A FAMILY INHERITANCE
Stanley had an eerie ability to remember the faces and names of people he had met only once – even years before. Yet he would often forget what he had said or done an hour earlier. Some of this was the result of the alcohol he drank. The older he got, the worse it became. I believe much of my father’s remembering and forgetting came from a genetic tendency to dissociation which runs through Stella’s bloodline: like his mother, Stanley had a remarkable capacity for it. At times, this would become so extreme it seemed like his left hand didn’t know what his right hand was doing. The rest of us would be waiting for him to go somewhere or do something he had organised for us to do, and he would suddenly turn around and ask what we were waiting for. Or he would promise to do something, then forget the promise half an hour later. We had to learn to put up with it.
Psychologists have found that the ability to dissociate tends to run in families. Stanley, Stella and I all experienced a condition now known as dissociative identity (DID) which ran through Stanley’s bloodline on his mother’s side. During Stella and Stanley’s lives DID was hardly known except in the context of what was then called multiple personality disorder. This was a condition that few dared to acknowledge because the very idea that someone’s personality could be split in pieces and behave as more than one person was too frightening to admit into the realm of possibility.
The majority of us are subjected to traumatic incidents at some point in our lives, which cause acute pain, as in a car crash or the emotional suffering caused by the death of a loved one. Only when the severity of of trauma is highly intense and repeated again and again, as it was in the lives of Stanley and Stella, does dissociation tend to occur. To dissociate is to disconnect from the body, to move into an altered state as a means of creating emotional distance from what is going on. It is a practical means of protecting the body and the psyche when terrible things are going on.
Dissociation is usually merely a temporarily. But it becomes problematic when it becomes permanent, when the victim stays disconnected and doesn’t even realise it. Then memory loss occurs, along with the experience of time distortions. People in this state become out of touch with their bodies and themselves. They become split, and, no longer in touch with their own needs, are often pushed around easily by others – like leaves blown about by the wind. Parts of their mind become virtually autonomous in an attempt to protect themselves from remembering events they have experienced as threatening to their life or safety. Powerful impulses and energies often flow through them which are not only unpredictable but at odds with one another. Their inner world becomes chaotic. So difficult can their lives become that many are drawn to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to make living manageable. In time, the psychic chaos they are forced to live with can wreak havoc, not only with their own lives, but the lives of those around them.
A trauma or experience or something that doesn’t fit into what we want to believe is true becomes locked into a pocket that is separated from consciousness. When this happens these psychic pockets take on a life of their own. In some people these pockets take on a separate existence. This is what happens to people who are known as multiple personalities.