Trauma and Dissociative Identity Disorder

Healing from dissociative identity disorder requires understanding what it is and how one forms it, and many other aspects of the disorder.  

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is believed to be caused by trauma. This article will explore the relationship between trauma and DID.

What is Trauma?

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Trauma is the end game of extraordinarily stressful events that break a person’s sense of being secure. Trauma makes you feel helpless and like you are living in a world that is far too dangerous.

Trauma may leave its victims struggling with negative and upsetting emotions, memories, and sometimes crushing anxiety, leaving people feeling numb and disconnected.

Traumatic events often involve some type of threat to life and/or safety, leaving one feeling overwhelmed and isolated. It is not the circumstances that determine whether an event is traumatic but a person’s emotional experience of that event that makes it traumatic. Thus, an event can be traumatic with or without physical harm.

The more frightened one feels during the traumatic event, the more helpless the victim feels.

Types of Trauma

Trauma can be put into three broad categories, as discussed below.

One-time traumatic events. As the title insinuates, these events are one-time events such as an injury, accident, or violent attack on one’s person. The event is usually unexpected and especially traumatic if happening in childhood. It is not unusual for someone who has had a one-time trauma to develop post-traumatic stress disorder.   

Ongoing and relentless stress. These events are repeated, such as experiencing living in a crime or war-ridden environment, battling a life-threatening illness, being bullied, or as in the case of DID, experiencing repeated and vicious attacks along with sexual, physical, and emotional abuse and neglect.

Other Causes.  Other causes of trauma that are often overlooked are surgery (in the first three years of life), the sudden death of a loved one, divorce, breakup in a relationship, or humiliating experiences, especially if someone is cruel deliberately.  

Coping with trauma is difficult at best, and the after-effects of trauma in the life of the victim are long-lasting and can alter a person’s life course forever.

The Symptoms of Trauma

Everyone behaves differently when confronted with traumatic events. Because we are so different from one another, we shouldn’t judge our reactions concerning how others react.

There are two types of symptoms for trauma, emotional and physical, and both types are often experienced by those living with dissociative identity disorder.

Emotional Symptoms:

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief
  • Anger, irritability
  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety and fear
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Guilt, shame, and self-blame
  • Feeling disconnected or numb
  • A sense that you do not belong in the world

Physical Symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Easily startled
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Edginess and agitation
  • Unexplained pain
  • Muscle tension

People who have DID also live with complex post-traumatic stress disorder and face a long uphill climb to health.

No matter the symptoms or reactions to traumatic events, you are totally normal for where you have been and what you have endured.

Dissociative Identity Disorder and Trauma

The consensus is that dissociative identity disorder is caused by repeated and highly traumatic events such as childhood sexual abuse, childhood physical abuse, severe neglect, and mental abuse, including narcissistic abuse.

Ask anyone who has DID, and they will confirm that they are experiencing the emergence of horrific memories of events from their past. These traumatic events change their life paths, leading to losses too numerous to recount here.

All children are dissociated and do not have a firm personality during the first five to seven years of life.

Dissociative identity disorder forms when a child’s psychological development is disrupted by early, repetitive trauma. What happens is that the child’s normal process of consolidating a core sense of self-identity is disrupted, leaving the child dissociated.

Because of overwhelming trauma, children develop multiple and conflicting self-states or identities mirroring the radical contradictions in their early social and family environments.

In Closing

The purpose of this piece is to bring to the forefront the connection between trauma and dissociative identity disorder. Many of you already understood these connections, but it is vital to keep talking about DID’s connection to trauma so that people will not blame themselves for the formation of DID.

Trauma is something that can be overcome with time and hard work. There can be no doubt that overcoming a traumatic childhood is difficult, but it is not impossible.

Having dissociative identity disorder is NOT, nor was it EVER your fault. You were the victim of a family environment that failed you.  

It is time to hold your head up high and recognize how strong you have been and how wonderful you were to form alters to help you handle the overwhelming pain and sorrow of your childhood.

“In case no one has told you, lately, you are amazing, strong, brave, wonderful, kind, loved, worthy, and there is no one like you. The world needs you.” – Unknown

“You are amazing simply for hanging in there and holding on, no matter how hard things get! And for moving forward no matter how scared you are or how anxious you feel. Yep, you are awesome.” – Karen Salmansohn

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