Blurb to introduce article series:

The inspiration for this series came from observing my sister’s journey through mental illness. My purpose is twofold: to dismantle stigma and to give you a personal glimpse into this complex, yet compelling experience. I am so excited to share our story with you. Here is a piece of my heart, from me to you.

Article I: Kaleidoscope Mind

Kalei Swogger

I would like to suggest that something profoundly abnormal is actually mundanely typical. To be honest, this isn’t something I wanted to write about. It means opening a door into my life that isn’t easy to shove open. But I think sharing my experience, and the experience of those closest to me,  is worth expanding your view of the world.

Dissociation: the disconnection or separation of something from another thing or the state of being disconnected.

This phenomenon is as common to the human experience as breathing. Take highway hypnosis for example. Have you ever been driving on the road, and all of sudden arrived somewhere you didn’t even know you were going? How did I get here?  Have you ever sat in a lecture and somehow missed the last point the professor made, even though you were staring at the screen? What was that definition?  It’s like reality is far away, until someone snaps you back to the present, and shuts the door to the abstract reality of your thoughts. Where do you go in these moments? Human beings have been debating this question since we knew how to speak. Recent explorations in the field of psychology have centered on understanding the nature of consciousness, and how exactly our physical brain relates to this metaphysical space we call “the mind.” This space seems to be the only way to explain the surreal experience of being absent from the body. Somehow our body experiences something our minds don’t. Imagine if you experienced highway hypnosis everyday. Multiple times a day. This is what it’s like to live with a dissociative disorder.

What happens to these sensory experiences? Are they lost in the abyss of the forgotten past? Are they simply sensory messages that weren’t coded correctly and failed to reach the conscious mind? Where do they go?

Imagine a jar with me: a smooth, clay vessel. Carefully crafted by skilled hands, refined in the kiln, glazed with an array of varying colors and geometric figures. Someone caresses the jar in their hands. They carelessly shift their grip and it slips from their grasp. The jar collides with the floor, shattering into pieces.

The jar is your mind under extreme stress. Dissociation is the defense mechanism. Stress hormones surge through your nervous system unabated, because you can’t leave the stressful situation. Rather than losing touch with all reality, your mind shatters into fragments, each one capable of handling a certain part of the stress. Some parts of you remember being dropped, others don’t. But the experience of falling, and your brain’s sensory record of it, doesn’t disappear. It remains imprinted on a fracture.

Experiences of disruptive dissociation occur on a spectrum, and they can feel different for every person, based on their unique traits and history. The most extreme cases result in permanent fragments of the mind, some of which develop their own traits. In other words, they become individual personalities. Yes, multiple personality disorder is actually the result of severe dissociation. Its revised name, dissociative identity disorder (DID), has been adapted to reflect this.

So why is this important? Because people matter. And because dissociation is more common than we’d like to think. I want to invite you to understand something a little out there, and a little complex. I want to invite you to see beyond the stigma, little by little, tearing the barriers down. I want to suggest that perhaps the shattered fragments of dissociation, though chaotic and disruptive at first, have the potential to become gifts, multiplying the human potential. Our world is full of colorful, kaleidoscope experiences. Examine the fragments of the rainbow with me.

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