Dissociation, Repressed Memory and Multiple Personalities
By Judy Byington, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., ret.
Author of Twenty-Two Faces
Dissociation is a survival skill where the ego adapts to trauma by repressing
unacceptable memory into the unconscious, with the person experiencing amnesia of the
event. According to the American Psychiatric Association Dissociation is apparent in 65% of the general population, 11% of whom require treatment, while up to 30% of those in therapy have experienced physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse in childhood.
Dissociation symptoms range from simple daydreaming to Post Traumatic Stress, once known as Battle Fatigue, to multiple personalities. The person can exhibit a variety of mental conditions including supposedly unfounded Depression, Flashbacks, Panic Attacks, Phobic Reactions, Addictive Behaviors, Hyperactivity and/or Eating and Learning Disorders.
Around the turn of the 19th century Sigmund Freud first defined Dissociation as a defense mechanism. The APA diagnostic manual defines the disorder as “An ability of the mind to disconnect from stressful situations by repressing unwanted memories into the subconscious.”
How this could occur was first made known in 1911 when the founders of Neuroscience, Santiago Ramon y Cajal and Camillo Golgi, won the Nobel Prize by proposing that human experiences gave birth to neurons in the brain, creating lines of memory that connected to each other through electrical circuits.
By the 1940s neuroscientists claimed that as memory grew these neurons linked together like a branching tree. Later it was realized that a person undergoing stressful situations released hormones including adrenaline, which in turn stimulated this hippocampus stem cell growth – thus explaining how the subject of Twenty-Two Faces Jenny Hill, formed new alter personalities with each new traumatic experience.
Maltreatment in formative years likely both separated and stimulated her reasoning, resulting in spontaneous development of complex memory capacities. Like limbs of a tree branching out from the core persona, three alter personality families headed by Sexually Abused J.J., Ritually Abused Angelic and Gang Raped Vennessa may have grown their own branches or dendrite spines and closeted within alter personality families, abuse memories not to come forth until she felt safe twenty some years after the event.