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source: Sara Lambert
The average number of alter selves within a multiple system is thirteen, but some multiples have many times more than that. A few years ago, those with twenty-plus selves were known as “super-multiples”. These days, however, therapists are being graced with the presence of more of their clients’ selves. The number now required to be considered “extra” in the multiple stakes is 100-plus, and it is know by the more clinical term “poly-fragmented MPD(DID).”
This increase is probably more a reflection of increasing knowledge about MPD than of multiples actually becoming more split. Pioneer MPD therapists were not as skilled as they are today in recognizing switching and other dissociative phenomena. Furthermore, MPD has been seen for most of this century as a rare and bizarre psychiatric illness and clinicians have tried to get rid of alter selves and cure the disturbance. These days, multiplicity is generally recognized as a natural, creative defense against extreme trauma, and this enables therapists to honor the multiple system and allow it to unfold completely. Consequently, therapists are going beneath the top layer of selves to find huge systems in some clients. In addition to their size, these poly-fragmented systems are more intricate than standard MPD in terms of structure and in their greater degree of sequestration of information.
Many multiple systems have layers of selves and memory, but poly-fragmented systems take this to the extreme. Layering is where, beneath one self or group of selves, lies another group, and beneath that another, and so on. The sub-layers may lie dormant until the issues of the above layer have been resolved.
Usually, this layering has to do with organization of traumatic material. For poly-fragmented systems, however, there may also be layering for the purpose of self-preservation. For example, a multiple may have a self called Jane, and beneath her are other, identical, Janes, who declare they are the same person, and yet are secretly independent. This creates the same kind of effect as those trick mirrors in old adventure movies, where the hero is reflected repeatedly inside the mirror and the baddie doesn’t know who the real target is. Similarly, layers of identical selves can act as decoys and, even if one or many Janes are destroyed (by the abusers or the therapist), Jane still exists within.
Poly-fragmented systems also have complex group formations. Often the members of one group know about each other but are unaware of the existence of other groups. For example, a multiple may have a group of selves who suffered incest, another group abused by a cult, another who were bullied at school, and another who go about the daily life with no memory of abuse. When a member of one group is “out”, the members of the other groups lie dormant. In this way, a multiple can be in therapy for years, working on incest issues, and then suddenly begin getting memories of other abuse, of which she previously had no knowledge, as a different internal group becomes active.
Poly-fragmented systems also contain sub-systems, where some alter selves are a result of splitting off from another self, who was split from the original self – in other words, the alter self of a multiple may herself be multiple. So Anne may have a shy and traumatized teenager self called Petra, who herself has alter selves Poppy (who expresses Petra’s carefree side) and Patrick (who cries the tears Petra never dares to show).
Additionally, the general fragmentation of information in these systems is greater. Various selves each have a small piece of one incident, whereas in standard MPD one self experienced the entire incident. So when a child is beaten by her father, one alter self takes the beating against her body, another feels the pain, another cries, another loves her father, another hates him, and another watches dispassionately, recording the information. Because the picture is broken into so many small pieces, regaining complete awareness of what happened is very difficult, even impossible. Often, the best the poly-fragmented multiple can achieve is knowing that, at some time in her past, she felt the pain of a fist smashing into her body, even though she does not know where, when or how. Fortunately, having the complete picture is not necessary for healing.
Poly-fragmented MPD has been strongly linked to ritual abuse. This is because ritual cults practice extreme, mind-boggling abuse purposefully designed to shatter the self. It is also because many cults are aware of the dissociative process and deliberately invoke it in children by way of hypnosis, drugging, over stimulation and/or sensory deprivation. They then create cult-loyal selves in the children and secure them, using specific codes and triggers, from the children’s conscious awareness. For example, Anne may have a cult-loyal alter who only comes out when she hears a certain word connected with a certain sequence of tones. As these are never part of Anne’s daily life, and as she automatically switches into the cult-loyal alter when she hears them, she stays ignorant of the fact that this alter is within her. As she grows up, however, breaking away from the cult influence and beginning therapy, the security codes start to weaken. They are not being reinforced by the cult and, at the same time, face pressure from Anne’s growing self-awareness. It is important to always remember that, even though these alters were triggered and molded by the cult, they are the creation of the survivor. They belong to her, not the cult, and ultimately it is she who has sovereignty over them.
Poly-fragmentation can be a daunting picture for therapist and client alike. They may never be able to map the intertwined relationships or get to know all the alters. But this doesn’t mean treatment is impossible. Although poly-fragmented systems seem chaotic and hopelessly dense, they are in fact the same mechanism as standard MPD. Therefore, they can be treated in the same way. Therapists report that multiples with large complex systems integrate with the same success as those with only a handful of selves. Most poly-fragmented systems comprise mainly fragments, rather than fully-developed “personalities”, and these are easier and less painful to integrate. The most common method for bringing together a complex system is to integrate groups into one self who stands as a representative for the group issues, then integrate the various selves into one single person.
Originally published in Team Spirit
Reprinted With Permission
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