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Thu, Aug. 16th, 2012, 02:01 pm
Dissociative States: Proof We Are NOT Making It Up

I read through medical journals, at least the parts I understand. I'm a bit of a bionerd that happens to lack the education of one. Sometimes things catch my eye, in particular stuff that is related to my condition or those of friends. Today, this article made my jaw drop.

The following is taken from the Search Medica Newsletter, to which I subscribe. Dissociative motor disorder is what has been called 'hysterical paralysis' or basically, pretending you can't move because of some mental trauma... like "frozen bunny rabbit sees a predator" syndrome. If you've been reading this journal for awhile, you know that dissociative identity disorder is a new, all-encompassing term that includes the old multiple personality disorder and some related mental conditions.

Here’s a robust argument against “hysteria” as an explanation for dissociative motor disorder : Neuroscientists in the Netherlands examined autonomic and subjective responses, as well as cerebral blood flow patterns as measured by PET , among people who listened to audiotaped accounts of traumatic events. Subjects were patients with a history of dissociative identity disorder; controls were female volunteers psychometrically assessed as either highly or poorly “imaginative” in temperament, who were coached to simulate identity states. The authors feel that the results, particularly the PET data , do not support the idea that dissociative states are the result of “suggestion” in patients who are particularly prone to fantasy.

It follows with another article, this one for a study which proved that dissociative identity disorder is not a fantasy or role-play state, but an authentic neurological condition.1 It is also not culturally related (certain syndromes, for example 'demonic possession', are biased by social and cultural exposure). Now it's a very small study, only 29 people, and what they basically did was measure biological components in both women with DID and women rated as 'highly imaginative' who role-played being different people.

So it seems there is some scientific evidence proving what I already knew. No big deal for me there, other than I can point to disbelievers and say, "Ha! Science is on my side." But what was really jaw-dropping for me was the other article, which briefly touches on the relationship between various kinds of dissociative disorders.

In the worst of my illness, when I was in high school, I also experienced 'hysterical paralysis' about two or three times total. And to this day, I continue to have non-epileptic seizures (which they sometimes still call pseudo-seizures and which many medical professionals still believe are 'made up' by the patient). Doctors had me convinced they weren't real, that I could control them, that my mental illness was causing me to 'act out' (I detest that phrase, which is why it is always in quotes here). But there are specific things that cause my non-epileptic seizures, such as high stress, low blood sugar, just waking/sleeping (like a real seizure), and certain sympathomimetic drugs. And they don't always happen when other people are around, which kind of negates the whole "doing it for attention" thing.

The hysterical paralysis only happened when I was on the Wellbutrin, which, by the way, is the drug I overdosed on (twice, in two suicide attempts) that caused me to have non-epileptic seizures ever since. I was perfectly conscious, if extremely stressed out (which was caused by the medication, as I stopped sleeping and started hallucinating) and suddenly I couldn't 'find' my body. I could feel my arm, but I couldn't remember how to move it. I could feel my legs, but I couldn't remember how to move them either. I couldn't move. Once again, hospital staff figured I was just 'acting out' and they dumped me in the quiet room for misbehaving. It's one of the things I hate about quiet rooms. They should be a place of healing, a safe spot where someone who is unable to handle themselves can go to calm down. Instead, staff use them as a punishment, they will threaten 'quiet room' time for misbehavior or rebellion. I could rant on and on about how our mental hospitals have become more like jails for patients who haven't committed any crime other than being different, but that's a whole other post.

What was truly weird was, if an outside source moved the unresponsive limb, suddenly I could remember how to move it. It was like the instructions had been misplaced in my brain. So if I couldn't remember how to move my legs, I could manually move them with my arm and remind myself what it felt like to have my legs move, and then I could use them again. It was only the once or twice when I couldn't remember how to move anything, and there was no way for me to tell someone that if they'd just manually move my hands and arms, I could get the rest myself.

It seems that dissociative motor disorder is also associated with "non-epileptic attacks, migraine, fatigue and sleep paralysis."2 And considering this was all part of a 'dissociative states' newsletter, it sort of implies that all dissociative-type disorders are somehow neurologically related. That shouldn't come as a surprise to me, but up until this point I'd never heard the words 'dissociative motor disorder', just 'hysterical paralysis' so it never clicked. And I get migraines, I obviously have fatigue, and I've definitely experienced sleep paralysis once or twice (again, you are conscious but can't move).

Only about ten percent of the population is susceptible to DID, and they must experience a PTSD-inducing situation, and it must occur in childhood, usually before the age of about five or six. After that, your personality is mostly formed (and therefore, incapable of fracturing to that degree), and what you end up with is just general PTSD. Likewise, if you are not part of the ten percent of folks who are capable of long-lasting dissociative/hypnotic states, you cannot get DID. Somehow, the neurological state that makes one capable of getting DID is also related to all these other neurological conditions; it's one general thing, manifesting in various formats.

We should start calling this Dis-associative Syndrome or something, to describe the ten-percent of people who can disassociate to this degree. Everyone is capable of a measure of disassociation; it's like when you are watching a movie in the theater and you suddenly 'wake up' and realize you are in a movie theater, where before you were totally engrossed in the movie to the point where you were unaware of your surroundings. People with DID (and my new class of people, those with Dis-associative Syndrome who may not have multiple personalities) live in this state all the time.

1Fact or Factitious? A Psychobiological Study of Authentic and Simulated Dissociative Identity States.
2Functional weakness: clues to mechanism from the nature of onset

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