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Section 9
Enhanced Memory in Dissociative
Identity Disorder

Question 9 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed ‘talking through.’  ‘Talking through’ is a technique to ensure that as many alters as possible are actually listening. 

In this section, we will discuss memory assembly.  We’ll first identify characteristics of memory fragmentation, and then we will examine two techniques for memory assembly.  The two techniques for memory assembly that we will discuss are the affect bridge and the memory bridge.

As you know, even in non-DID clients, traumatic experiences often produce fragmentary recall of an event. In a multiple, the memory of a traumatic experience may be contained within a single alter, or it may be spread across several alters. When a memory is divided among several alters, each alter may contain a fragment of the event, or one alter may contain the memory for the details of the event while others hold the affects generated by the event.

Would you agree that it is the therapist’s job to help the client reassemble the whole memory, both content and affects, and to integrate this structure into the person as a whole? 

♦ Characteristics of Memory Fragmentation
First, let’s discuss characteristics of memory fragmentation.  Would you agree that putting fragmented memories back together with a fragmented personality system can be slow, methodical work?  In the beginning, I find that little is going to make sense.  You may meet some alters who exhibit powerful affects for which there is little content.  Or you might find that other alters have bits and pieces of vivid memory detail, but are unable to place this content into a larger context.

For DID clients, memories can be a large, multidimensional puzzle that the therapist and client have to assemble one piece at a time.  The client will continually provide clues, but he or she does not know the answer either, and powerful psychic processes are at work that attempt to suppress, distort, or otherwise impair recall of traumas.  Time, patience, trust, and working through alter by alter, level by level, will slowly assemble a coherent and chronological picture of the trauma that precipitated and perpetuated the client's fragmentation into a multiple personality. 

Two Techniques for Memory Assembly

♦ #1 - Affect Bridge
Next, let’s discuss a technique for memory assembly.  The affect-bridge can be an effective technique for solving your client’s memory puzzle.  You might find that the puzzle metaphor is a useful one to keep in mind.  With a puzzle, one usually begins by assembling pieces with a common background into small units, fitting the units roughly together, and then filling in the gaps that separate these units from each other.  A similar process often occurs in assembling the life history of a DID patient.  

Affects are often a useful place to start.  Braun has described his work with a modified form of the "affect bridge" technique originated by Watkins.  This involves identifying a strong, but often contentless affect and tracing it through alter personalities.  In the affect bridge technique, the client moves along a chain of affect or sensory/somatic associations rather than idea associations.  You might find that this technique is most appropriate when your client reports recurrently experiencing a major affect or sensation that is presently troublesome and has no obvious cause.  The affect-bridge can be used with the client as a whole or with specific alter personalities. 

Here's how the affect-bridge works:
-- First, begin by tracing back an emotion such as anger.  Find an event where it changes into, for example, fear. 
-- Next, trace fear backwards in the same manner. 

Would you agree that allowing the affect to change often leads to a better understanding of the interconnection of the complex, multilevel affects associated with specific traumatic events?  As with Talking Through to gain the attention of all alters, the affect-bridge can aid in the unification of emotions and memories. 

♦ #2 - Memory Bridge
Let's talk about a memory bridge now.  The memory bridge can help you trace memories in a similar fashion. Braun suggests starting with the last piece of memory and working backwards in time, eliciting alters who have the next piece in a sequential fashion. You may find it useful to trace memory and affect in a parallel fashion, slowly assembling a coherent whole from the bits and pieces of abreactive fragments.  

In one client, for example, the work began with a feeling of overwhelming sick dread that was evoked by the sound of a train.  Sheila, age 36, was unable to associate any memories to this stimulus, but the sounds of a passing locomotive or train whistle would result in rapid switching of alters who exhibited affects of fear, horror, grief, and anger, respectively.  Sheila’s angry alter threatened to kill Sheila’s father because he was a bastard, but provided no other details.  

Sheila’s grief-stricken alter mourned the death of a dog who was her only companion on an isolated Midwestern farm.  Sheila’s horrified alter reported watching her father tie her dog to the railroad tracks that passed behind the family farm.  Finally, Sheila’s fearful alter was still bound by the threat that this would happen to her someday. The memory that emerged was of Sheila’s father taking her pet, tying it to the railroad tracks, and making her watch the yelping dog ground to pieces by a freight train. Sheila’s father threatened that the same would happen to her if she ever revealed his incestuous activities to anyone. 

As you can tell, the memories (often recalled as intensely vivid images), together with the affects generated by this experience, were divided among several alters.  Sheila had several additional alters connected with this episode who were not discussed above, but all were connected to memories or affects associated with this event. Once the general outline of Sheila’s past trauma was determined, it was possible to deduce some of the missing pieces and search for alters who contained these elements.

 Think of your Sheila.  Has your DID client presented with unexplained somatic signs or symptoms?  Has he or she described partial memories or emotions for which there is no apparent explanation?  How can the affect bridge and memory bridge techniques benefit your client? 

In this section, we have discussed memory assembly.  We identified characteristics of memory fragmentation, and then we examined two techniques for memory assembly.  The two techniques for memory assembly that we discussed are the affect bridge and the memory bridge.

In the next section, we will discuss the internal self-helper of the DID client.  The techniques in this section can be productive for finding your client’s internal self-helper and working with your client’s internal self-helper.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Brand, B. L., Webermann, A. R., Snyder, B. L., & Kaliush, P. R. (2019). Detecting clinical and simulated dissociative identity disorder with the Test of Memory Malingering. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 11(5), 513–520.

Marsh, R. J., Dorahy, M. J., Verschuere, B., Butler, C., Middleton, W., & Huntjens, R. J. C. (2018). Transfer of episodic self-referential memory across amnesic identities in dissociative identity disorder using the Autobiographical Implicit Association Test. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 127(8), 751–757. 

Niedtfeld, I., Renkewitz, F., Mädebach, A., Hillmann, K., Kleindienst, N., Schmahl, C., & Schulze, L. (2020). Enhanced memory for negative social information in borderline personality disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 129(5), 480–491.

What are two techniques to help DID clients with partial memory assembly? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 10
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