Dissociative Identity Disorder: Mapping the System
Thursday, November 4 2010 Holly Gray
If you have Dissociative Identity Disorder you've probably been instructed at least once to create a map of your system. A system map, I've been told, is essentially a recording on paper of alters' names, ages, and roles - arranged according to where they are in relationship to each other. I've never successfully completed one. If that were the only definition of a system map, I likely never would.
Mapping the Dissociative Identity Disorder System Isn't Easy
I've tried making system maps several times over the years, but the enormity of the task quickly overwhelms and immobilizes me. There are several reasons for that:
- DID systems don't often respond well to demands for identification. Similar to the question, "Who's talking?" a system map exposes the man behind the curtain. Because Dissociative Identity Disorder is designed to go undetected, many systems are reflexively defensive in response to outright inquiries about their makeup.
- Putting it on paper starkly displays harsh reality. Dissociative Identity Disorder is a difficult diagnosis to accept, sometimes exceedingly so. Even now, in my sixth year of treatment, the thought of laying my entire system out in black and white is intimidating.
- System maps imply permanence. Like pinning butterfly specimens in a display box, mapping the system can feel like defining ourselves in a linear, concrete way. And that's contrary to the intended purpose of creating maps - getting to know your system. My friends aren't defined by their names, ages, and jobs. Neither are my alters.
Creative Ways of Mapping the Dissociative Identity Disorder System
I can probably complete a system map if I take a less rigid approach. Pressing for information provokes fear and anxiety, but an open-ended, system-wide invitation to share whatever feels comfortable in self-expressive ways fosters safety. Some reader suggestions:
- Make a scrapbook. Lenore created a scrapbook with pages for each system member to fill with images that represent who they are. What's so appealing to me about this idea is that it cultivates creativity, and provides a more nuanced look at system identities than hard data alone can provide.
- Create a video. I love castorgirl's idea if for no other reason than it utilizes an entirely different medium. Every artistic medium has its limitations and advantages. Video allows the system to express itself in ways that aren't possible through written word alone.
- Compile a mix tape. I made music compilations for friends in high school. It was a fun way to communicate my feelings as well as my impressions of who we were to each other. Donna says her system did something similar by picking out songs for each other.
My psychologist often tells me that the structure and design of a Dissociative Identity Disorder system is limited only by the imagination that created it. "There are no rules," she says. I think the same holds true when mapping the system. What matters is not ironing out the details, but expressing who you are.