Dissociative Identity Disorder Protects Victims of Abuse From Trauma
Sun, April 18, 2021

Dissociative Identity Disorder Protects Victims of Abuse From Trauma

Statistics showed that DID only happens to 0.1 to 1 percent of the general population. Previous studies have also revealed the different prevalence of the disorder / Photo by: Inna Sakhno via 123RF

 

As young as four years old, Jeni Haynes has been repeatedly raped and tortured by her father, Richard Haynes. She has also been subjected to significant traumas and horrors throughout her life, which the police described as one of the worst child abuse cases in Australia. But her mind has done wonders to protect her, creating more than 2,500 distinct personalities for her to cope with the horror and survive. 

BBC, a British free-to-air television news channel, reported that the abuse suffered by Jeni was so extreme and persistent that her mind created new identities for her to detach from the pain. Earlier this year, she finally got the justice she has been searching for throughout the years. Her father was sentenced to 45 years in jail by a Sydney court through the help of not only Jeni but her six other personalities as well. In the landmark trial, she confronted her father to present evidence against him through her personalities, including a four-year-old girl named Symphony.

Reports showed that this is the first case not only in Australia but also in the entire world that a person suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) or Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) has testified in their other personalities and secured a conviction. This also proved that our brains can do fascinating things to protect us from the cruel world. 

Statistics showed that DID only happens to 0.1 to 1 percent of the general population. Previous studies have also revealed the different prevalence of the disorder. For instance, it has been identified in 2 to 6 percent of patients in outpatient settings, 4 to 7.5 percent of patients in psychiatric residences, and 0.4 to 3.1 percent of individuals not linked with mental health services.

How DID Helps People to Survive

Some people would attribute DID to Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Less Taken.” While this literary work was never intended to be anything but a whimsical description of walking in the woods, psychiatrist Dr. M. Scott Peck stated that it can also talk about confronting and solving problems and how painful that can be. Usually, humans tend to take the path of least resistance to avoid the hardships or sufferings, which DID essentially does. 

DID has always been referred to as a mental disorder but some experts believed that it is an evolutionary adaptation designed to help humans survive in a hostile environment. But this only happens in desperate situations in which there’s no escape. People suffering from abuse have become helpless to protect themselves that they had no choice but to dissociate. Most of the time, children that can’t either escape or hide from an adult who wants to harm them use this as the only defense they have. 

According to GoodTherapy, an online resource for professionals and individuals looking for mental health referrals and information, Steinberg and Schnall (2001) defined dissociation as “an adaptive defense in response to high stress or trauma characterized by memory loss and a sense of disconnection from oneself or one’s surroundings.” This can occur in several ways that involve a person’s emotions, body sensations, memories, senses, etc. 

DID has always been referred to as a mental disorder but some experts believed that it is an evolutionary adaptation designed to help humans survive in a hostile environment / Photo by: Dean Drobot via 123RF

 

Dissociation can also happen depending on the extent of a person’s trauma. For instance, people who experienced a car accident might find that they can’t recall parts of the accident a few days after it happened. In other cases, dissociation can cause someone’s brain to create two or more personalities to cope with severe abuse. Each of these personalities has its own characteristics and holds different memories associated with the trauma. DID has become a survival and coping mechanism. 

According to Science Daily, an American website that aggregates press releases and publishes lightly edited press releases about science, Darlene McLaughlin, MD, psychiatrist and clinical assistant professor with the Texas A&M College of Medicine, stated that dissociation is essentially how the brain is blocking a traumatic memory in an attempt to protect itself. A 2016 study conducted by researchers from Texas A&M University found that the brain may wander off and work to avoid the memory in the midst of trauma. 

"There is a belief that there is a threshold of trauma where the human brain cannot overcome without dissociation. Age, genetic factors, and environment can contribute to how high that person's threshold is and how their brain responds to severe trauma,” McLaughlin said. 

How the Brain Can Protect Us From Developing Mental Disorders

A study published in Molecular Psychiatry showed how our brains are protecting us from developing uncontrollable fear due to stress and trauma. Researchers from the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry discovered that our mind can protect us from developing mental disorders since it has the capacity to adapt to changing environments, which is known as “plasticity.” 

Our brain has what is called protease-activated receptor 1 or PAR1 that is re-programmed to determine how it will react to a traumatic event. The receptors are located in the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, serving as a command area. They are the ones that tell neurons whether they should stop or accelerate their activity, which makes us feel emotions. 

The study discovered that plasticity not only helps people from controlling their fear but also from developing exaggerated responses to mild or irrelevant fear triggers. "The discovery that the same receptor can either awaken neurons or 'switch them off' depending on previous trauma and stress experience adds an entirely new dimension to our knowledge of how the brain operates and emotions are formed,” lead author professor Robert Pawlak of University of Exeter Medical School stated. 

Indeed, our brains can do wonders that are beyond our imagination for the ultimate goal of protecting ourselves. This opens new opportunities not only for researchers but also for people to understand how victims of abuse cope and how to help them.

Our brain has what is called protease-activated receptor 1 or PAR1 that is re-programmed to determine how it will react to a traumatic event / Photo by: Sergey Nivens via 123RF