Trauma & Dissociation

Information Handout 

Chronic Trauma
Post-Traumatic Stress Response (PTSR) – commonly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD
Dissociative Identity
Deliberate Trauma-based Dissociation
The material in these Definitions is not meant as therapy or to take the place of therapy. Some of this information may trigger distressing responses, so please practice self-care and use caution and common sense while reading this material. 
Many of these Definitions are quoted verbatim from, or were adapted with permission from the FAQs pages at and .
Others were quoted or adapted as noted.



Trauma is injury – physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. A traumatic event is the thing that causes the injury, such as a car accident or a verbal assault, being shot at during a war, catching a partner cheating, a critical situation that demands too many decisions at once, or being misused by a religious group.

Trauma occurs on a spectrum and to varying degrees. Any injury involves individual factors that determine whether or not an event is experienced and responded to as a trauma. A scraped knee may be minor physically, but the fall that caused it can be a traumatic emotional experience. Likewise, someone with a dangerous and demanding job may be subject to much physical injury yet experience none of it as traumatic.

Trauma activates the survival-based fight, flight, or freeze responses, speeding or slowing the heart, sending chemicals rushing to the brain to power emergency functions, and/or turn off, alter or adapt normal functions. This can enable quick thinking and/or actions, or halt them with shock. Trauma can also activate the survival mechanism of dissociation, and when extreme, can result in dissociative effects which initially serve a helpful purpose but may later cause difficulties or interfere with a person’s life, as in PTSD experienced by war vets.

Chronic Trauma  

Chronic Trauma refers to repeated and ongoing trauma that traps a person into a perpetual “fight or flight” mode. At this survival level, the terror, confusion, pain and/or other effects of trauma build cumulatively, compounding and deepening with each successive trauma. For example, a resident of a war zone, a child with abusive parents, and a homeless person will each experience some form of chronic trauma simply as a result of their environment.               

For more information on trauma and its’ effects, see David Baldwin’s Trauma Information Pages at:

Post Traumatic Stress Response (PTSR)

(commonly called PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

(From the US Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs National Center for PTSD)

“Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur following the experience or witnessing of a traumatic event. Most survivors of trauma return to normal given a little time. However, some people will have stress reactions that do not go away on their own, or may even get worse over time. These individuals may develop PTSD.

People with PTSD experience different kinds of symptoms. [T]here are also clear biological changes associated with PTSD. PTSD is complicated by the fact that people with PTSD often may develop additional disorders such as depression, substance abuse, problems of memory and cognition, and other problems of physical and mental health. These problems may lead to impairment of the person’s ability to function in social or family life, including occupational instability, marital problems and family problems.”

Some professionals and laypersons now refer to this condition as “PTSS,” post-traumatic stress syndrome, or even more accurately “PTSR,” post traumatic stress response, because the term “disorder” is a misnomer in the sense that it’s a normal response to extreme stress.



”Dissociation” refers to the separation, or disconnection, of things (ideas, feelings, information, identity, or memories) that were originally, or usually are, connected.

Dissociation is a natural, built-in survival and coping mechanism that unconsciously and automatically mitigates unbearable pain or trauma.

Dissociation happens on a continuum, from mild distraction to total amnesia. The severity of trauma-induced dissociation depends upon the extremity and duration of the traumatic experience.

People normally remember an event in a holistic way that includes sights, sounds, feelings, and meaning. When dissociation occurs as a result of trauma, different parts of the memory are stored and recalled separately, not as a cohesive and congruent whole. For example, memories of a dissociated event might be devoid of meaning, sensations, behaviors or feelings because they were stored in a compartmentalized way.

Dissociative Identity – DID/DIR

“D.I.D. – Dissociative Identity Disorder is the psychiatric term for the extreme end of  the natural survival function that people can default to when they are subjected to repeated unbearable trauma.

” D.I.G. – Dissociative Identity Response is a new, more accurately descriptive term now being used by survivors.

Dissociation is a natural response that protects a person’s mind, body and spirit. Dissociative Identity Response is a brilliant coping mechanism that is misnamed a disorder because when Dissociation has ceased to serve its helpful purpose and doesn’t get healed, it can cause all sorts of trouble in our lives.

In some people, dissociated memory and experience fragments are organized or arranged into discrete “personalities” or “identities” which can be experienced internally as having separate experiences and histories. Often personalities are so compartmentalized that they are not aware of each others existence. This is called an “amnesic barrier,” and is an extreme degree of dissociation. Over time, continued dissociation can become unhealthy and no longer serve the survival and coping function it originally served.

(From the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders, 4th edition Text Revision), published by the American Psychological Association in 2000 – see )

“(People) with DID report having severe physical and sexual abuse, especially during childhood. The reports of patients with DID are often validated by objective evidence. Physical evidence may include variations in physiological functions in different identity states, including differences in vision, levels of pain tolerance, symptoms of asthma, the response of blood glucose to insulin and sensitivity to allergens.”


“Multiplicity” refers to the state of being psychologically dissociated.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (D.I.D.) is the psychiatric term for the natural survival function people default to when they are subjected to repeated unbearable trauma. It was previously referred to as “Multiple Personality Disorder,” or “M.P.D.”

Dissociative Identity Response (D.I.R.) is the new, more accurately descriptive term many survivors have adopted.


An alter is one personality of a person with DIR. The personality who is “out” most of the time is often called the host personality and, sometimes, personalities that manifest less frequently are called alternative personalities. Some people have only one or two alters, others have hundreds or even thousands.

Some people with multiplicity experience each alter as a separate person. Others experience them as different from their usual self, but not as different people. Multiplicity is not experienced in exactly the same way from person to person; each person’s experience of their inner reality is unique.

Discrete alters often have their own names, have a distinct age, and have specific tasks, or roles. One alter may be in charge of feeling anger, another of going to school or work, or be the one who decides which alter gets to be in control of the body at any given time. Alters may have a different gender from the body or a different sexual orientation from the host. There may even be alters who are animals, objects, or abstract ideas. Sometimes people have alters who are experienced as being dead or immortal.

The formation of alters is a naturally occurring psychological process, normally the result of extreme, usually early, childhood trauma. Abusive adults who are aware of the process can manipulate and train the emerging personalities to their own ends. Alters can also be deliberately induced through torture or other means, and then trained and programmed. Some survivors of ritual abuse and mind control have alters organized in elaborate patterns designed by the perpetrators, with strict rules about how the alters communicate with each other.


“Integration” is a term that can be used to describe two different processes. One is the process of alters learning to communicate and cooperate and share their memories. The other sense of the word is the actual merging (or fusion) of two or more alters to become one. In such cases, nothing is lost: all memories, talents, and personality traits are preserved, but organized in a different way.

Some people do not experience fusion of their alters, finding their lives perfectly satisfactory as long as their alters are communicating well. Others fuse partially, reducing the number of alters. Most people with many alters do this in stages, allowing time for the system to stabilize and get used to the new internal organization. Some people “become one” for a period of time and then either form new alters to deal with new life circumstances, or the former alters split off and become themselves again.

Adapting to being multiple is an on-going process. There are choices to make, decisions that make life easier or harder. There is no hard-and-fast rule about what works best, each person’s path in life is unique.



Programming refers both to the process of manipulating an alter, and to the content of what is taught, installed, or otherwise established by the perpetrator. Thus you can say that a person has been “programmed” to commit suicide under certain conditions, or you can talk about a suicide “program” that is triggered (activated) by certain words, numbers, visual or auditory cues, or conditions.           


Deliberate Trauma-based Dissociation

Discrete, dissociated alters can develop naturally due to extreme abuse, or other overwhelming traumatic experiences, but they can also be intentionally induced. This is sometimes referred to as “deliberate trauma-based dissociation,” and is usually accomplished through the use of torture. People determined to have total control over another person have been known to force their victim to radically dissociate. Pushing their victim past the limit of internal integration in  this manner leaves what can be seen, essentially, as a blank slate for the programmers to manipulate to suit their own agenda or their group’s agenda.

Once a victim is “split,” or “dissociated,” that part or alter can be trained and programmed, and exploited privately, by an organization, or commercially. Parts may be programmed to perform only one task or operation, or an unlimited number of operations, or to be a complex or a very simple entity.

Victims of deliberate dissociation commonly have programs installed to make them either behave in such a way as to discredit themselves, or to self-destruct, should they begin to remember their abuse, especially if they speak or otherwise tell about it.

Perpetrators of these crimes can control which alter they want to “come forward” using access codes they have programmed into the alters. These can be as simple as numbers, colors, symbols, sounds, or words, etc. Many victims of DIR have hundreds of alternate, programmed personalities. Typically, these alters are deliberately programmed to have no memory of having been switched after they return to their original state. The “core personality” or host may or may not notice they have “lost time.”

For further details on Trauma and Dissociation, go to
Trauma & Dissociation sections of my Support & Resource Info Links