EARLY TRAUMA BUILDS DISSOCIATION INTO THE BRAIN

Sometimes thinking with a dissociated mind is like trying to carry too many groceries in your hands at one time.  It takes an incredible amount of focus and concentration to be able to process information that to others would seem obviously connected and therefore would be easily considered in a fluid, flexible and ‘together’ fashion.

Some of my writing might be difficult for readers to follow because of the disconnected way information presents itself to me in the first place — as well as how it presents itself to me as I try to write coherently.  As I mentioned in previous posts, the inability to tell a coherent life story is directly related to how the early developing brain was fed information back in its beginning.  If that information was disconnected at its source — meaning in the brain-mind of an infant’s early caregiver — that pattern of disconnectedness, I believe, is directly communicated not only TO the infant, but more importantly is built into the infant’s growing brain.

Most of us today are at least vaguely familiar with the concept of downloading and uploading information on computers.  Taken in its most specific and literal meaning, early caregivers are downloading information directly into an infant’s growing brain.  The infant’s brain is forming itself according first to how information is being transmitted to it.  It is only after the ‘how’ aspects are transmitted that an infant’s brain can begin to process the specifics of ‘what’ is being transmitted.

Information that is not appropriate in the context of the caregiver-infant interaction and is inconsistently transmitted to an infant will be overwhelming.  It is in effect not an dissimilar to the way that wrong information being processed wrongly within a computer will crash it.  It is not unlike what happens to a car’s transmission if you were driving down the highway at 50 miles per hour and suddenly moved the gear shift to reverse.

A ‘rupture’ without possibility of ‘repair’ is created when any effective ongoing pattern is drastically — and I mean traumatically — interrupted.  We don’t usually think of it this way, but what causes these ‘ruptures without possibility of repair’ in a growing infant and young child’s brain is the presentation of the wrong information in the wrong way at the wrong time, and happens because these young one’s have had no opportunity to build a brain with capacity to process this incoming information effectively.

I believe that if maltreatment exists (as I’ve said before) during critical brain developmental stages during infancy and childhood, these ruptures without repair are themselves built right into the circuitry of the resulting brains.  Because their we are talking about interactions that occur in interaction with the environment, every single time such a lack of repair happens, after an overwhelming traumatic experience,  a ‘dissociation spot’ is created within the brain’s operational patterns that will be carried within such an individual for the rest of their lives.  This is one of the actual, physiological ways that trauma is built into a brain-body.

Knowing exactly which environmental triggers will cause these dissociation spots to become obvious in later years is nearly impossible because most of us with severe abuse histories have literally millions and millions of them built into our brains and into our bodies.   Every single time one of these dissociation spots were put there, or created in the first place, a physiological body-based response happened with it.   This is one of the ways that trauma is physiologically built into a brain-body’s memory.  It is literally formed into the actual cells themselves and affects the way that ongoing genetic processes operate.

If the trauma happens early enough and is severe enough, we DO end up with different brains and bodies as a result, as I mentioned in my previous post.  We are sensitive to stimuli differently and process information differently.  The vital and necessary ability to appraise and sequence information into usable segments that can then later be used in connection to new information is interfered with.

We are different because we are left with a broken string of pearls and a string that cannot be added onto in a normal useful fashion.  We are thus left with an incoherent life story based on a disorganized-disoriented, incoherent brain formed by the same kind of disordered attachment from birth.  Only some of us can go a good long way down the road of our life before we are faced with the reality of what this means to us.  We are left with an armload of groceries dropped on the floor, and we cannot pick them up.  Who is there that can or will help us?

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I believe that life operates through a pattern of circles and cycles.  Because of this, one can follow any given thought around until it connects to the opposite of itself.  I now wish to make the contrasting point to the one I presented in my May 1, 2009 post, “DOES THE GOOD MAKE THE BAD BETTER?” by asking a related question, “How does the bad help us to make our lives better?”

I do not see that there is ever a straight, obvious, easy road that connects the ‘bad’ of our lives to the ‘good’ of our lives.  I want to present you with an example of what I am saying.  From the earliest times of my life I evidently succeeded relatively well at finding ways to continue on living in spite of not only the abuse I experienced but also in spite of the ways I found to work with what happened to me.  Because the traumas were built into my body and my brain on an ongoing basis, I NEVER noticed the adaptations that my brain made to the traumas.

This is a critical point.  I ‘continued on being’ as Dr. Allan Schore says of abused infants.  I survived, and I have done so through a continuing process that was unrecognized and unknown to me.  Things would have remained the same IF I had not had cancer, or more accurately, if the cancer had never been treated and I had not survived it.  Because I had treatment, particularly chemotherapy, and because I came out the other end to be who I am today, I can now look back through the windows of that process and say that I have learned something I never could have possibly known otherwise.

To put it most simply, I have learned how I adapted to the traumas because those adaptations have mostly been taken away from me.

There are some things, even those as seemingly insignificant as the one I presented in my April 21, 2009 post “EARTH DAY: In Honor of the Grieving Chicken, ” that one might never be able to imagine or believe unless they are actually experienced.  If not for my cancer and its treatment I could never have imagined the adaptative abilities I had actually created in order to survive my abuse that made me believe I had done so ‘normally’.

I now know that my definition of ‘normally’ has to be expanded.  My adaptions were normal considering what I experienced, but they were not ‘normal’ in comparison to how other people, whose brains were not formed in, by and for trauma, operate.

I evidently was able to teach myself from birth in some amazing ongoing way how to think and act with a brain that had formed a mind that has millions and millions of dissociation spots built into it.  The chemotherapy regime that I underwent disturbed my brain as it interrupted both my memory and how my brain operates in relationship to memory.

I have know of no scientific support for what I know from inside of myself, but I believe what has happened to me post-chemotherapy happened because the part of the brain that processes incoming experience before it is organized for long term memory storage — the hippocampus — the only part of the brain other than the one that processes new smells that continues to build new nerve cells, called neurons — was directly affected by the working aspect of chemotherapy that stops all new cell formation.  That’s the same process that made all my hair fall out and made my fingernails stop growing and stopped the ability of the cancer cells to multiply.

Because the chemo stopped the rapid cells from growing in my hippocampus, I could no longer remember the steps I normally take to put on my makeup in the morning.  My friend, who also underwent the same chemo treatment, forgot to put her blouse on until she noticed it after she was already in her car to go to work.

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It would take a very caring and astute group of people to realize that an extremely dangerous side affect of chemotherapy — for those of us who formed brains containing dissociation spots from early abuse during brain formation stages — is a deterioration of the brain’s ability to utilize the adaptive processes that it found and learned in order to live relatively well in spite of the affects of the trauma on its development.

The wordless image that came to me in relation to this damage is that of a huge steel post being driven into the gears that run the Big Ben clock in the London Tower.

http://www.parliament.uk/about/history/big_ben.cfm

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While someone could remove the post and repair the clock, the rupture that happened to my ongoing memory processes about how to live an ongoing life in spite of the serious affects that trauma had on my developing brain cannot be repaired.  Yes, this sucks!

Yet as a consequence I now know intimately that I DID manage to create incredible patterns to cope with the dissociation of trauma in my brain.  I know it now because I can no longer DO IT!  I forgot what I learned, what I evidently taught myself from birth, how to do.

So is it a good thing I had cancer and chemotherapy so that I can now understand all of this?  Can what I learned as a result be of some valuable use to someone else?  I can only hope that it can, because I now understand how crippling massive dissociation is to any ongoing ability to manage one’s being in the world.

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There is another critical piece of information I now know about the link between having undergone severely stressful life events and the development of breast cancer.  This research is connected to the ongoing problem of women in Israel developing breast cancer at very high rates.

http://www.reuters.com/article/healthNews/idUSCOL86917620080828?feedType=RSS&feedName=healthNews

http://www.christiantoday.com/article/stress.may.mean.greater.risk.of.breast.cancer.study.suggests/21418.htm

I have been blessed with excellent physical health and stamina all of my life.  I justified the fact that I didn’t need to get a mammogram because I did not fit any of the risk factor categories that I knew of.  Had anyone ever told me that the stress of severe child abuse increases one’s risk of getting cancer, THAT fact I would have heard and understood.  I understand now that early abuse alters the way the immune system develops as well as alters brain development.

In addition, I now understand that anyone who suffered extreme abuse from birth is at an even higher risk of damage to any ongoing well-being they may have carved out of life for themselves because they no doubt have complicating brain factors due to their brains having adjusted to dissociation.  They are at risk because any chemotherapy that stops rapid cell division will affect their hippocampus.  They are at risk of forgetting everything they ever learned and remembered about how to keep themselves out from under the devastating effects that underlying dissociation  would cause them in their ongoing life processes.

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Now it takes very little demand for information processing to “make me drop all the groceries,” and I am now on full disability because of it.  Imagine running first in an important race.  Suddenly you trip and fall, breaking both your legs.  You are hauled by ambulance to the hospital where the legs are set and put in casts.  Your leg bones take time to heal.  It takes time after this repair for you to get full use of them back again.  How likely are you going to be to get back to that same spot on the race track to resume the race and still even be in the running?

None.  So I can now say that the me that existed prior to chemotherapy is dead.  I cannot go back and get her, either.  I had evidently gone through a continuous process throughout my lifetime to adjust to living with the dissociation that trauma had created in my brain.  I can no longer remember how I did it.

I know that I am not alone.  I am among those on life’s battlefield who have been shot and wounded with thousands of bullets of trauma.  Yet we get up again and again and again and struggle forward toward the end of our lives.  Do we ever need to question why we suffer?

I had laid out the equivalent of a fragile and vulnerable bread crumb trail in the children’s story of Hansel and Gretel that had allowed me to move from my first breath forward in some kind of ‘associated’ way.  By the time I was done with that chemo, that bread crumb trail had vanished and it cannot be replaced.  Until chemotherapy I had never known that trail existed in the first place.  I know it now because it is gone.

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Thank you for reading.  Your comments are welcome and appreciated.

 

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9 thoughts on “EARLY TRAUMA BUILDS DISSOCIATION INTO THE BRAIN

  1. I have had depression, mental breakdown and PTSD. In researching the effects of these mental health conditions, I’ve learned that the brain can literally partially die, because there is a massive loss of brain cells and in particular, withering of the hippocampus. So it makes sense to me now that depression could have a similar effect to chemotherapy, removing the old dissociative circuitry in the hippocampus.

    This answers my puzzlement as to why I’ve undergone such a personaltiy change since my mental health problems. I feel like the old me has died, and I know I process thought differently now.

    I’ve been on a long journey to reclaim myself, after recovering memories of early childhood sexual abuse and rape by my father, and realizing I had coped by forming dissociative circuitry. Putting the story of my life back together has felt like doing a jigsaw puzzle. You have provided a key piece of understanding.

    Thank you so much for taking the time and trouble to write this down, and helping others treading the same path of self-understanding.

    • Thank you for writing this comment, Leanne. I find myself literally grieving for “the old me” and try to pay attention to this grief when it comes most strongly by remembering back especially to those years of my adult life when I can now see that THIS me was very present. I just used to be able to bypass and ignore my own self because I learned basically how NOT to be myself. I learned, without realizing it, how to create a “social self” that acted like I thought other people acted. If that makes any sense!

      I was essentially born, I believe, being a peaceful person. I found ways, or rather I think my growing body-brain-mind-self found ways of making a particular kind of peace even within myself because I was able, through the massive structure of the dissociative processes horrendous trauma built into me, to pick myself up and keep going forward no matter WHAT happened to me in between.

      I guess, writing this, I was able to separate the massive trauma into “one person” who had no voice, no words, and therefore no thoughts about the traumas or way of coming up with any perspective about myself in my life — or even about what was happening to me. Then there was the other self who had a “voice and a face” that “fit in” with the social world I was faced with in school, faced with in any kind of public situation.

      When I left my insanely abusive home of origin I DID enter a completely social world full of strangers. I simply accepted, deeply accepted on a silent level (unconsciously) that (!) nobody knew me, (2) that nobody cared to know me, and then (3) that nobody cared about my lifetime of suffering. My job, as I understood it from infancy, really, was to fit in with others and make no ripples if at all possible. I really became a living shadow of myself.

      I cannot hide any part of myself or of my history from myself any more. I guess, writing this, I am now living a life of inner integrity — but at the cost of knowing myself in ways I DO WISH I did not have to be aware of. It is still true that “the public” is not in a position, at least in our American culture, to know about or to care about most of who I am. This contributes, I believe, to the pervasive sense of loneliness I and many like me feel nearly all of the time.

      We really are a “different kind of people” who have lived a different kind of life from those who did not suffer horrendous early traumas.

      I no longer have “blindsight” about my self. This seems to put massive amounts of pressure on my dissociative processes to try to keep what “pops or rushes” into my awareness OUT of my ongoing affairs. Trauma HAS no place in a good world. As I work to increase my well-being and that of those around me the best that I can, while I can no longer keep my own reactions to life away from myself I have to try to “be appropriate” in how I interact with life moment-to-moment. This is a challenge that can wear a person out!!

      Yet we survivors DO have inner resources that seem nearly beyond belief. These reserves sustain us even when we feel at such a loss to “be like other people” who are cheerful, seem to know where they have been and where they are going without any obvious trouble at all! My increased (understatement!) understanding of myself and my reactions to life both make living more complicated for me than when I was younger as they also make me more truly myself.

      To my knowledge I have no history of overt sexual abuse. I do not believe I could have continued to survive if that horror had been added onto the brutal psychotic madness of my mother toward me. I never write in any way suggesting that I know anything about the reality of those who did suffer sexual abuse. Yet the limitations and the abilities humans have to survive the unsurvivable all rest within a range of what is possible to summon and inwardly create in the worst situations — especially when very young and our safe and secure attachment – so vital to creating a healthy body-brain-self – has been denied us.

      We are, essentially, miracles of survival!

  2. I thank you for writing. I can heal the dissociation and overcome the triggers of all the terrible things that happened to me up to age three. Then I go into a space deep back in my brain ( the best way I can descrie it) Its hard to articulate , describe feelings and when I come out of this place I am confused for a few seconds perhaps because I have missed all incoming conversation. People do nto understand so all the teasing rejection is a part of making things worse. I tried to deal with it with therapy but they are not up to speed and it was helpful to define what a boundry is when it was crossed but in actually surviving that was up to me. I did nto learn how to set boundries till 20 years latter so I find self rel;ianse and connecting with those that have similar problems far more helpful.
    It is a place I can not open the door to but trauma will place me there right away. The down side of that isd the inability to communicate. My ex husband who was abuseive use to holler and yell and then ask where do you go and the doc had little comprehension but put me on meds to prevent depression which just made me tolerate things more.
    I believe that the medical proffession was helpful they certaainly did not assist to really come out of this and I do nto think they know what it is all about and how to stop it.
    I laughed as I was reading…someone that actually knows and as I read on I can only say how sorry I am in how chemo has affected you.
    I do music therapy walk away from controling people and keep my environment healthy without isolating. Isolation and risks of high nature make it worse. New learning always takes time. Up side really bright, can detail very well, stick to a project till it is done, easily blow into creativitey in music, writing ( have to edit it) and discovering solutions. More impulsive and not controled but the music that comes from there is incredible . Took me my whole life to get to music and I know I would have been as good as a lot that have passed away and I do nto know if I can catch up but the joy is incredible. I feel like my life was taken away from me and I am forever trying to get it back.
    Never know if it is a syndrome or abuse but it is hard on relations and self.
    Like people find each other and we have so much love for each other as we are the only ones that really comprehend, Beautiful people with great difficulty articulating and functioning around aggressive and hostile people. Beautiful people wanting to die so many times but srvivors forge forwrd. Imgine demanding treatment when everyone think you are just fine because I am good looking smart and have the right answers. I have learnt to function in this society very well but my private life can be hell if I am not totaly in tune. It took me most of my life to realize that and now I have such good people around me. Society can blame but those with infant dissociation have a hell of a time but we do eventually learn to make adult choices and we do parent ourselves eventually. My fear is when I get old if I end up in one of those homes where the cartakers are abusive. I do not see myself as takling much more and hope that I will be heard and abble to articulate not from past memory or sensativcitey but real reality. Better still tha tI make enough money to stay on my own without assistance.
    My heart goes out to you. Takes time to accept what is happening and then try to manage with it. Keep open and though its challanging find a way even if you have to write notes to keep going forward and not leak into depression. You have come to far to slip . Thank you again for sharing.

    • Thank you for writing, natascha – I am wondering if you live in America? Such a life we have had, but we make the MOST out of it in every way that we can!! I appreciate all you have said — and yes, we do understand one another!! There is much beauty in what you share!! And truth. Thank you!

  3. Wow! That is amazing. I am a therapist who has been trained in EMDR and have been trying to learn more about dissociation and what it’s like. Can I ask how you knew that you were missing what you had learned? You are so convinced that what you could no longer do after chemo is because it took away what you learned through dissociation. I would like to understand how you are so certain that it is from that instead of something else coincidentally that you lost through treatment. i totally believe you! I’m just curious how that connection is so obvious to you that it’s from dissociation. I’m amazed that you have been abe to articulate yourself so well. Thank you soooo much for sharing!

    • Hello, and thanks for your comment! I will mark this in my email to come back to later. I am currently visiting my children and am 1700 miles away from home, returning on Sept. 26th. Am caring for my 8 week old grandson as my daughter returns to work full-time – and all of us have the ‘day care’ cold bug the 2 1/2 yr old brought home – so feeling VERY distracted at present! Please bear with me – until later!!!

    • Hello again – This is the best I can offer right now: +MORE LINKS TO DISSOCIATION INFORMATION ON THIS BLOG

      at

      https://stopthestorm.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/more-links-to-dissociation-information-on-this-blog/

      ++

      Most simply put in way of illustration specific to your question — while going through chemotherapy treatment I could no longer remember how to put on my makeup. Applying makeup necessitates traveling through an ordered sequence of activities – what goes on first, second, etc.

      I had to stop and very slowly apply the effort of great concentration to remember these steps.

      I also know of a woman in town who was also going through chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. One morning she found herself turning her key in her car’s ignition to leave for work — without having FIRST put on her blouse.

      ++

      I am convinced that at this point in the evolution of our species we are too primitive to fully understand what ‘dissociation’ actually is, no matter how savvy and scientifically advanced we might believe ourselves to be.

      Those of us who live with ‘dissociation’ ARE currently the only true experts!

  4. I am speechless.

    You have answered many of my questions regarding my inability to remember my past, both good and bad.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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