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TERRIFIED: Fading In And Out Of Lost Time. Possible DID?

Question:

FIRST, I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR A PROPOSED ANSWER… I first realized I was fading into lost time at 19 (late 1980’s) during activities, second year out of the family house. Blink of an eye switch, present then non-present then present. Never told anyone…didn’t bother me.

CHILDHOOD DX: Failure to Thrive = 5 years to 13 years old. PROGRESSIVELY LONGER TIME LOST (FRAGMENTS?)

ACTIVITY: School, social, study, family, work
TIME LOST: 5 minutes to 15 minutes once or twice a week.
BEHAVIOR: Lost time; not present (in my conscious state nor my non-present state). Unable to recall memories.
OCCURANCE: 10x yearly (approx.); rarely but noticeable.

ACTIVITY: study TIME LOST: 3 days
BEHAVIOR: Lost identity, unknown environment or obligations.
OCCURANCE: twice in 1980’s, once in 1990’s

ACTIVITY: study TIME LOST: 3 hour segments, average,
BEHAVIOR: Lost identity, unknown environment or obligations.
OCCURANCE: 1990’s two separate days, 4 years apart (approx.)

ACTIVITY: Classes, social outings, work (no body around), family
TIME LOST: 2 to 3 hours
BEHAVIOR: Lost time. Not-present (in my conscious state nor my non-present state). Unable to recall memories.
OCCURANCE: average 1x to 2x weekly; 2006 to present

ACTIVITY: Home working.
LOST TIME: 2 hours per day within 5 day segment
BEHAVIOR: Lost time; present in my non-present state.
MET:4 children (9,6,6,4 years old)
CONVERSATIONS: Children (last day we all were together, children…active…confusing…terrifying experience) One 6 year old terrified me by swearing and threatening me. I tried to ask why she was angry at me and she blamed me for everything. I cried…..and she laughed I do not swear unless I am angry. Now, I swear more often than not and controlling my language is very very difficult.

ACTIVITY: In bed typing
LOST TIME: 2 hours per day within a 2 day segment
BEHAVIOR: Lost time (present in my not present state).
MET: 25 year old.
CONVERSATION: 25 yo. very assertive (present state- I am not assertive) and was stern. She kept saying, "We spoke before can’t you remember we met before?" I replied, "No," and we argued.

Fading mode occurs more often than not. Focusing on body awareness I am able to stay fully conscious but most of the time this does not work.

I cannot understand what is happening to me. How can I trust myself if I don’t know what is going on in my non-present state? I am terrified to sleep because I do not want to face the 6 yo. who kept yelling at me. I don’t care about eating I don’t have the desire to eat. I am overweight so my body can take care of itself…if it’s hungry. I could do anything! I may get put in jail and become present and not even know what is going on. The is serious. I cannot live this way. This has to stop. I learn by research. I love research.

QUESTIONS:

  1. Can you tell me words I can research to dissect what is happening to me so I learn and find appropriate therapy?
  2. Is a specialist in a particular field needed?
  3. What kind of therapy would best work, for example, creative therapies, talk therapy (CBT), holistic/behavioral/humanistic, etc.? Definitely psychotherapy. (No shrinks allowed)
  4. What educational background of a counselor should I consider would be most beneficial? begging: Could you also paste your proposed reply in my email? gabriellemu@yahoo.com I am really desperate and I am asking the world for help. If you chose not to answer could you offer resources, referrals, etc. so I can do my own research? I thank you for your kind attention and I hope you chose to answer.
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Answer:

Based on what you’ve described in this letter, my impression would be that you’re dealing with one or more dissociative conditions, possibly including dissociative amnesia, fugue and dissociative identity disorder (DID; what used to be known as multiple personality disorder). I am thinking in this dissociative direction based on some of the terms and descriptions you’ve used in presenting your condition, but these may not be entirely clear to other people reading your letter, so I will define them.

The author uses the term "fading" and then describes fading between "present" and "non-present" states. Initially these terms are undefined, but later in the letter they take on more meaning. Specifically, she describes being "present in my non-present" state and having a conversation with several children, one of whom accuses her. I can’t know for sure, but what appears to be being described is a short of shifting sense of being in control of herself. When she is present, she is running the show. When she is not-present, she is aware, but not running the show – has taken a back seat of some kind. Note that her ability to retain memories of the events she is experiencing are not entirely tied to her ability to remain "present".

There aren’t many compelling explanations that are consistent with self-report of being "non-present" in this manner other than dissociation. Drug intoxication could possibly produce something akin to this report, but there is no report of drugs being used here – you’d ask if you were doing a clinical interview. I suppose that some organic condition could be implicated as well and that could not be ruled out without a neurological examination and/or brain imaging. On the other hand, depersonalization experiences are fairly common, especially in populations which have experienced abuse or trauma of some sort.

Then there is the report of speaking with the children. Are these literal children or are these imagined (e.g., hallucinated) children? A third possibility is that they are "alters"; personality fragments that make up the complex ecosystem that is the mind of a person with dissociative identity disorder. Alters are not hallucinations, but rather dissociated parts of a person’s personality. The typical dissociative identity disordered person develops the condition in childhood, with particular aspects of experience becoming dissociated (not remembered) from other parts, often because they contain troubling abusive experiences. The part of the person who does not remember the abuse (or whatever) gets cut off from the part that does. Once this process is underway, a variety of alters may be produced, some containing painful or emotional memories, and some not having those memories; some becoming social facades and some not having a social role; some becoming socially mature and reality oriented and some remaining encapsulated, child-like and fantasy oriented. In my experience (which is limited to be sure) some alters have the "big picture" and understand the nature of the various alters and how they inter-related and dissociate, while others are kept in the dark. Also in my experience, it is fairly common for one group of alters to pick on another group, not unlike children pick on each other. It is not in the nature of alters to be terribly socially mature and compassionate, as those qualities require life experience to have been digested and processed; something alters don’t see a lot of.

If this letter is a report from someone with dissociative identity disorder, it is written by an alter who fulfills the role of social facade (or "customer service" if you want to think about a similar role in a large organization) and who doesn’t necessarily have the full perspective on the DID system. The children and the 25 year old may be other alters.

I’m always apprehensive suggesting to someone that they may have a dissociative condition, particularly one as complicated as DID. Dissociative people are by definition suggestible, and you don’t want to create a situation where one is not necessary. So, for the record, I need to say that I don’t have all the information that is necessary to make a diagnosis and cannot, and that what I’m presenting here is informed speculation based on the limited evidence that has been put in front of me. It is a direction to pursue and rule out; not anything definitive.

People understand other people based on their experience of themselves. This means, we assume that the other people we’re confronted with are more or less like ourselves (at least until we mature out of that position). When confronted by someone with DID who presents alters rather than an integrated personality, the strong tendency is to make the assumption that each alter is a whole personality; as though there are multiple people living in a single skull. This process is known as reification (treating something that isn’t real as though it is). This is not correct. Alters are fragments of a single person, even though they claim to be different people. They don’t share memories and they may yell at each other as though they are separate beings, but ultimately they are all branches from the same tree. Keeping this perspective in mind is important for all "people" involved with someone with DID – most especially the alters themselves. In their dis-integrated state, individual alters may act out in self-destructive and impulsive ways without consulting their fellow-alters. The very dissociation that made it possible for the DID person to survive whatever it was that set them on the path to DIDness as a child, makes it terribly difficult for them to take responsibility for their actions as an adult. As the letter writer correctly points out, she could easily end up in jail and not know why (because some immature angry part of her acted out without consulting the part of her that is writing the letter). This state of affairs can lead to some really psychotic stuff happening.

There is no medication that can treat DID, although there are medications that might be prescribed to DID patients for help with associated symptoms like anxiety or depression. The only way to tackle DID is via psychotherapy, and unfortunately, since the problem is a deep one and chronic, this process can require some significant time and expense.

The goal of any DID psychotherapy is to get the various alters to move towards an integration position where hidden memories are shared, boundaries are broken down some, and most importantly, the personality system learns to take holistic personal responsibility for actions and to be compassionate to all alters. This is therapy as an act of diplomacy. Full integration into a normal whole personality may be impossible, and more importantly is not necessary. What is necessary is that there develop a dialog and cooperation among the parts so that the important aspects of adult functioning can occur (e.g., taking unified responsibility and honoring commitments, reigning in impulsive and self-destructive actions and learning how to problem solve and cope a in constructive manner. Being dissociated all the time is a developmental wound, but people can learn to live with such wounds.

I’m not aware of any therapy that is particularly well suited for helping dissociative patients. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) would be useful, in as much as it helps to teach coping and self-soothing techniques to people who need them as well as ways to manage impulsivity, but it is not designed to help integrate the alters of a DID patient. Neither am I aware of any particular field that has particular expertise in addressing DID sorts of problems. This isn’t completely true. Clinical hypnotists may have useful expertise to offer in this capacity (as dissociation is very much related to hypnosis), but not just any hypnotist will do. For a hypnotist to be able to provide useful help, he or she would have to be capable of offering useful treatment without using hypnotism – so you’d want a psychologist who is also a hypnotist, and not just a hypnotist. Using hypnotism to work with dissociation is like fighting fire with fire (as the two are essentially identical). Badly done hypnotism could make dissociation worse, when what is desired is to work towards integration.

What is needed here is a good senior psychotherapist who has been around the block, has worked with a few dissociative patients in the past, who will not reify the alters, who is affordable (because your going to need to go for a long time), who will work towards useful integration and responsibility taking, and who can offer good non-judgmental witnessing. I suspect that most communities of any size will have a few therapists of this sort around. The easiest way to find one would be to call around to area therapists and ask for a referral to someone who treats dissociative patients. If you do this a few times and end up with the same person being suggested each time, you’re on to something.

This might be a disturbing reply to read, because if my guess of DID is at all accurate, this is really a rather chronic and difficult to treat condition that can have a person acting quite psychotically even though they don’t have schizophrenia. A working integration (if not an actual one) is possible to achieve though, and psychotherapy is the primary way to work on achieving it.

There are many DID sorts of folks out there who have come to terms with their DID in one form or another. I ask the favor of such readers to add comments below so as to help this woman generate ideas to help her move forward and get her life under better control.

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