in the present that bring extreme reactions out of proportion to the real event, I know a part of me is working out a hurt from the past. And as I walk through the process I find a new person emerging… someone that may eventually be all of us.

    1. Hi Nancy,

      “When I experience things in the present that bring extreme reactions out of proportion to the real event, I know a part of me is working out a hurt from the past.”

      I really like the way you worded that. I’ve started to realize that same dynamic in my own life. It’s hard, but understanding it helps. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

      Thanks for reading, Nancy, and taking the time to comment.

  9. I created a ‘family tree’ for mine, showing where each came in and who was most related to who. I also had a bowl filled with sand which had an object for each self and all were in the same sand within the same bowl, to symbolise co-operation and belonging to one system. As they began to know and finally be kind to and curious about each other they’d make things and do things for each other (yay) and as the first two of my 9 began to merge we did a circle showing where each were around the circle so could finally see what it would take for each to get more aligned with their nearest neighbor and also lines crossing the circle to show who was identifying with/learning from who. Collage is another way to literally get everyone ‘on the same page’. We also encouraged each other to listen to songs we’d picked out for each other (with respect) and though the music was often not that one’s taste it helped them know what the sender saw in it.

    D.

    1. Hi D.,

      I’d never thought of a family tree before. You guys are all offering such great ideas for system mapping/expression, thank you. I should compile these into a post.

      Thanks so much!

  10. i have only known that i have DID for a few months. when i look back on my life i feel that i’ve probably had it for most of my life. there isn’t much information about it in australia, so i am grateful for this website. i have a real effort with the disassociation side of the illness. it is very scary for me as i don’t have control over my life. i only wish that someone would have a website like this here so i could access the therapies. i listened to the radio show and found that it is soooo true what was said. but as i am at the beginning of my illness i have a lot of learning to do. these shows are a big help. thanks

    1. Hi Suzanne,

      Thank you for your comment.

      “i have a real effort with the disassociation side of the illness. it is very scary for me as i don’t have control over my life.”

      It really is scary at times. Even now, in my sixth year of treatment, I struggle so much with Dissociative Identity Disorder symptoms. I will say though, it’s better in many ways now than it was for me when I was first diagnosed. Learning about the disorder has helped me to understand how it manifests for me and why some of the things that are so scary for me happen. Of course, there’s still so much I don’t understand. But I share this with you because I hope that you too feel more stable over time. Diagnosis can be so frightening for a DID system. If this is your experience, know that it will get better, things will settle down.

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