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Fragmentation and Dissociative Identity Disorder

Updated on November 1, 2017
Dr Bill Tollefson profile image

My passion is to inspire and coach people to achieve what they want to get out of life.

Fragmentation and DID

Fragmentation and DID are a demonstration of strong desire to live, not a character weakness.
Fragmentation and DID are a demonstration of strong desire to live, not a character weakness. | Source

Dissociative Identity Disorder

I have been requested by a HUB reader to discuss a specific topic; this topic is the “fragmentation reaction” or what is termed dissociative identity disorder (DID). The full process of the dissociative continuum is discussed in detail in my book, Separated from the Light: A Path Back From Psychological Trauma. But for the purpose of this article and the request, I will simplify and target my remarks to help understanding an extremely difficult human reaction to life-threatening experiences.

The dissociative continuum is the description of the movement an individual symbolically travels internally, within his or her mind and body, to separate themselves to overwhelming pain from life-threatening an event. An individual accomplishes this by escaping into one’s mind while protectively disconnecting from his or her body which is trapped in an abusive or traumatic situation.

When the body is in a life-threatening situation the person symbolically disconnects from the body due to the pain and fear of dying. The abusive or traumatic event is so stressful and overwhelming the person needs to escape from emotional and physical discomfort. The only way to escape reality is through the mind.

I term the process the “unfolding of self”. The individual’s life feels so threatening that the only way to escape is to “mentally dissociate” or travel deeply into his or her mind. The act of dissociating is the mental ability to turn what is "real into unreal”. The elements an individual uses to complete the act of dissociation is creativity, intelligence, perception, power, and strength, not fear and weakness.

It is not only my belief but I have witnessed, in all my years of working with abuse and trauma survivors who have been labeled Dissociative Disorder and Dissociative Identity Disorder. Any person who has survived a horrific life event is in fact extremely creative, intelligent, strong and powerful.

That being said, the process of fragmentation goes far past general separation of head and body which occurs in Dissociative Reaction. Simply, the fragmentation stage focuses on the multiple division of the person's personal characteristics, functions, identity, talents, and qualities due to severe repetitive exposure to overwhelming abusive and traumatic events. Fragmentation reaction is not the breaking apart of the individual identity but the creative disconnecting of the functions of all aspects of the individual in order for the whole not to be captured by the trauma. Fragmentation is normal and natural defensive reaction to further separate the "self" from the destructive reality of what is happening to them.

Fragmentation or DID is Not a Personal Weakness

Saving oneself in a traumatic situation is a natural response.
Saving oneself in a traumatic situation is a natural response. | Source


An example of this is the protection act is better understood if you look at how armadillos protect themselves. When an armadillo is threatened, it will roll up into a ball to protect its core. The greater the threat the tighter the armadillo will curl up. Each layer of skin takes on more and more independence and responsibility in an attempt to save their vulnerable stomach or inner core.

Human dissociation mimics this example. The greater the threat the more creative and intelligent the response is to save the inner core. So when the outside is under attack, the person exerts more effort into separating the mind from a harmful, life-threating, and painful reality. If this act does not keep the overwhelming pain away, the mind then puts all its energy hiding all human characteristics such as skills, traits, and qualities into mental compartments. If all that effort creativeness, strength, and power fail then the person's emphasis is placed increasing the effectiveness of the individual’s ability to further separating from an untenable reality by hiding his or her characteristics into more compartments or termed "parts".

Truly what I have discussed is a normal, natural and healthy human response to an abnormal, painful and life-threatening situations. There are many recorded cases in history of abuse survivors, trauma survivors, combat soldiers and veterans that demonstrate what I have discussed in this article. Every survivor is creative, intelligent, strong, and powerful. All showed extraordinary survival abilities against overwhelming odds and possible death. There are countless stories of humans in many different cultures and different ages who reacted internally the same way which supports what I have discussed.

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© 2010 Bill Tollefson


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    • Dr Bill Tollefson profile image

      Bill Tollefson 2 years ago from Southwest Florida

      Dear arie,

      Thanks for your comment. Understand erasing them is in fact "erasing them" erasing parts of yourself. They not allowed that to happen. It is better to unify them with you and change their functions.

    • Dr Bill Tollefson profile image

      Bill Tollefson 6 years ago from Southwest Florida

      There is hope most definitely. DID systems are a mirror of the human brain and how it functions in everyone. I have work with thousands of survivors of severe childhood abuse and helped them to understand, recognize and begin the healing process. They then went on to thrived in their lives. Thank you for your comments. Believe it, vision it and the way will be found.

    • DLAngel777 profile image

      DLAngel777 6 years ago from Maryland

      Just learning about DID. Although this aricle was written a while back for some seeing and reading something broken down as you have put it is most helpful. Somehow even without your diagrams we understand framentation and compartmentalization, tearfully this makes sense. Most incouraging is that you said that DIDs are "creative, intelligent, strong and powerful" because they could survive their traumaic events. If this is so, then does this always continue so that DIDs will continue to survive? In between the lines we read some "hope" there and then reading that this process is "normal" although it does not "feel" normal is positively overwhelming.

    • Dr Bill Tollefson profile image

      Bill Tollefson 6 years ago from Southwest Florida

      Wysley - Thank you for you comments. The concept of DID and Fragmentation is very hard to cover in a short article, but I hope it will help others to understand that a process of compartmentalization as a response to traumatic life events is a fact.

    • wysley profile image

      wysley 6 years ago

      Excellent explanation of a somewhat difficult topic-especially for a reader that is not familiar with it. You brook down DID and the fragmentation process to one others could understand. The positive aspects of fragmentation and why it occurs is a truly creative way of self-protection.

    • profile image

      Natalia 7 years ago

      Thank you for the feedback Dr. Bill! ^_^!

    • Dr Bill Tollefson profile image

      Bill Tollefson 7 years ago from Southwest Florida

      One of the major difference between compartmentalization is co-consciousness. But another is degree of independence. Remember that any structural change inside a person due to overwhelming or traumatic life events is for survival. I feel that a lot of professionals lose the idea that internal restructuring is purely a "normal defensive reaction".

    • profile image

      Natalia 7 years ago

      "all energy is put into compartmentalizing characteristics, skills, traits, and qualities"

      So, is co-consciousness the only difference between this and fully developed parts, as well as __________?

      Say, for example, if Bob has a "mode" (I believe this is called switching in the world of dissociation) he gets into during crisis where he cuts his feelings off and suddenly stops being "normal, today" Bob and becomes the best nurse/counselor,/pillar, or a.k.a his "Sergeant Bob" self, for everyone and then after the crisis passes, he gets into another "mode" which makes him feel like he's someone entirely different than "Sergeant Bob". Say, he becomes "Little Bobby", and he cannot be "Bobby" AND "Sargent" at the same time because he has learned that it's either one or the other sharing airtime, or in other words, he only feels he can be one function at at time and that one is too different and compromising for the other to co-exist and work together during any point in time, can we say that his "characteristics, skills, traits, and qualities" have gained personalities of their own or not?

      Are parts, in a DID person, not "characteristics, skills, traits, and qualities" also, of one individual?

      I've always had a bit of confusion in regards to this subject. Could you expand, please? Thank you for your time. Love, Nati. ^__~!

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 7 years ago from South Africa

      Great explanation of dissociative continuum! It is actually such a natural survival-technique - but also a fertile condition for developing many kinds of disorders. Thanks, you hubs are greatly appreciated.

    • Dr Bill Tollefson profile image

      Bill Tollefson 7 years ago from Southwest Florida

      Unfortunatly the photo of the diagram would not load up on this hub page. It is avaliable in Dr Bills book Separated from the light.