I am working through a series on integration from dissociative identity disorder (DID), which begins here. I am using Rachel Downing’s article, Understanding Integration , as a starting point and then building upon what she says with my own experiences.
The next part of Downing’s article talks about the phases of integration, which is too involved for me to summarize here. I agree with her that integration is not a single event but, instead, a gradual process of moving from being separate parts to being whole.
The metaphor I like is of melting ice. Before the abuse started, my spirit was like a pond where each part flowed into the next. The abuse caused the pond to ice over, and repeated abuse caused the ice to split off into separate chunks, which is what I experienced as alter parts. I was still one pond even though I felt like a bunch of separate chunks of ice. Integration happened by melting the ice back into water through the warmth of self-love. Nothing was lost – it was just experienced in a different way.
Downing talks about integrating and then losing that integration for a while (what she calls “disintegration”). I experienced this as well, but I think it was less stressful for me (perhaps because I had her article as a guide). When I am not dissociative, I experience the world around me differently, as if I have been beamed into my life and am really “here.” I will have moments of feelings extremely present like that, which I see as a guide for where I am heading. However, I don’t stay in that place for long periods of time.
Most of my progress is gradual. As an example, I will find myself getting overstimulated by sights, sounds, or smells as I move into a deeper level of integration because, thanks to living most of my life in a dissociated state, I haven’t had to deal with overstimulation. I would simply switch from one part to the next and avoid having see, hear, or smell whatever I didn’t want to process. Being integrated means experiencing the good and the bad – being present to enjoy the smell of freshly cut grass but also present to get the waft of a garbage can.
I love this perspective offered by Downing:
I could respect my choice as a child to dissociate and survive in the face of overwhelming and ongoing trauma. But I could, as an adult, choose how I wanted to cope now as I remembered the trauma and faced life as a free adult. I COULD CHOOSE AGAIN. ~ Understanding Integration
This has been my experience as well. As I continued to embraced the different parts as “me” and “mine,” I could process the traumas against the backdrop of all of my life experiences versus the limited views that these individual parts had based upon their own limited experiences. I could honor and heal the pain of individual parts while still choosing how to move forward from an adult perspective. The more I healed, the easier this process became.
Photo credit: Hekatekris