In fact, toddlers do not yet have a stable self. Like many things, the ability to recognize oneself as an independent being is already built into us before birth. However, in order to develop them, we need people who lovingly care for us, say developmental psychologists. Anyone who has never experienced a protected environment, who endures one atrocity after another and still has to go to school the next day, remains stuck in individual states, so to speak. Because none of this fits together.
“The fact that the personality breaks is the wrong metaphor. She can’t even grow together«(Michaela Huber, Traumatherapeutin)
The currently most promising theory of the disorder divides the inner persona into two groups: the “apparently normal” and the “emotional” parts of the personality. The former take care of everyday life. They have no memory of the abominations and are able to function that way. The latter, on the other hand, are the bearers of the trauma. The experience breaks ground in them as soon as it is triggered. Such flashbacks are similar to those experienced by people with post-traumatic stress disorder, where a smell, sound, or touch suddenly causes the memory to crash upon the person unchecked. Victims also split off the trauma. What happened is therefore not normally integrated into memory. It is repeatedly experienced in a detached manner – independent of context, space and time – and for the traumatized at the moment it seems real and just as threatening as it was then.
The origin: incomprehensible suffering
In the case of dissociative identity disorder, the experts suspect that this separation is even more profound. The trauma happens so early and is so severe that not only is the memory of it isolated, but a whole identity grows around it. The unimaginable cannot be part of everyday consciousness, but must exist separately – securely wrapped in another being. The splitting up is on the one hand a disturbance in personality development and on the other hand a protective mechanism of the soul.
Dissociation & Trauma
In dissociation, mental functions that actually belong together are detached from one another. Such a split can affect perception, memory, or consciousness and identity. People tend to dissociate in life-threatening situations. Then parts of the experience are temporarily kept out of everyday consciousness. This happens, for example, when you don’t feel any pain shortly after an accident. If flight or fight is no longer possible, a real shutdown can occur. Perception, sensitivity and the ability to react are shut down during this state of shock. This emergency program of nature makes sense in some extreme situations, but it can get out of control. When danger is persistent—when children are constantly exposed to neglect and violence—dissociation often becomes a key survival mechanism.
The bearers of the trauma remember what happened. For example, they remain children who are deeply shaken by what they have experienced. Sometimes emotional parts act as protectors and in moments of real or perceived threat defend “the system”, i.e. the person concerned with all his personalities. Such inner persons are often teenage boys. “For me it was 16-year-old Bo,” says Lina. “Bo’s pretty tough. He does martial arts, smokes, and drinks his coffee black.”
In fact, the split often follows a certain pattern. In addition to traumatized or carefree children, adolescent protectors and inexperienced everyday personalities, there is another type of inner person that is particularly irritating: the perpetrators seem to speak directly from them. She’ll say things like, ‘You’re served right by being hurt. You don’t deserve better.” “These are so-called criminal imitation parts,” explains Michaela Huber. They arise because a person unconsciously identifies even with an attacker. “Heavily traumatized children also split off these parts completely, which creates a kind of enemy inside.” The original rift apparently favors an ever-increasing fragmentation of identity and thus allows more and more inner characters to emerge.
»We therapists must first help those affected to build bridges between the individual inner persons. Only then can they gradually begin to communicate and cooperate«(Michaela Huber, Traumatherapeutin)
Changing people in the brain scanner
In 2014, Yolanda Schlumpf and colleagues conducted a study to test the theory of the two types of inner persons. The scientists looked at the brain activity of those affected using functional magnetic resonance imaging. 15 test subjects were initially asked to hand over control to an everyday personality before the latter stepped back and a traumatized inner person came to the fore. One of the participants was Lina. “By that point, I was already able to let certain inner characters come forward. In other words, they practically took over the body, while others saw and heard everything as if through a large window. I learned how to consciously control this in therapy,” she reports. A part named Kira entered the brain scanner. She is part of Lina’s everyday team, always remains calm and level-headed, has long blond hair, is vegan and Buddhist. At the request of the experimenter, Rosa then took over the body. The six-year-old girl remembers the violence she experienced well.