Picking Up the Pieces of a Shattered Mind

For some, it is easy to visualize the Human Mind as a single, cohesive unit with all parts collectively working to run the rest of the body. This is the way the mind works for most people. The process is smooth, clean, and seamless. However, most people who are not mental health experts fail to see that the mind is a fragile thing. An appropriate metaphor for mental health would be a beautiful porcelain tea set from the Ming Dynasty of China. You lose just one piece and the set automatically loses all value. In a similar manner, damaging or losing one aspect of a person’s mental health can create permanent damage.

The human mind, however, is a ferociously adaptive thing. The constant barrage of stress and anxiety over the course of human evolution has given people a rather potent talent for recovery. People pick up the fragments of mental health and attempt to move on much the same as before the trauma. Most people find ways to get over their problems without outside help, alleviating the stress that caused the problem initially. In other cases, people require counseling to help the self-repair process start. However, in the case of dissociative identity disorder, the adaptability of a person’s psyche can, itself, pose a problem.

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is probably better known in pop culture as “split personality disorder.” The causes of this particularly dynamic mental health disorder varies from patient to patient, according to most studies. For some, extreme cases of stress and anxiety push the personality of the patient to the breaking point, forcing the mind to adapt by developing a stronger personality. In other cases, the incredible unwillingness of a person to perform a task required of them forces the mind to create a personality better suited to handling the task than the original. In most cases, the “split” is caused by extreme emotional and psychological trauma, with some instances having physical trauma acting as “insult” to the earlier emotional and mental “injury.”

The difficulty in detecting DID lies in the fact that the various physical and psychological signs can often be easily misdiagnosed. Memory lapses are just as likely to be caused by stress and anxiety as they are by personality B taking control from personality A. A prolonged state of acute sadness can be a sign of the patient developing depression, or it is possible that personality C is reliving emotions from a past trauma. Since the personalities can interact with one another and address the patient directly, it can sometimes be mislabeled as an advanced form of schizophrenia. The fact that the more overt symptoms are not constant (different symptoms can appear at different times) also makes it difficult to accurately diagnose DID without prolonged observation.

Treatment for DID generally focuses on integrating all of the personalities until there is only one left, which may or may not be the original personality. The process is a slow-going one, which makes full use of a wide range of therapeutic and counseling techniques, as well as psychoactive medications. In general, the use of drugs is used to alleviate related symptoms, but the disorder itself can only be tackled in the battlefield of the mind.

The problem is that therapy and counseling can often stir up some emotions and memories that the patient would rather suppress. Indeed, in a large number of cases of DID, the personalities began to take form in the patient’s mind after a traumatic event was suppressed. As the patient’s original personality begins to deal with the actions of his other personalities, his own resurfaced memories, and the internal conflicts that emerge when attempting to reconcile the fragments, the process only gets harder. The process also involves helping the patient learn how to adapt to various situations without resorting to creating an alternate personality to handle it. Often, the treatment and counseling for DID can take years, with some patients never actually achieving full recovery. A good number manage to reintegrate into society with only one personality, but they are seen as the exceptions that prove the rule.

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