A Picture of the Past: Dissociative Disorders


A picture is a memory frozen in time. I own the memories. However, looking back, I find myself looking through the lens of the camera, desperately trying to grasp control of the body that I once claimed as my own. The harsh truth is that the camera only has the ability to capture a moment so it lasts forever; It has no power to preserve the person you were in the photos.  “The pain of trauma is so great that you detach from yourself – you do not own your body and you have no real feelings,” (“Trauma is the Stealing of my Sense of my Sense of Being me: A Person-Centered Perspective on Trauma”).  I’ve searched everywhere for the part of myself that was stolen. But the reality is, I’m peering into the life of someone who has only become more of a stranger.

“The lack of self-awareness in victims of chronic childhood trauma is sometimes so profound that they cannot recognize themselves in a mirror,” (The Body Keeps the Score). This is due to the fact that when the brain is overwhelmed with stress hormones, it experiences a disconnect in the limbic system. “Like a veil thrown over the skin to secure its modesty, the screen partially removes from the mind the inner states of the body, those that constitute the flow of life as it wanders in the journey of each day,” (The Body Keeps the Score). While this screen is beneficial because it allows someone to function without feeling pain, it is important to recognize that this barrier also disconnects someone from their sense of self and from any positive emotions as well. The result is someone who lives in a detached, dissociative state. This is also why one feels as if a piece of them is missing, or tainted after experiencing trauma; The brain has lost connections that allowed one to feel the true intensity of their emotions.

Specific areas of the brain become so overwhelmed when experiencing overwhelming amounts of stress hormones that they shut down. The medial prefrontal cortex, responsible for memory and decision memory is a prime example of this; “The disappearance of medial prefrontal activation could explain why so many traumatized people lose their sense of purpose and direction,”( The Body Keeps the Score). Another example of this is the Broca’s Area in the brain, which is responsible for language. “Our scans showed that Broca’s area went offline whenever a flashback was triggered,” (The Body Keeps the Score). This is why survivors have a hard time speaking of their experiences. Not only do they relive their trauma due to increased activity in the right side of the brain, but the part of the brain responsible for language often shuts down. This provides insight on why survivors often feel as if they have lost their voice. Trauma evokes such powerful emotions that it can actually cause the area in the brain responsible for speech to become silenced.

 The effects of trauma can be so extreme that survivors will not feel entire parts of their body:  “Sometimes I’d ask them to close their eyes and tell me what I had put into their outstretched hands. Whether it was a car key, a quarter, or a can opener, they often could not even guess what they were holding—their sensory perceptions simply weren’t working,” (The Body Keeps the Score). This proves that trauma is a lot more complex than the majority of us understand. Trauma rewires the brain. Specific examples of this are the differences in activation levels seen in the limbic system, amygdala and the anterior cingulate cortex. This is significant because these areas are responsible for emotional regulation, memories, and emotional arousal. The result is that trauma effects someone not only emotionally, but also physically.

“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort,” (The Body Keeps the Score). To heal from trauma, the brain has to realize the dangers of the past are no longer present. In other words, the body has to relearn how to feel comfortable in its own skin. While those who have experienced the wrath of trauma often feel an intense amount of shame and denial, the past does not have to remain a secret. It is true that the past cannot be erased; However, the healing process begins when a voice that felt silenced finds the power to speak up.

 

References

Kolk MD, Bessel van der. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (p. 53). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Wade, Barbara, and Rinie Schenck. “TRAUMA IS THE ‘STEALING OF MY SENSE OF BEING ME’: A PERSON-CENTRED PERSPECTIVE ON TRAUMA.” Http://Socialwork.journals.ac.za/, 2018, doi:http://social work.journals.ac.za/.

 

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