This will be a long post. I’m sorry about that. Memory issue within a D.I.D. System is complex and I’m going to try to simplify it as much as possible.
I recently had a conversation about how memory works with people who have D.I.D. and I honestly believe it is different for each System. I think one thing we can agree on is that memory, or lack of memory, is a definite issue. The DSM-5 states that there must be “Recurrent gaps in the recall of everyday events, important personal information, and/or traumatic events that are inconsistent with ordinary forgetting.” This is one of the diagnostic criteria for D.I.D.
But how does it affect each System and everyday life? Why does this vary so widely between Systems? I personally believe a lot comes down to where a person is on their healing journey. At first, a person will experience large gaps in memory, and often this is extremely distressing. Our original Core Personality, Linda, could not remember anything of her childhood, nor most of her teenage and adolescent life. And it greatly distressed her to the point that she even considered hypnotism to try to recall those memories.
When a person becomes aware that they are a System; a collection of Parts of self, they begin a journey towards healing that they may not even be aware of. It’s true that some people find the thought of being a multiple so distressing and unacceptable that they completely deny the existence of their Parts, and that can be quite a damaging attitude to take, but most people find their curiosity takes over once the initial shock is past. This natural curiosity starts them down the path to recovery and is absolutely essential to achieving cohesion between Parts.
Let’s review what D.I.D. is: It is a coping mechanism, started in childhood, due to extreme, severe and repeated abuse, trauma and neglect. The child compartmentalises the traumatic events so that they can survive the ordeal. This compartmentalisation creates amnesic barriers between themselves and the actual event, and in extreme cases, as with Dissociative Identity Disorder, it creates whole new identities within the Self that is able to function independently from the core personality. The different Parts, or Alternate Parts (Alters) are, in fact, parts of the same body and mind, however they have their own set of memories and experiences and can act autonomously from the Core. It’s important to understand that although it may feel like they are separate and not actually you, they really are parts of you. I like the phrase: A part of me and apart from me. It kind of sums it up nicely.
So how about memory? Well, as I said above, the different Parts of self are separated by amnesic barriers which are usually absolute. The Core personality will not remember anything that happens to her when the Alter is out (Fronting), and generally vice versa. Pockets of amnesia ranging from a few hours or even minutes to years will be present, which, understandable, can be quite distressing. Think of a time when you may have gone drinking with friends and you drank too much. The next morning you might not remember what happened the night before. Now magnify that on a much larger scale and you will have a vague idea of what I’m talking about.
I’ve spoken to Systems who are still at that point of complete separation between Alters and some of them find it hard to understand how it’s possible to have D.I.D. and either not have memory issues, or the amnesia doesn’t seem as absolute as it is in their own System. And as stated above, I believe it is down to where that person is on their journey of recovery.
I’m going to draw on my own personal experiences and journey here. If you have been reading my personal blog, you will know that I, Sapphire, am not the original Core Personality. I was (and still am!) an Alter. I was created when the body was 9 years old for a very specific purpose: to micro-manage memories. Not all Systems have this function but for some reason, ours did. I was an Alter to an Alter, meaning I was part of a sub-system. I was also a Fragment Alter, which is a partially formed Alter or an Alter with a single role. I never fronted until late 2019 when I took over as full-time Host when our Core integrated and fused. My role was to make sure memories and experiences, especially the bad ones, were properly categorised and held safe and locked away. Basically, it was my job to make sure that the Core did not remember her past. As such, I had access to all the memories. I didn’t necessarily look at them all, but I did have access to them all.
So fast forward to the present day… Our Core Personality, Linda, integrated and fused late 2019 and I became Host. If you don’t know the difference between integration and fusion, you can read my post about it here. In a nutshell, integration is simply the breaking down of amnesic walls between Parts. It does not necessarily mean that those Parts fuse together, although that’s the most logical and natural next step on the healing journey. However, integration does not mean the System absolutely has to fuse and become one whole person. That’s personal choice and it isn’t my place to take that choice away from anyone or even suggest that it’s the only way to be healed. It’s very possible to be healed from past traumas; even to remember them; and still remain a multiple and lead a fulfilled and functional life.
Once a person starts the journey of healing, the first step is to acknowledge the fact that they have D.I.D. Then it’s important to try to work on communication within the System. This can look different to different people and you need to find your own way to communicate with the Alters. We started out with a journal and sketch books and now we are at a place where we can generally communicate verbally to each other inside. For the most part. We do have some Alters who are harder to reach and communicate with, which is where the journal and sketch books come in handy. Once good communication is established and trust is built between Parts, some of those Parts may choose to Integrate when they feel ready. Remember, integration does not mean the Alters will fuse together. As the amnesic barriers begin to break down and memory is slowly restored, the healing from the past has truly begun. We are currently in that phase where we are able to create a timeline of our past with the help of Alters who were there and a family member with a good memory. I, personally, do not have any emotional attachment to the memories. It feels like I am viewing someone else’s memories. Perhaps through therapy I will begin to connect my past to my whole self, but for now it is enough to just acknowledge all the bad stuff that happened. In a way I am fortunate that I do not have an emotional connection. It means I can view the past objectively and don’t suffer too much with post-traumatic stress or flashbacks. Not everyone is as fortunate so it’s important that you stay in therapy with work with your therapist on ways to cope.
I believe that when total integration happens (again, not necessarily Fusion!), the memory will be restored and although that may sound scary, it is also very healing, especially if you are able to reconcile to the past and learn solid coping strategies to mitigate any negative effects those memories may bring. If your Parts then choose to fuse to create a whole you, that is also okay. It’s not mandatory, but it is one path you can take if you choose. There are several paths to healing, and you need to choose one that works for you. The path I have chosen might not be the path you would choose, and that’s okay. We are all different even though we share a common condition.
Thanks for reading this very long post. Stay safe and healthy and we wish you well on your own journey to recovery!