Dissociation: The Mind’s Natural Reaction to Trauma
By Judy Byington, MSW, LCSW, ret.
Victims of rape and natural disasters express the same type of rage, grief and flashbacks to harrowing events as seen in veterans of war. This fractured thinking is also observed in survivors of concentration camps, accidents and travesties such as those caught in the New York 9/11 attack. Loss of income, health problems and families of divorce find themselves facing not only extreme financial crises, but emotional and physical as well. Ongoing trauma can lead to psychiatric problems, the most common being dissociation, which the APA explains as, “An ability of the mind to disconnect from stressful situations by repressing unwanted (mind and body) memories into the subconscious.”
Sufferers show symptoms ranging from simple daydreaming to excessive forgetfulness. Dissociation is apparent in 65% of the general adult population, 11% of whom require treatment, while up to 30% of those have undergone emotional, physical or sexual abuse.
In children ongoing trauma can lead to multiple personalities. The younger the abused and closer their relationship to an abuser, the greater impact. “Brain wavelengths have been found to be abnormal in an abused child”…”There is a 5.8% to 6.5% reduction in the area of the mind that deals with memory and emotion: the hippocampus” (Teicher, 2012).
In the late 1800′s Sigmund Freud defined repressed memories and Dissociation as defense mechanisms of the brain while extensive human experimentation was done on the disorders during World War II. To perfect his mind-control programs Adolf Hitler studied in liaison with Englishman Aleister Crowly, a keeper of “Hidden Knowledge” of mystery religions whose philosophy centered around torture. Methods were designed not to destroy memory, but to keep it repressed (via alter personalities) until perpetrators chose to call it forward, giving them life-long governance over their victim’s thinking.
By 1973 the release of a multiple personality biography, Sybil (Henry Regnery: New York) uncovered the connection between child abuse, trauma and formation of alter personalities. Also by 1980 Michelle Remembers (Congdon & Lattes: New York) suggested that repeated severe mental strain created multiple personalities in children. Michelle Remembers, along with a comprehensive history of satanic practices, Cult and Ritual Abuse by James Noblitt, M.D. and Pamela Sue Perskins, LCSW (1980, 1995, 2000, American Psychiatric Press: Virginia) were credited with significantly elevating public awareness about the extremely esoteric activities of parents who traumatized their own children. These methods were eventually known as mind-control and named Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA). After the Vietnam War in 1980 PTSD was finally recognized as a diagnosis, though DID wasn’t defined until 1994.
After these 1980 book releases there was an explosion of clients categorizing themselves as SRA survivors suffering from multiplicity who were confessing eerily similar claims to mental health professionals. Within three years a group met in New York to organize treatment techniques for a large population of clients diagnosed with Dissociation. The next year, 1984, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health experts met in Chicago at the first gathering of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD). A year later another organization was founded: the International Society for Traumatic Studies (ISTSS). By 1988 ISTSS convened a European conference in Lincoln (United Kingdom) and in 1992, formed the first global conference in Amsterdam (The Netherlands).
Individuals who dissociate are also known to exhibit a variety of mental conditions including bouts of seemingly unfounded Depression, Flashbacks, Panic Attacks, Phobic Reactions, Addictive Behaviors, Hyperactivity and/or Eating and Learning Disorders.
Neurofeedback therapy and counseling with a trained professional has been found to change neurobiology of those with Dissociation. Simple methods also can help, “Positive experiences that contradict a traumatized child’s negative expectations are critical to helping the brain readjust itself. For example, just saying to a child that you are sorry the event happened changes brain chemistry.” (Teicher, Van der Kolk, 2012).
About The Author
Judy Byington, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., ret, former Director, Provo Family Counseling Center, Supervisor Alberta Mental Health, therapist, is Utah Trauma Research Center CEO, consultant to the Utah Attorney General office of Special Investigations and Author, Twenty-Two Faces: Inside the Extraordinary Life of Jenny Hill and Her Twenty-Two Multiple Personalities.
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