What is it and how is it related to DID

We’ve all heard the words trauma and traumatized used in pop culture plus newspapers and journals, but what is it? What makes trauma the heart of so many mental health diagnoses, and how can we combat it?

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a trauma-related disorder, and to understand the condition, we must first comprehend trauma. This article will do just that, explore trauma and how it affects those with DID.

What is Trauma?

The word trauma is used in two different perspectives, physical meaning a physical injury and psychological meaning an emotional response to a profoundly distressing event. The latter is what we are focused on today and can mean the sudden loss of a loved one, an accident, a natural disaster, or an assault, to mention only a few causes.  

People exposed to trauma might respond in several ways, such as being in a state of shock, feeling extreme grief, or being in denial of what just happened to them. Trauma may also cause several long-term reactions such as emotional instability, emotional flashbacks, impulsiveness, and having strained relationships.

The Three Major Types of Traumas

Trauma is often life-altering and is divided into three major types, acute, chronic, and complex. It is vital to note that one may begin with acute trauma and advance to chronic or complex trauma.

Acute trauma. Acute trauma results from a single distressful event such as an accident, assault, or living through a natural disaster. The traumatic event is frightening enough to shake the person’s sense of physical and emotional security. In addition, the event causes a lasting impression on the traumatized person’s mind and, if not addressed, can affect the way a person behaves or thinks.

The signs of acute trauma are:

  • Unusual anxiety or panic
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Inability to sleep
  • Feeling disconnected from the surroundings
  • Lack of trust of self or others
  • Inability to focus
  • Lack of self-care and grooming
  • Aggressive behavior that is out of the usual for the person

While time can heal people living with acute trauma, a mental health professional can help ease the anxiety and hopelessness they often experience.  

Chronic Trauma. Chronic trauma occurs when a person is exposed to several long-term and prolonged distressing events over a long time. Chronic trauma may result from:

  • A serious long-term illness
  • Sexual abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Bullying
  • Exposure to extreme traumatic situations such as war

The symptoms of chronic trauma may appear after days or even years after the traumatic event. The symptoms of chronic trauma are profoundly distressing and can present as:

  • Emotional instability
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Anxiety
  • Extreme anger
  • Flashbacks
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Headaches
  • Nausea

People experiencing chronic trauma may form trust issues and do not have luck with stable jobs or relationships. Only help from a qualified mental health professional can help a person experiencing chronic trauma heal.

Complex Trauma. Complex trauma results from exposure to many different traumatic events or experiences, such as repeated events of childhood abuse. These traumatic events are usually caused within interpersonal relationships and leave the person feeling trapped.

Complex trauma has a severe impact on a person’s psyche and might be found in individuals of, as mentioned, childhood abuse, as well as neglect, domestic violence, family fighting, and other repetitive experiences.

Complex trauma affects a person’s overall health, performance at work or school, and relationships. The symptoms of complex trauma are:

  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Despair
  • Change in self-concept
  • Distrust of others
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Feeling detached from one’s body (derealization/depersonalization)
  • Episodes of feeling detached from one’s mental processes
  • Isolation
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Feeling they are different than other people
  • Helplessness and feelings of hopelessness
  • Self-harm
  • Self-mutilation
  • The abuse of alcohol and other substances

To heal from complex trauma, one must restore self-awareness and learn to focus on what’s happening to one’s brain. By understanding better what is happening inside ourselves, we can learn to control our actions through hard work, dedication, and time.

No matter what type of trauma you are experiencing, if you find it challenging to recover, you need to seek the help of a mental health professional. A qualified therapist can help you heal from the traumatic experiences you have survived.   

Trauma and Dissociative Identity Disorder

There is a strong link between complex trauma and dissociative identity disorder. During a traumatic event, children use whatever coping mechanisms they can find to distract and distance themselves from what is happening to them. Some will be very still, others will fight back, and still, others will escape their abuser by pretending the assault is not happening to them. In time, these children begin escaping into their minds through dissociation.

Dissociation is a normal mechanism that humans use when they are bored or overwhelmed. Over time and with chronic use, dissociation becomes the go-to mechanism that a child uses whenever they perceive they are in danger. Dissociation, in the setting of chronic or complex trauma, is a coping strategy and thought to be a self-protective survival technique to escape the unbearable.

To firmly establish the link between trauma and DID, researchers have noted that people with dissociative identity disorder and other dissociation disorders report the highest occurrence of childhood abuse and neglect, among other psychiatric problems.

Ending Our Time Together

100% of people will experience a traumatic event in their life. No one is exempt.   

However, there is trauma that is an event that is both disruptive and can be destructive to a person’s life if it is left untreated. Treatment often involves working with a mental health specialist to face and put into the past what happened to the survivor.

There are three categories of trauma that are sometimes overlapping and progressive if not treated. People living with dissociative identity disorder have experienced both chronic and complex trauma and need to understand what is happening to them and what happened to them heal.

I hope you get some information from my blog. I have been writing it now for five years, and I occasionally hear from those who read it. I thoroughly enjoy sharing what I know and understand about DID with you through my lived experience and what I have gleaned down through the thirty years since I was diagnosed.

Please, do not hesitate to write me if you have any questions or need help.

“Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.” ~ Peter A. Levine


Sar V. The many faces of dissociation: Opportunities for innovative research in psychiatry. Clin Psychopharmacol Neurosci. 2014.12(3):171-79. doi:10.9758/cpn.2014.12.3.171

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