July 31, 2010
One of the diagnostic criteria for dissociative identity disorder is experiencing amnesia or lost time. While losing time may seem like an obvious hole in your every day life, it really might not be as obvious as it seems it could be.
For dissociative trauma survivors, the sliding of time is a normal everyday way of life. It just is how it is, and time feels very different for DID survivors than it does for other people. Dissociative survivors may or may not pay attention to the minutes that are gone, or the hours that have slid quietly by. They are very used to the ebb and flow, and unless there is reason to pay specific attention to the idea of lost time, they may not really be genuinely aware of how much time they lose.
Every dissociative survivor I have met has recognized specific periods of lost time in his or her life. Sometimes, multiples think they do not lose much time, but with a few detailed questions, it can soon enough be shown that there are very clear gaps in memory and awareness of regular life events. There will be everyday type things that they know they should know, but they don’t.
Some multiples will notice big chunks of time that seem to be gone. It will be 2 pm, and then suddenly, it’s 9 pm, and the survivor has no awareness of what happened during those seven hours. Those hours are considered lost time because they feel completely lost and unaccounted for. The host parts don’t remember what happened. If they look around, they might get some clues about what may have happened, but for the most part, it feels like time completely jumped seven hours ahead. Time feels lost to them because there is basically no information and no awareness about what happened.
Other times, DID survivors will feel like they are mostly aware of everything that happens through their day, but their ability to remember what happened yesterday, or even to remember what happened this morning, or an hour ago is extremely limited. This is a different kind of lost time in that the recall is so nonexistent that it becomes the same as lost time since the survivor has next to no idea what happened.
In both of these situations, time is being quantified from the perspective of the front host personality. Time loss can include other parts of the system as well, but the questions about lost time are typically addressed towards the host. This is an important distinction to remember.
Because you see, even though time feels lost to the front host personality, in all reality, time is not lost at all.
Yes, you read that right. Time is actually not lost. Time has not actually gone away. The DID survivor’s day is not shorter than everyone else’s day. Time has not disappeared in the way that it feels.
While we use the term “lost time” all the time, that is actually not what happens. In fact, no one with DID actually loses any time at all.
So where does the time go?
Actually, what happens is that the dissociative trauma survivors have switched to another part.
Yep, they’ve just switched.
Switching. Shifting from one part or another. “Transitioning” as US of Tara called it.
That’s all that happened. You’ve switched!
The hours of time can be completely accounted for if you know who was out and what they were doing. Time itself isn’t missing. What is missing is having the awareness or knowledge about who in your system was out doing what.
So when the host or front personalities are completely unaware of life events, and there is no knowledge of what has happened, they have simply switched to someone else in their system who is out and doing all kinds of things. The body is likely up and active, and any number of things could be happening. Someone inside the system will know exactly what happened between 2 pm and 9 pm!
For there to be “lost time”, this switch occurs with parts that are so dissociated and separated from the host personalities that the host personalities are not aware of what happened.
Actually, this kind of time loss / lack of awareness can happen between any part of the system with any other part of the system. Many of the insiders may not be at all aware of what the host personalities are doing either. Part of the reason for time distortion, triggers, and flashbacks is connected to the insiders not being aware of the outside life in the current day, place, or time.
Sometimes the lost time between these parts are just from not paying attention. For example, one set of parts can simply be daydreaming or drifting off, and simply not concentrating enough to be aware. Maybe they were choosing to have an internal nap or be otherwise internally occupied. However, if they actually tried to be aware of what was happening in the outside world, they may fully well have known exactly what happened during that lost time. Or with a little effort, they may have been able to get close enough to the front of the body to be aware enough to see, or hear, or know.
Other times, the dissociative walls / amnesiac walls are much thicker and less penetrable. In these situations, one set of parts does not want the others inside to know what is happening, and the blocks put between them are strong and absolute. Parts from within the internal system are specifically dividing themselves away from everyone else so everyone inside is not aware. If you have parts that are specifically hiding their activities from the rest of everyone else, this is an important issue to address in your therapy.
In my opinion, integration is not necessary for successful stable functioning. But, eliminating time loss and/or periods of unknown switching is important for exactly those reasons. It is ok that everyone within has their chance to do what they need to do, but it is also important to build the communication around what is happening. You all share the same life. Being more aware of what happens in that life is important.
So the next time you want to know what happened during that chunk of time that you don’t remember, ask inside. Ask who knows about it. Ask who was out, or who saw what happened. There will be someone inside that knows exactly what was happening during that chunk of “missing time”. You might need to work on increasing your internal communication with those parts, but once you know the others in your system, that time loss will decrease.
Even if the time loss is happens, but if you know who is out, that can help with knowing what happened. The more you know your whole system of insiders, the less unaccounted for time you will have.
Once again I’ll say, internal communication is the central core of treatment for dissociative identity disorder.
If you want to know what is going on, talk to each other!!!
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
July 10, 2010
*** trigger warning for dissociative trauma survivors ***
The collage and the material discussed in this blog is emotionally intense and could be triggering. Please be sure that you are in a safe place before reading further.
Trauma survivors with dissociative identity disorder often have to live a double life. There is the public face, full of pretty smiles and general surface chatter that says “I’m fine”, “I’m doing great!”, “I had a good time”, “Nothing is wrong”, etc.
Recognize any of those kinds of cover-up phrases?
Unfortunately, all too often, looking the other side of these statements proves a very opposite reality. The person is feeling anything but “great”.
Every DID survivor I have ever met has a whole repertoire of phrases and quick answers that indicate they are doing well, that everything is ok, even when they actually are not ok. DID survivors know how to cover and hide their pain. Besides dissociating away the evidence, feelings, and awareness of the abuse from themselves, they have also developed a variety of social skills to cover and hide the depth of their confusion, upset, emotions from others.
On the other side of “I’m fine”, there are very different feelings – depression, fear, anxiety, sadness, overwhelm, emotional pain, grief, shame, anger, just to name a few. Sometimes there are flashbacks, body memories, nightmares, self-injuries, addiction issues, etc. There are often feelings related to self-injury, self-destruction, and self-hatred. Sometimes there are incidents of trauma in the current day, or domestic violence, or sexual assault, or date rape. Life can feel pretty dark.
But still, all too often, the survivor will say, “I’m fine.”
The following collage says it well.
In case they are a little hard to read, the words on the collage are as follows:
This can’t be happening
It’s not real
It’s not real
It’s really happening.
What will I say? What do I say?
I can’t breath I can’t breath
I need air.
Gravel in my hair hurts.
What will I say tomorrow?
What if I get grass stains on my dress?
I can’t breathe.
Please God help me. Please.
Please save me.
Someone help me
There’s no on
And he’s on top
And I can’t breathe
And this is hopeless
And I think
I can’t escape
God please —
I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine
I can never tell anyone about this
What would everyone say? They’ll all be bragging
About what a good time they had tonight
I can’t say
This is the night
God abandoned me
That my soul was killed
That the world left me behind.
I had a great time, thanks. Thanks for asking.
In this collage, notice the initial dissociative statements. “This can’t be real” indicates the need to dissociate and separate from what is happening. Even when the artist recognizes that it is really happening to her, she separates herself with the tiny “to me”.
The middle section describes a sexual assault. Some of the pain and discomfort of the abuse is included – for the most part, the details of the rape are not mentioned. However, the fears and pleas for help are included, showing the desperation felt by the woman being assaulted.
Finally, at least for a short while, the abuse has stopped.
It appears, that after the assault happens, this survivor is expected to make a social appearance at a party or a dance. The social event is supposed to be great fun, but how can a social event be fun right after having experienced a sexual trauma?
But still, the survivor says she’s fine.
- What keeps her from talking about what she just experienced?
- Do you understand why she covers and hides the abuse instead of telling others about it?
- Does this survivor remember that she was just assaulted?
- Did she build an amnesiac wall around the abuse?
- Did one insider deal with the trauma, and another insider go to the party?
- Is this survivor denying the abuse?
Part of the healing process is connecting the reality of the situation with the truth of emotion. Chances are, this survivor does not actually feel fine at all.
What could she do now?
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
March 7, 2009
Many dissociative trauma survivors have issues with time.
Sometimes the past sneaks up into the present. Sometimes the present disappears. Sometimes there are two time zones (or more) occurring at the same time. Sometimes there are huge gaps in time. Sometimes time stands still.
It can be confusing to say the least.
- Have you ever had a flashback from some year gone by overwhelm your current day?
- Have you ever been overwhelmed by such huge feelings that for them to make any sense, they must have roots in something much deeper than your current-day conflict?
- Have you ever woken up in the current day and wondered where you were?
- Have you ever lost hours of time, with no awareness of what happened, and no explanation of what you have been doing?
Losing time can be very difficult. Many folks with DID get understandably upset when this happens — struggling with the after effects of their behavior, left confused, bewildered, possibly angry, waking to their plans being destroyed, their relationships damaged, their money spent, their body feeling weird, their day interrupted. Most singletons cannot even begin to fathom what life would be like with so many missing gaps in time.
There is a huge sense of loss of control when there is lost time. Is the amnesia that is covering that lost time still important? Is it covering up some huge secret that the host of the system cannot know about? Or is it just an old habit – an old familiar way of life, and nothing to worry about? Either way, the not-knowing, and the apparent “not being allowed to know” what happened in one’s own life can understandably be very upsetting for many people.
Sometimes the effects of lost time are minimal, barely noticeable — maybe a small bruise, or scratch that came from nowhere, or a change of clothes, or maybe you’re simply sitting in a different place than you last were. Lots of people with dissociative disorders are so used to losing time that they don’t even notice it anymore. Switching and the coming and going are so normal for them, and the covering for a “bad memory” are just natural parts of the day. In fact, it can be so natural, that many people with DID/MPD are firmly convinced that they don’t lose any time at all. However, a close examination of that belief can usually prove otherwise, but that is not an uncommon initial assumption.
Sometimes lost time cause a lot of anxiety and panic, and sometimes the effects are quite devastating. The host of the system may have no awareness that one of the insiders participated in a sexual activity the night before, but the host might be able to feel body pain and stiffness, and just not have an explanation for that. The daytime alters may not have realized that “the body” is now pregnant, and they may not absolutely no idea who the father is. Or the host of the system may have no idea how the car got wrecked. The dayside people can see the damage done to the car, but might not have any awareness of what happened. Or maybe they have absolutely no idea why their spouse and children are so angry with them. Maybe they don’t remember being involved in a knockdown drag-out argument last night where the spouse and the children were repeatedly insulted, ridiculed, and denigrated.
Sometimes something good has happened – ie: where another part has had the courage to do something that you hadn’t been able to manage. The house may suddenly look cleaner and more organized, or the kids have been helped with their homework. “Good news” isn’t as frequently blocked from awareness, but it can certainly happen. And sometimes, inside system parts can purposefully block the awareness of someone else inside so they can give them a nice surprise. Insider parts can buy nice prezzies for each other, keeping the others unaware of what they are getting for Christmas or Hanukkah, for example.
However, for dissociative trauma survivors, the original foundational reasons for losing time were long ago based on avoiding or escaping the direct involvement in something terrible. While blocking out the awareness of events during their original occurrence was incredibly helpful at that initial traumatic point in time, as a person’s safety increases, and as their dissociative walls decrease, those hidden chunks of lost time often re-surface later in the form of PTSD, flashbacks, body memories, etc.
As repeated patterns of managing traumatic incidents become set and solidified within the dissociative splits, the amnesia between those alters and others inside just simply stay in place. In those original traumatic moments, those insiders were created with dissociative walls firmly intact, purposefully preventing the other system parts from knowing what happened. That same “missing time” protection stays in place until the dissociative person begins to address why it was necessary for them to have that chunk of time hidden from their life in the first place.
Think about the most recent incident or two where you lost time. Part of the healing process is getting more connected with those periods of lost time. Don’t just comfortably sail past the fact that you don’t know what happened in the middle of the afternoon, or that you have no earthly idea where you were last night. Work at that.
These missing gaps of time are pieces of your life that hold valuable information. I can promise you, your body didn’t just cease to exist while you were dissociatively “away” on a mental vacation. Something was happening with some of your parts, and someone was doing something. You might not been out and involved in life during that period of time, but I can guarantee that someone in your system knows exactly what was happening. They were there instead of you.
The terms “missing time” or “lost time” are actually misnomers. The time didn’t get lost. The time is not gone. The person dissociated away from time — someone else in your system was out instead of you. If you don’t know what happened, then you dissociated away and you have not yet talked to your internal system about who was out instead of you. By talking to the others in your dissociative system, you can find out exactly what happened in that “lost time”.
The question is whether or not you would like to know what happened while you were away. Do you want to remember what happened in those missing gaps of time in your childhood? Do you want to know what happened in those missing gaps of time last week? Are you willing to ask your insiders to tell you about their time in the body and their time out in the world?
Becoming less dissociative, less DID/MPD, more integrated, more whole means knowing about ALL the missing gaps of time – the good news, and the not so good news. If you cannot integrate what happened in your own life, you certainly cannot integrate with your other alters inside. If you cannot sit with the emotions and feelings that you had during the difficult times in your life, you certainly cannot integrate with the inside parts that contain those feelings.
Overcoming the amnesia and time loss means that you must communicate actively with the others in your system. Yep, we’re back to system communication once again. Talk to your internal people – they can tell you exactly what happened while you were away.
Work hard to figure out what has happened in your life. Be willing to remember what happened in those missing chunks of time. Don’t comfortably skip over the details that you conveniently dissociated away – go back and really work at learning what happened in your own life.
Here are some questions to ask yourself and your internal system after you notice some missing time:
- What happened? Do you have any guess or sense whatsoever of what happened? What was happening right before you lost time and what is the first thing you noticed when you got back, grounded and connected to the current day?
- How did you feel? How did you feel emotionally before you left? How do you emotionally feel now?
- How does the body feel now? What is different from before?
- What did you do to recover the information in the time that went “missing”? What clues did you find to help fill in the gaps for you? Look around the house or your car. Does anything look different?
- Did you know who in your system was “out” while you were not out? Who can you ask internally? Who saw what? Even if your insiders did not see what happened in the outside world, did they notice any internal movement? What changes and interactions were happening within the inside world while you were away? Did anyone see anyone else “walk by”?
- If you get a sense of who was out, can you talk to that part of yourself without losing time? Have you been able to work more with the others in your system to lesson the likelihood of this happening again??
- If someone else in your system was caught in a memory or a flashback, do you want to know about it? Are you willing to hear their story about their trauma? Are you willing to sit with them and deal with their pain?
Are you brave enough to know what happened while you were away?
Are you genuinely serious enough about your healing to want to know what happened while you were away?
Are you ready to claim all the different aspects of what has happened in your life?
You can get back all the information that was allegedly lost during that missing time.
You can truly know what happened.
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 11, 2009
A fun and creative way to increase system communication and overall system familiarity is to make a scrapbook displaying pages that describe each of the people in your system. Getting to know your system is an absolute essential part to your healing and recovery, but doing system work doesn’t have to be drudgery. A system scrapbook can be a wonderful treasure and a priceless keepsake for many years to come. It can help create and solidify nice memories for you.
This exercise is similar to making any other personal scrapbook or souvenir album or photo album. You will need a scrapbook, or a notebook, or a binder full of paper. Have a wide variety of writing utensils available, ie: pens, pencils, crayons, markers. Allow for different colors to be used. If you want to get creative with your pages, you could also set out scissors, glue, glitter, strips of fabric or cloth, stencils, rubber stamps, yarn, buttons, dried flowers, photos, ribbons, pretty papers, etc.
Invite each and every one of your internal system parts to design their very own page or two or three about themselves.
The pages are to be created by each of your individual system people to introduce and describe themselves, their activities, their interests, their friends, their history, etc. They each can each decorate and design their pages however they so choose. Encourage your parts to creatively display as much information about themselves on their pages as they are comfortable. It’s also good to include drawings, or photos, or collage, or poems, or lists of information, or “Facts about Me”, etc. The sky is the limit with creative expression!
The purpose of this exercise is to assist your system in getting to know themselves and each other, to increase system communication, and to lower amnesiac barriers between the different parts. As everybody fills out their own personal pages, they are providing a good visual summary for the others in the system to get to know who they are, what they like, what they don’t like, who they know, etc.
There is a particular personal fulfillment in being able to creatively express who you are as an individual. The same principal applies to internal parts as well. Having this freedom of expression is a great way to encourage other levels of communication, and being recognized as an individual within a system is also an important emotional need. The self-worth of each of your internal parts can increase just by being recognized as a valuable part of your system.
Completing a personalized page will be a challenge for many insiders, as they often do not know what they like. It’s ok to let the pages be filled out gradually – there doesn’t have to be a time limit or a rush for completion. In fact, the longer you allow this exercise to continue, the better. Some of your insiders might have to look around in the outside world to find more things that they enjoy. Many of them won’t be used to the idea of “liking anything”. Having the freedom and encouragement to explore, and to pick and choose for themselves will be a very new – and possibly unsettling – but positive experience for many of your internal parts. The entire design side of this exercise could be a totally new experience for most of your parts.
Of course there will be those who are resistant to telling anything at all about themselves to anybody, even to other insiders. These parts do not need to be forced to participate. There will be plenty of other folks that find this exercise to be a fun and creative way to meet each other. Encourage as much of your system as possible to participate in making their own page, and remind everyone to keep looking through the other pages.
View the amount of participation and interest each insider shows as an emotional barometer. The amount and intensity of interest your parts show in completing their pages and looking through other pages will absolutely parallel how comfortable, interested, and willing they are to participate in overall system communication.
This project can be rather involved, and may take days, even weeks, to complete. That’s ok! Hopefully more and more insiders will get involved over time. And as you do ongoing work in your healing process, you will continue to meet new insiders. As those new parts surface, encourage them to add their pages to your scrapbook as soon as they are ready to do so.
Another value in this exercise comes in your working together as a team. Some of the older parts will probably have to help the younger ones. Who is comfortable being near the kids? Everyone will have to take turns. Who gets to go first? Some parts will have to share when they both want to include the same item on their page, and as a system, you’ll have opportunities to problem-solve the various dilemmas. If someone makes a mistake, who will comfort them or assist them? If someone breaks a crayon, will they get in trouble? If these parts see someone new in the scrapbook, will they try to communicate with that new person on the inside? The actual process of learning to work together as a group in creating such a valuable system book is invaluable.
Please do not show this book to anyone you do not completely trust as there is no need to set yourself up for uncomfortable situations with people who are not open to understanding dissociative disorders. This system treasure book is primarily intended for you to get to know you and all your other inside peoples. It is a good therapeutic exercise and I’m sure your therapist will be very interested in seeing it as well.
Get creative, and have fun!
Kathy Broady LCSW