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Archive for January 9th, 2008

Microscopic View (c) Lynda Bernhardt

One of the most misunderstood disorders experienced by some child abuse survivors is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. The media has presented this disorder as if multiple people are sharing a body. However, this could not be further from the truth. DID is a way that an abused child compartmentalizes the pain, terror, and rage that she experienced while suffering severe trauma on an ongoing basis.

People do not develop DID unless their abuse begins at a very early age. While I have not read about any particular age cut-off from any resource, after informally polling numerous people who suffer from DID, I have found that the disorder generally develops if the abuse begins before age 6. I have yet to meet a person with DID whose abuse began after age 6.

Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori Method of Education, noted that a significant change in development happens when a child reaches age 6. For this reason, she divided classes into Primary (ages 3-6) and Lower Elementary (ages 6-9) so that the lessons for each age group could meet the needs of the child. I find it interesting that the change in development, or “sensitive period,” noted by Maria Montessori coincides with my informal polling of how young an abused child must be to develop DID.

To develop DID, a child’s abuse must be severe and ongoing. One traumatic event does not seem to be enough to cause a child to split her consciousness into multiple parts. The accumulated trauma is so great that one child could not survive the abuse without splitting into parts. This enables the child to compartmentalize the pain and still interact with the world as if the abuse is not occurring regularly.

By creating alter parts, the abused child is able to detach herself from the abuse. She can see the abuse as happening to someone who is “not me,” which becomes an alter part. Most people with DID have trouble accepting that the abuse happened to them because the memories and accompanying emotions feel separate.

As I shared in my last post, Book Review: Myth of Sanity, DID falls on the extreme end of the dissociation continuum. The disorder is a much more severe and more compartmentalized form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Rather than viewing DID as a “freaky” and unexplainable disorder, society should recognize the disorder as an amazing coping tool that enables very young children to survive horrendous abuse. DID is a highly effectively way to survive severe abuse and only becomes maladaptive when the abuse ends.

I am in the process of writing several articles about DID for ehow.com. If you would like to learn about integrating alter parts and other aspects of DID, be sure to check my ehow.com page in about a week.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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