Obstacles to Developing Internal Communication

October 28, 2010 Holly Gray

When I was first diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, I did what I always do when faced with something I have no idea how to handle: I went to the library. As a rule, I don't read autobiographical accounts of DID but I voraciously digested everything else I could get my hands on. Most of the literature agreed on the basics of Dissociative Identity Disorder treatment, including the consistent message that establishing internal communication is an essential first step, second only to stabilization. "Ask inside" quickly became the most irritating, eye-roll inducing directive I heard. I hated it for one reason: it didn't work.

[caption id="attachment_768" align="alignleft" width="245" caption="Photo by Anthony Easton"]Photo by Anthony Easton[/caption]

When You Can't Develop Internal Communication

In those early days after diagnosis, internal communication was a feast or famine kind of thing. I was either flooded with all kinds of information, most of which I was in no fit state to hear, or my head felt like a ghost town, silent and unwelcoming. It took a few years before I was able to begin building regular, balanced communication within my system. I'm still in the early stages of that process, but I've gained enough ground that "ask inside" isn't exasperating like it once was. Looking back now, I can clearly identify some of the obstacles to system communication - obstacles that I've since learned are common:

  • It's awfully hard to communicate with people you insist don't even exist. My number one priority was establishing that I didn't have Dissociative Identity Disorder. That affected internal communication in two ways: 1) my system vacillated between the silent treatment and barraging me with information in an attempt to force my acknowledgment, and 2) my refusal to accept reality prevented me from recognizing responses to "ask inside." I genuinely believed there were no responses.
  • Dissociative Identity Disorder is about not knowing what you know. It's unreasonable to expect a diagnosis to open the doors to balanced internal communication when your system's modus operandi for virtually your whole life has been a smooth but covert exchange of need-to-know information. A form of internal communication existed all along. My awareness of it however, did not.
  • Some DID system members can effectively block all communication. The tricky thing about this sort of obstacle is that it's not possible to either recognize or solve the problem without some degree of internal communication - the very thing that's inoperable. For me, pinpointing and resolving this issue took guidance from an experienced clinician.

Developing Internal Communication Takes Time and Effort

[caption id="attachment_770" align="alignleft" width="177" caption="Photo by Kathleen"]Photo by Kathleen[/caption]

I would be misrepresenting myself if I gave anyone the impression that we are a co-conscious, fully cooperating system with a high degree of internal communication. Though I've been in treatment for Dissociative Identity Disorder for over five years, I've made excruciatingly slow progress. Even so, I've learned at least to recognize those three obstacles to developing internal communication. I share them with you in hopes that if you also dread hearing "ask inside," you'll know that you're not alone, and that there is hope.

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APA Reference
Gray, H. (2010, October 28). Obstacles to Developing Internal Communication, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Author: Holly Gray

August, 15 2014 at 4:41 pm

You are so brave and expressive. Thank you so much for offering your insight to those of us who can benefit from your transparency either for our own journey or to understand a loved one. I am really needing to know how others found out about their DID, or systems, and what the therapist, family member, or friend did to help increase awareness? I mean, at some point a person with DID goes from not knowing of the alters to realizing what's going on. How does that happen? I know greater awareness of this first phase would help so many in initial stages of treatment.

June, 29 2012 at 9:18 pm

You pretty much restated what my friend was trying to tell me earlier tonight. He told me that a lot of my system communication troubles happen because I go into those conversations trying to either "prove" or "disprove" my system's existence. Thank you for writing these posts, they are very helpful!

February, 21 2011 at 3:49 pm

Hi Holly,
I've been researching DID and your blog has been most helpful. Thank you for your articulate account on your first hand experiences.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
February, 23 2011 at 11:05 am

Hi Court,
Thanks so much for reading! I'm glad it's been of help to you.

Diane Townsend
January, 28 2011 at 7:29 am

Hi Holly,
We have not been in contact for quite some time. My name is Sandra, and I am speaking for Diane, as well as the rest of our system.
We have been in a state of upheaval for quite a while now. This has been a shock for us all, as we felt the worst was over. If we can deal with what is happening now, we think we will be close to resolution for us all. In the meantime, it is horrendous.
It started with the question "What is the most powerful emotion?" This seemed to open floodgates, and each of us had different answers -- all negative. Diane wrote in her journal what each of us said, but somehow we all started to remember in excruciating detail what had created each of us. Diane shared in each of those memories, but becomes totally exhausted by it all, which is not surprising. We have a long way to go, as there are so many of us, but we have made the remarkable discovery that those of are who have so far been through this, are completely and finally at peace!
That's why we hope and believe that this will lead to resolution, without integration. We just have to make sure we take special care of Diane, and interact with the outside world till we get through this. She needs time and space to deal with all this, but the most encouraging thing is that she has found that peace and harmony with those she has dealt with too. She is ecstatic, despite her exhuastion, that she has also lost the guilt she has always felt about creating us. She is determined to hang on to the courage she has found in herself, and continue with this devastating process right to the end.
We are all so proud of her, and it has united us in a way we have never known before, AND IT FEELS SO GOOD! Wish us well,
Best wishes,
Sandra, for Diane and Co.

November, 21 2010 at 7:33 am

I currently have no internal communication with my system. All is quiet in my head a majority of the time. Then at rare times everyone wants to talk, yell, and scream at the most not needed time. I have been in denial until about a month ago and my system is yet to be discovered.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
November, 22 2010 at 6:27 pm

Hi knana81,
What you describe was a frustrating place to be in for me. Assuming it's hard for you too I want to tell you it absolutely can get better. Writing letters to the system, and/or certain members is a great way to begin the process of building internal communication. We still do that regularly and it really helps.
Thanks for your comment. I hope to hear from you again.

November, 19 2010 at 7:31 am

Thanks, that helps.

November, 17 2010 at 2:29 am

I have found that I can be completely present (co-conscious) during a thearapy session or another event of some sort, but when I walk out the door & can't remember what was said. I know I was there, but can't bring up any details. If reminded, I can hold on to the info for a minute, but then lose it again. It's like someone just grabs what I am holding out of my hand and it's gone before I can stop them.
I don't experience much "total" amnesia (at least not as an adult), for the most part I'm co-conscious, so I can fake my way through when I need to.
Does anyone else have trouble w/ this?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
November, 18 2010 at 6:39 am

Hi Lenore,
I think what you're describing is the wide range of dissociative amnesia. A person who doesn't have DID or any other dissociative disorder has these experiences now and again too. When she's particularly stressed, for instance, my partner may go upstairs to grab something, get up there and have no idea what she intended to get. The difference, as I see it, is that she doesn't define it the way you do:
"It’s like someone just grabs what I am holding out of my hand and it’s gone before I can stop them."
It can be confusing for people with DID, I think, this issue of being present but then not remembering - or conversely, not being present and yet having access to information on the experience. Exacerbating the confusion is the fact that it's not a set-in-stone thing for many - sometimes you remember, sometimes you don't.
When I was first diagnosed this contributed to my doubt and confusion about my diagnosis. I believed the same things about DID that most of the population does. I thought alters were quite literally separate people and I believed if I could "remember" something I didn't remember then obviously I didn't have DID. It took a long time to understand that this is all happening in one mind and that dissociative amnesia exists, like most everything, on a continuum.

November, 16 2010 at 2:04 am

the other frustrating thing is the peculiar amnesia... I'm not sure if I can explain it... I remember whatever "track" I am on, and all that happened in that track, but not the other "tracks." It's really like everybody else* has a better knowledge of my life than I do, because they remember all the tracks at once. But I "forget" that I have DID, or what that is like, with upsetting frequency.
*re-reading this, I realized it could be understood as everybody else on the outside or everybody else on the inside, but I guess both are true

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
November, 16 2010 at 11:40 am

Hi Indigo,
Thanks for your comment.
"It’s really like everybody else* has a better knowledge of my life than I do ...."
That's how I feel too. And I agree that the amnesia is so peculiar in so many ways. I often "remember" things I wasn't even around for. And at other times, I have total amnesia for something I was absolutely present for. Peculiar, indeed.

November, 4 2010 at 9:45 am

I had a hard time with my parts talking to each other and they also had been quiet and hidden for so many years that they actually took over my life for a number of days because they finally had a chance to express themselves and had a hard time learning to share the body with me and with other parts. I used to have 60+ parts, then 30 and now just a handful, thankfully. I think we communicate fairly well but if things get out of control I know a part has something to say and instead of letting me know, they just act out and I have to dig for information. Healthy communication is soooo much better. Takes a lot of practice as you have all found out!!!

October, 29 2010 at 3:49 am

YES. All of your points that you made are incredibly important things for people to know. The "silent treatment" to "information overload" is something that my system likes to do often when I'm really starting to doubt it's real. Yep, 3 years later and sometimes I think I'm still psychotic and not dissociative. Somehow that feels less "scary"; isn't that messed up?
Developing internal communication is something that has gotten MUCH better over the years, but I know the work still isn't over. I'm not sure that it ever will be.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
October, 30 2010 at 9:37 am

Hi Stephanie,
Thanks for your comment.
"Yep, 3 years later and sometimes I think I’m still psychotic and not dissociative. Somehow that feels less “scary”; isn’t that messed up?"
It's understandable, I think. If you're psychotic, well, you don't have to accept that these parts of self are truly parts of self. They're not real. They don't exist. And if they don't exist, you don't have to give anything they say or do any credence whatsoever. I can see why that might be appealing.

October, 28 2010 at 5:15 pm

It's amazing how awareness, acceptance and communication are linked. I've come up against another dose of societal denial lately, and the internal reaction to it has been extreme - walls going up, increasing silence, and lots of lost time.
I hate phrases like "Ask inside" and "How does that make you feel". I know some people find them useful as a way to direct their thoughts and attention; but for me, it riles my cynical side. Thankfully my current therapist doesn't use them, but instead draws my attention to my feelings and internal communication in other ways. These other ways irritated me to begin with, but as we relaxed a little, the layers of cynical protection eased and everything was more likely to be accessed.
Thanks for another thought provoking post...
Take care,

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
October, 30 2010 at 9:24 am

Hi CG,
"I’ve come up against another dose of societal denial lately, and the internal reaction to it has been extreme - walls going up, increasing silence, and lots of lost time."
Interesting how that works, isn't it? People tell us they don't believe us and we seek not to believe it ourselves, to align our reality with theirs. I believe that's just the nature of Dissociative Identity Disorder. It exists in part to help us align our realities with others'.
"Thankfully my current therapist doesn’t use them, but instead draws my attention to my feelings and internal communication in other ways."
Ah yes, mine too. It's also helpful for me that my therapist and a couple of other people in my life know my system well enough to be able to offer more specific, constructive advice. Like, "Have you asked __________ what she thinks about that?" It works better for me because "ask inside" is just so vague and nebulous and sort of feels like a brush-off at times.

October, 28 2010 at 7:34 am

This is very accurate! I really like how you said it. My experience has been similar to yours on a number of levels. I've been through the years of people saying "ask inside" and having no idea what that meant. Or people saying I was getting triggered and having no idea what that meant either.
The funny thing is that despite all the "teaching", it didn't just sink in. It wasn't something I just "got". It took a long time, like you say. Excruciatingly slow, yes!
There is hope. But the key is to have the right guidance. You've talked about that in this post, and in a recent post here.
The one thing that struck me about your three obstacles was how symbiotic they are with the whole societal denial about DID. When we see that there are people who say DID doesn't exist, it's very easy for us to glom onto that if that's what we need to hear. It doesn't change, though, what is very real.
Thanks for this writing. Really appreciated it.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
October, 30 2010 at 9:06 am

Hi Paul,
"The one thing that struck me about your three obstacles was how symbiotic they are with the whole societal denial about DID."
That hadn't occurred to me, thanks for bringing it up. It's interesting - as I see it, DID is, at its most basic, about not knowing what you know. It seems like it works that way with people who don't have it too. DID pretends it doesn't exist. It fools a lot of people into believing that.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Paul. It's always good to hear your perspective.

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