The Interplay of Consciousness, and the Mind/Body Connection in DID: When Me Becomes We
Dissociative and Somatoform disorders are some of the most intriguing and perplexing mental disorders. The reasons behind there intrigue extend beyond psychology and enter into the philosophical and socio-cultural realm. In each case of dissociative disorders there is a distinct dissociation of identity, memory, and/or consciousness. Therefore, it exposes us to the ideas that consciousness is a fluid, constantly fluctuating state, the mind can be easily influenced, and the inherent self (“I”) can actually be a collective "We" for some individuals. Somatoform disorders allude to the vast, amazing power of the brain and show us the connection between mind and body. Both dissociative and somatoform disorders offer valuable insights into the human mind and consciousness.
One of the most interesting dissociative disorders is DID or dissociative identity disorder. People with DID have two or more alter personalities. Each of these altars has its own distinct memories, traits, personality styles, and mannerisms. The most widely accepted view is that DID occurs due to exposure to severe recurrent trauma. The alter personalities manifest as means for the person to protect themselves from the abuse. The host personality has no recollection or memories of the alter personalities actions.
The Easily Influenced Mind and the Question of a One True Self
The alter personalities may be strengthened by social reinforcement from the therapist through hypnosis and repressed memory therapy. It was claimed that the norm was for memories of traumatic events to be repressed from conscious awareness or for the person to dissociate from the situation and develop dissociative identity disorder. Often, it was argued that once encoded, these memories were not susceptible to distortion and could not be falsely created. While these beliefs were accepted by many people (Garry, Loftus, Brown,& DuBreuil, 1997), they lacked scientiﬁc support. They were falsiﬁed by several case studies (Loftus, 1997) and Nourkova, Bernstein, and Loftus (2004) have shown that it is even possible to alter a memory for a traumatic memory within a laboratory context. (Wright, Startup, & Mathews, 2005)
The opinion that alters manifest due to reinforcement of the alter personalities by the therapist and the fact that it is entirely possible to alter and implant false memories exemplifies how easy it is to influence the mind. In addition, in some cases of DID, the main personality (or host) is unaware of the existence of the other identities. This challenges the very notion of knowing your one true self and how we define “self”. It also shows the constant fluidity and fluctuations of consciousness.
In my opinion, one reasoning as to why cases of DID are largely restricted to North America is because the disorder challenges the core belief of one independent self in one body. It also forces us to ponder the question of how much free will we posses. Obviously, this is frightening to many due to the Western view of favoring independence rather than collectivism. In DID the child/person retreats into a protective mental collective. Perhaps the cultural norms of the West have driven some to retreat and form there own mental collective, not only to protect themselves mentally from further harm but also due to an individualistic mentality, a lack of community, and a lack of support from others.
Somatoform Disorders & the Mind/Body Connection
The power to alter the physical self with nothing other than the mind is what manifests in somatoform disorders, however not voluntarily. Those who suffer from these experience un-diagnosable physical ailments caused by nothing other than the mind and although physical, cannot be treated with medicine because the source of the illness is not physical but mental. This helps us dive into the living labyrinth that is the human brain and its incredible capabilities, it tells us that the brain and the mind are not two separate entities but rather work as one with the brain having much more influence over the body than we may think.
It is through somatoform disorders that we can study and try to understand the functions of the brain and the extent to which its power extends. Studying these disorders can give us insight to what we can do to purposefully use our minds to alter our physical state of being, like Tibetan Buddhist monks who can, with just the power of their mind, alter their metabolism and even the temperature of their skin. The link between the mind and the body is there and it is proven by these disorders.
The Brain: “You are now Entering the Vast Unknown.”
The human brain and its incredible potential is something that continues to perplex those who study it. Through becoming more enlightened about the brain, we begin to shed light upon the vast, innumerable potential that lies within us. This knowledge results in the realization that the human brain is still a mysterious, highly complex system that we are just starting to truly discover. Dissociative and Somatoform Disorders let us peek into another realm of consciousness and expand our knowledge of the human condition. They reveal the power of the mind and the weakness of the "self.” Whether we will one day know all there is to know about the human brain is a difficult concept to fathom; however it is disorders such as these that move us one step forward in the process of unveiling the brain to its full potential, something humanity has always sought after and may one day very well accomplish.