When it comes to understanding Dissociative Identity Disorder, most people get too hung up on the concept of the alternate identity. Identity alteration is widely and mistakenly accepted as the essence of what DID is. And so the two most popular theories about the development of Dissociative Identity Disorder revolve around the existence of alters: the Broken Vase Theory, and the Multiple Vase Theory. Neither are satisfactory explanations for how DID develops and ultimately both theories’ inaccuracies stem from the same error: the assumption that early childhood identity is cohesive and intact when in fact it is anything but.
Of the two, this is the older, slightly less popular metaphor for the development of Dissociative Identity Disorder. In a nutshell, it states that a child faced repeatedly with situations that completely overwhelm his capacity to cope will create alters, entirely new identities, to help him survive. The Multiple Vase Theory presumes that this child, often referred to as “the core” or the “original” personality, already has an identity and his alters are additional identities. In other words, we’re assuming the one identity would have been enough precisely as it was. But conditions being what they were, the child needed more alternatives. Hence the label “alter”, or “alternate identity.”
Dissociative Identity Disorder isn’t Really Multiplicity
Let me say right off here that I’m not suggesting that alters aren’t real. They are absolutely real. When you think about it, it’s really the Multiple Vase Theory that implies alters aren’t real or are somehow second-best. Because despite how it feels to the individual with DID, an alternate identity is not really an entirely separate person. There is no core, no original personality. There never was. The development of Dissociative Identity Disorder is not forming one cohesive identity and then, in order to cope with traumatic circumstances and environments, forming several more cohesive identities. Those of us with DID failed to form a cohesive identity in the first place. Where most people developed a multi-faceted, relatively well-integrated identity, we formed a severely fragmented identity. The latter is an amplification of the former, not a multiplying of it.
The Development of Dissociative Identity Disorder is a Fragmentation, Not a Multiplication
When we apply the Multiple Vase Theory to the development of Dissociative Identity Disorder it looks, metaphorically speaking, like this:
- Vase 1 – a child is born with a personality
- Vase 2 – the child is subjected to overwhelming stress and creates an additional personality
- Vase 3 – more trauma, another alternate identity, and so on
In fact, no child is born with a whole personality. (Temperament, yes. Cohesive identity, no.) The child who develops DID doesn’t create additional personalities; his personality develops in a compartmentalized way. The multiple facets of who he is become separated and, over time, begin operating as separate people altogether. So when I say I’m not multiple, I mean I’m no more multiple than anyone else. I am, however, far more fragmented than most people.
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