Alter switching and dissociative identity disorder (DID) are interdependent. The term "'switching" means simply to change, but, in reference to DID, it means to change a part, an alter, or a headmate, as they are called. Everyone has parts that comprise his or her personality. You might have remarked before, "Part of me really wants to improve my health." For someone to reference a single part of their personality is normal, but for those of us with DID, we experience more extreme parts of ourselves that have their own thoughts, opinions, beliefs, wishes, needs, etc. The switching of these parts is difficult, jarring, and disconcerting. If you have DID or know someone with DID, it is important to understand the signs of when someone with dissociative identity disorder is switching alters and what you can do.
Do we need to remember and process all traumatic memories in order to heal from dissociative identity disorder (DID)? When it comes to the complicated disorder of DID, there frequently are more questions than there are answers, and the explanation of the above question is no less difficult. Before I provide an answer, it is important to understand the way our emotional traumatic memories work and what it actually means to process and heal from them.
As a person who experienced dissociation from trauma, I am thankful for dissociation even though it happens to this day. It can be difficult to be thankful for things when you have dissociative identity disorder (DID). When you have DID, you have experienced significant trauma that impacts your entire life. So what's to be thankful for when things seem to be so hard? Is dissociation from trauma something to be thankful for?
Even though dissociative identity disorder (DID) is considered a dissociative disorder according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM-5, many people refer to it as a trauma disorder. Much like in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), people with DID often have a history of trauma and/or abuse. But is trauma always a requirement for DID?
Life with dissociative identity disorder (DID) is often filled with self-doubt. People with DID doubt their memories and doubt themselves. It is especially difficult in the beginning of a DID diagnosis, when the urge to engage in denial is often the strongest. But the tendency towards self-doubt doesn't stop there; it can continue for years. One cause of consistent self-doubt is related to a type of psychological abuse experienced by many with DID: gaslighting.
Soon after I began researching anything and everything related to Dissociative Identity Disorder, I came across the idea of state-dependent learning. And though the concept – that things learned or experienced under certain conditions, internal and/or external, are easiest to recall under those same conditions – made sense to me, it didn’t make much of an impression. But recently I had a profound personal experience that illustrated clearly to me both the power of state-dependent learning and the revelation of state-dependent memory recall.
The terms repressed memory and recovered memory gained popularity in the mid-1980's along with the multiple personality disorder diagnosis. As a result, these terms are still strongly associated with dissociative identity disorder (DID) (the replacement label for MPD in the United States since 1994). They're also strongly associated with unethical therapeutic practices, false memories of abuse, and lives destroyed by both. And while those associations have merit, repressed and recovered memories aren’t generally as dramatic and rare as their inflammatory connotations suggest.
Clarifying the distinction between relatively normal dissociation and relatively abnormal dissociation is important for a number of reasons, including: 1) understanding what Dissociative Identity Disorder is becomes easier when you can clearly identify what it is not, 2) describing symptoms like dissociative amnesia to others is less of a challenge when you start from a place they can relate to, and 3) those of us with DID could do with regular reminders that we aren’t aberrant life forms and, in fact, a good portion of our dissociative experiences aren’t as far-fetched to other people as we may believe.
Nothing about dissociative identity disorder is quite what the most popular phrases used to describe it imply. “Losing time” is no exception. When we talk about losing time we’re talking about severe dissociative amnesia which, in a milder form, is something I believe everyone experiences. But the phrase “losing time” suggests a highly dramatic, easily recognizable aberration. In my experience, however, dissociative amnesia is startlingly surreptitious. It’s easy to be unaware that you’re losing time at all.
Despite reminder tools and sheer determination, I keep forgetting to take my medication. I get up in the morning and think to myself, 'Now don’t forget to take your medication!' while heading to the bathroom where it’s waiting for me in a brightly colored container right there on the counter. And I repeatedly discover, much later in the day, those pills lying untouched in their little compartments. I have dissociative identity disorder and this is just one example of how my dissociative memory affects my everyday life. On its own it may not seem like a big deal. And if my memory problems were exclusive to forgetting medication or if they were irregular, here-and-there occurrences they probably wouldn’t be much of an issue. But what I just described is how my memory works all the time, with everything.