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Dissociative Identity Disorder: Causes

Updated: Aug 10, 2022

People can develop DID when their coping resources are overwhelmed by distressing events. Before I get into the reasons for this however, I would like to clarify something.

As noted in my previous post, DID is somewhat controversial. Professional and layperson opinions range from the disorder being "an excuse" or "fabricated" through to professional fully believing its existence and presentation in clients. I have been reflecting on whether my professional opinion is necessary for this series of posts, especially regarding how my opinion may effect my writing, the impact my opinion may have on others, and if it was even necessary or relevant for the reader to know my opinion. In my reflections I realised this blog is a place for my own professional musings on topics I felt are not discussed often enough. Therefore, in order for this blog to be authentic, I must be honest, and at that point my professional opinion becomes more important in order to achieve the goal in mind. Note that, in session with my clients, this is not the case. I work from the theory that my client is the expert in their life and therefore my opinions becomes less important. However, this is not a therapeutic setting, I am here in a different capacity, one which I feel my professional opinion is of importance. Please remember though, psychologist know a lot about the majority and nothing about the individual.

So, with all of that said, I will note that my opinion on DID lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. I fully believe the disorder exists; this is based on scientific evidence (biological and observed), the inclusion of it into the DSM, and my own professional experiences. However! I also feel that the way it is portrayed in movies and the stereotypical way it is believed to manifest can be inaccurate at times. I will explain why a bit further along. For now, I will delve into the causes of DID.

The word dissociation is define in the Oxford Dictionary of Psychology (2009, p. 217) as "Partial or total disconnection between memories of the past, awareness of identity and of immediate sensations, and control of bodily movements, often resulting from traumatic experiences, intolerable problems, or disturbed relationships."

This definition fits our criteria of the DSM 5, however there is one interesting addition. That is the causes of the disorder. These distressing events (traumatic experiences, intolerable problems, or disturbed relationships) are inextricably linked with this disorder.

Here is why:

As a child we develop our own identity. We go through stages in life that form who we are, the things we enjoy, and most importantly, how safe we are in the world. We are not born with the capacity to deal with emotions. This is evidenced by our newborn selves, the small, dependent newborn child cries to communicate their needs so that Mum or Dad come along and sooth them. As we then begin to grow, we learn new skills, these skills allow us to seek out our own self soothing techniques. However, when children experience distressing events, their ability to cope can quickly become overwhelmed, leading to coping strategies such as dissociation.

What is a distressing event though? As shown above, this can be either a traumatic experience, which would include neglect or abuse; intolerable problems, such as parents separating or losing a close friend; or disturbing relationships, including difficult relationships with parents or ongoing struggles with bullying.

The examples I have given are not exhaustive, however I want to explain the relationships further because I feel it can get missed at times. This is included in the definition (I believe, my professional opinion again) because relationships have an enormous impact on children. Most importantly, the caregiver child relationship is paramount in a child's life. I say caregiver and not parent because the child does not require a parent to fill this role, simply someone that meets their safety, emotional, and physical needs. Note safety.  A child must feel safe in the world, if not they struggle to cope and can develop dissociation as they become overwhelmed with the unpredictability of "danger can be anywhere".

I wish to summarise at this point. This post is getting long and whilst this feels like an abrupt end, know I will continue this further in another post. I have provided you with some causes for the disorder, next time I will write about how the disorder develops from these causes.

In summary, dissociation is related to a disconnection of identity, body, and sensation, due to distressing events such as trauma, disturbed relationships, or difficult events. When these events occur, the child's resources become overwhelmed and they develop a more "effective" way of coping, that being dissociation. I will explain how dissociation is a way of coping in the next post. Thank you for reading and I hope this helped with some understanding of this disorder, if you still don't understand something maybe wait until my next post and it may make more sense.

If you wish to clarify anything, I am always always happy to answer questions sent to my email:

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