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Parts Within Structural Dissociation, Part 1

Kristin Chronicles

Healing Journey Homeschool

7 August 2018

An Introduction to Identifying Parts of Consciousness After Trauma

Structural Dissociation: Discussing ‘Parts’

Trauma can trigger a fractured sense of identity caused by structural dissociation. Borderline personality disorder (BPD), dissociative identity disorder (DID), & complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) are all examples of mental disorders based upon structural dissociation, which involves a variety of parts that may externally appear as a fully functional whole yet are separate in identity & operational modality.

(With DID, this fragmentation is more severe, parts having developed their own individual lives & causing amnesia for the individual. BPD is still a case of structural dissociation, but the interaction between parts is more fluid, which is why they are on the “border” of fragmenation.)

A huge challenge addressed in therapy is the instinctive habit of blending with parts. Though these parts are all within one mind of one human being, they do not all have full access to the same fully functional brain & its various modalities. When self cannot be distinguished from symptom, the individual is blended.

“The term ‘blending,’ created by Richard Schwartz (2001) & used in Internal Family Systems, refers to two confusing phenomena described by trauma clients: the tendency to identify with parts (“I am depressed,” “I want to die”) & the tendency to become so flooded with their intense feelings & body responses that who ‘they’ are & who ‘I’ am become indistinguishable” (Fisher, 81).

Unconsciously blending can be very dangerous & is best addressed by a professional therapist trained in the multi-conscious parts approach for therapeutic trauma healing, as Janina Fisher discusses in depth in her book, written by & for therapists, called “Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors: Overcoming Internal Self-Alienation.”

With borderline personality disorder (BPD), subtle shifts of triggered parts can cause a wide variety of life pains & challenges. When someone has dissociative identity disorder (DID), they completely switch states of consciousness. These changes in state are sudden, frequent, & often accompanied by losses of consciousness (Fisher, 83). {Please note: BPD clients do not experience full switches of states of consciousness; this is only in DID clients. BPD clients experience more subtle shifts of parts.}

A dissociative identity is made up of two or more separate parts of consciousness, each with their own unique perceptions, abilities, emotions, beliefs, & experiences (memories). The Going on with Normal Life Parts (NLPs) are correlated with the left brain hemisphere while the Trauma-Related Parts (TRPs) are related with the right brain hemisphere.

Parts can hold both implicit & explicit memories, but the implicit memories are the ones causing chaos that need to be addressed & healed deeply to reach remission from problematic disorders caused by structural dissociation.

Structural Dissociation: Discussing Trauma-Related Parts

Trauma-related parts, previously known as emotional parts (EPs), have extremely limited access to the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for the:

  • ability to be mindful & curious

  • ability to retrieve & manipulate already learned information

  • ability to learn new concepts or skills

  • ability to integrate new information

  • ability to regulate impulsivity

  • ability to test reality

  • ability to manage dysregulated autonomic responses

The formation of this fragmented sense of self was ingeniusly adaptive at one point in time. Over time, the condition becomes maladaptive, & extensively deep healing must transpire for the individual to possess a unified sense of self with the highest level of functionality possible.

The brain responds to trauma in five different ways: attach, fight, flight, freeze, & submit. Each part has their own unique purpose for existing & reasons for doing what they do. Their logic is different from the logic we know & understand, so it’s important to take time to learn about these various parts within structural dissociation so we may approach them with love, patience, & endless compassion. Each part is a true warrior in their own beautifully unique way.

Attributes of the attach part:

  • cry for help

  • cling for survival

  • needy

  • desperate

  • craves rescue

  • proximity-seeking

  • sweet

  • innocent

  • wants someone to depend on

  • fear of loss

  • fear of rejection

  • fear of abandonment

Attributes of the fight part:

  • vigilance

  • anger

  • judgmental

  • hypercritical

  • narrowed eyes

  • hypervigalant

  • paranoid

  • mistrustful

  • self-destructive

  • controlling

  • suicidal

  • self-harms

  • hostile

  • intimidating

  • hostile to vulnerability

Attributes of the flight part:

  • escape

  • distancer

  • ambivalent

  • can’t commit

  • addictive behaviour, eating disordered, or substance abuse

  • restless legs or feet (psychomotor agitation)

  • numbness in legs

  • big/darting eyes

  • fidgitiness

  • restlessness

  • feeling trapped

  • tense

  • excessive exercise

  • mania or hypomania

Attributes of the freeze part:

  • fear

  • frozen

  • numb

  • terrified

  • anxiety

  • sense of dread

  • phobic way of being seen

  • panic attacks