Dissociated States in DID

DID’s a lot easier to explain in pictures, at least for me. See, when you first start learning, you think you’re dealing with something like this:


The inner circles are dissociative parts. Whoever’s holding the star is at the front, in the driver’s seat, running the show.

I like to think that the hosts job is a bit more like this: you’re holding the star, but you’re trying to keep communications open with everybody:


Thing is, it’s called a dissociative disorder for a reason. Being inside the circle represents being present. As a trauma survivor, your brain has learned to send parts outside the circle as a defense mechanism. Parts can be mentally stuck in the past, depersonalized, derealized, “triggered out”, etc, pushing their consciousness away from the present. That’s the world outside the circle.


Even if you feel stable and grounded, connecting to a part that overlaps with the circle can be weird. You can feel their dissociative symptoms but not necessarily understand where it’s coming from, or why.

If you’re still following along, let’s get real. The idea of such solid boundaries and fixed positions is unrealistic. It makes a good movie plot.

For me, daily life with DID is a lot more like this:


With a few elements I can’t draw:

  • From hour to hour (or even minute to minute) the star flows between parts. Those switches can be subtle or noticable, depending on the context.
  • Some parts feel like they’re way in the back watching, while others feel like they’re gone. In this scenario, I’m not able to access red’s memories or skills but I do know she exists.
  • Parts overlap. “Mixed” is the term my therapist uses.
  • The circles – all of them – are moving. They yo-yo in and out, or drift around. The overlaps shift too.

I didn’t draw it, but when Nick takes the wheel, his circle tends to squeeze us out by accident. (We’re working on it).

There’s also the case of unknown parts, chilling outside the circle completely:


This might happen to a part due to things like stress or exhaustion. The part still exists and it can be partially or completely unaware of what’s going on.

This represents a dissociative fugue:


A part outside the circle takes executive control, leaving the others with time loss and amnesia. The inner parts experience this as a complete or partial blackout.

Finally, this is my best guest at “Feeling Swirly”:


It happens in the mornings, under stress, when I’m high, and in therapy.

Anyway, that’s the model, and I find it pretty flexible. We use it when we’re reflecting on memories, thoughts, and emotions, trying to figure out wtf happened. There are ugly circles all over our journals, and it’s especially helpful in therapy.

How do you folks model your experience of dissociated states? Does this make any sense at all?

No art critiques please, I was aiming for clear rather than pretty 😉

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.