Author Archives: kmarston

Living With 12 Personalities (Dissociative Identity Disorder)

(Image by: Roxanne Pasibe)

 

I frequently find myself watching videos by Special Books by Special Kids– a non-profit run by special needs advocate Chris Ulmer who uses primarily his YouTube channel as a platform to raise awareness of disability diversity and to promote equality. One of his interviews particularly caught my interest because of how rare yet complicated this disorder is. As a society we frequently romanticize (and demonize) this disorder as seen in the 2016 film Split. Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) formerly known as Multiple Identity Disorder (MID), is a chronic condition in which two or more personality states develop and coexist in an individual. These personalities can take over the individual’s ‘main’ state of being and for some people like Lauren in the interview, these voices can have an active conversation with her inside her mind.

DID is commonly referred to as a posttraumatic disorder due to its development as a defense mechanism against severe abuse and other traumatic events. Not only does the disorder affect the individual’s identity, but there is also the experience of amnesia and other forms of memory loss. In class we learned primarily about two types of amnesia: retrograde and anterogradewhich prevent the retrieval of specific kinds of information due to brain damage. It is fascinating to consider that a psychological trauma like DID can create as much of an impact on the brain as a physical disruption like a lesion.

To understand this, it’s important to delve a little into the neuroscience aspect of the disorder. Usually occurring during childhood, DID develops when the brain is at its most plastic. The central nervous system and cognitive functions especially, have not fully matured yet. This exposes the malleability of the brain to long-term impairments such as the development of a mental illness. Additionally, the ability to process emotion and retain memory of the traumatic event are disrupted so as not to cause further damage to the brain by the extreme stress of the event. For some individuals the inability to recall the traumatic situation and abnormal coping methods result in the development of new personalities to handle high levels of stress that the brain sometimes recognizes from the initial trauma. Lauren explains in the interview that her twelve personalities developed as defensive shields. In first or second grade she experienced a traumatic event that she can no longer remember, and the blockage of the memory was replaced with a “fragment” or new personality.

The loss of Lauren’s memory is an example of dissociative amnesia which is a result of psychological trauma rather than physical damage as explained above. What separates Lauren from those who simply experience repressed thoughts is the unique disruption in memory she’s experienced concerning the traumatic event from her childhood. Her other thoughts appear to be intact from childhood and while her brain reacts similarly to stressful situations and creates new “fragments” to deal with them, her memory as a whole appears to remain complete. Compared to repressed memories where the growth retention interval leads to memory decay, the psychological amnesia completely extinguishes that specific memory. The distinctiveness of this disorder is apparent even when compared to other psychological traumas. Psychological trauma is often associated with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in which the memories of a distressing event are commonly recalled and a source of severe anxiety. Swinging into the opposite side of the spectrum is DID which loses memories as an alternative method to avoid anxious feelings.

There is a section in our textbook that discusses ‘undoing’ memory loss with methods such as hypnosis. For some people recognizing repressed memories and coming to terms with upsetting events is an important process of healing and developing positive coping strategies. I personally don’t believe that something like this is appropriate nor possible for individuals with DID. The disorder is recognized to have amnesia as a side effect- the memory cannot be recalled due to psychological damage to the brain- and even if there was the possibility of remembering the trauma, unraveling the development of multiple personalities would take years upon years of intense therapy to basically reestablish a personal identity.

I would like to see more research conducted on not only the specific neurological causes of DID but also the exploration on all the cognitive processes beyond just memory which are impacted. For example, how exactly is attention impaired when there are conversations constantly buzzing in the mind or what is the degree that judgement and the ability to make rational decisions are distorted? As with many disorders, especially those as rare as DID, more research is needed to understand the full extent of the disorder. However, it is people like Chris and Lauren who aid in the advocacy and ‘normalization’ of disability education so that further research opportunities can be explored in the near future.

 

(And in case you were wondering, yes Freud knew about this disorder and yes, he had a field day with it).

 

Sources:

Kluft Richard P. (1996) Dissociative Identity Disorder. In: Michelson L.K., Ray W.J. (eds) Handbook of Dissociation. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4899-0310-5_16

Myers, Lynn B. (2010). The importance of the repressive coping style: findings from 30 years of research. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 23(1), 3-17.

Thomas-Antérion, C. (2017). Dissociative amnesia: Disproportionate retrograde amnesia, stressful experiences and neurological circumstances. Revue Neurologique, 173(7-8), 516-520. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neurol.2017.07.007

Ulmer, Chris. (2018, January 23). Living With 12 Personalities (Dissociative Identity Disorder). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAtK2s_SDnA

Van der Kolk, Bessel A. (1987). Psychological Trauma. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.

The Entire History of You

During the weekends when I’ve found myself with a break from rowing and homework I’ve started to become invested in the show Black Mirror. Each episode is standalone and are primarily designed to make commentary about technology in everyday society. One episode that stood out to me as I’ve delved deeper into the series is The Entire History of You (Season 1 Episode 3). The people of this world are implanted with a memory chip which records everything the owner has seen, heard and have done from the moment they are implanted with the chip. Using a controller, they can replay memories, zoom in, fast forward, and manipulate the memory (to a certain degree) in a variety of different ways. Another characteristic of this device is the ability to play memories on television screen as a way of allowing other people to have access to their memories. With this memory chip there is no need to physically remember anything as the chip retains all information.

The story starts out with a young lawyer who attends a dinner party with his wife. He already had an unnerving morning dealing with a job interview, so his anxiety is already raised higher than normal. At the dinner he noticed subtle hints of his wife’s aloofness when interacting with himself, however she behavior immediately changed when she focused on an ‘old family friend.’ Fast forward to the next morning and many drinks later, the lawyer has spent the hours since obsessively replaying his wife’s interactions with the friend by projecting his memory chip and manipulating the memory to capture specific details. He ends up driving to the family friend’s house, forces him to erase the memories featuring private moments with his wife, and ultimately erases the man’s ability to retain those memories to exact detail. The episode continues on, but what’s particularly interesting is that once a memory is deleted (or in another woman’s case the memory chip mauled out), the people of this world still have the ability to remember but they don’t have the picturesque memories to draw back on. This means that people go back to ‘normal’ processing of memory in which our memories slowly fade and are replaced with false information as time progresses.

While watching this episode it immediately reminded me of people who have eidetic memory or what is more commonly known as photographic memory. This is defined as internal memory images that are so vivid the individual is able to recall visual, auditory and to a limited extent physical details associated with the scene they saw. While searching for studies elaborating on this form of memory processing I’ve found that most of the research is from the late twentieth century with little information before and after that period of time. This is not a surprising find however, as eidetic memory is rare and most commonly found in adolescents. Therefore, studies are limited in time and sample size compared to research in areas of long term and working memories for example.

(This is an example of a picture used from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a test for children to determine if they had eidetic memory or not. The children would stare at the picture for 30 seconds and look away from the image at a blank surface. If they were able to ‘project’ the image onto that surface and recall specific details then it was said that they had eidetic memory). 

The brain constantly has cells dying while new ones are formed, creating new pathways and connections every day. By the seventh month of the prenatal period nearly all neurons have migrated to their final locations and the brain is filled with dense networks of neurons. At birth however, nearly 50 percent of fetal neurons die out. The brain undergoes synaptogenesis and neuroplasticity which allows the brain to learn new information while discarding useless memories and ultimately avoiding the disproved theory of the ‘grandmother cell.’  People with eidetic memory do not possess the essential ability to properly discard unnecessary information. Instead many of them suffer from the amount of information they have to hold, similar to Mr. S for example in Aleksandr Luria’s The Mind of a Mnemonist (1968). Mr. S had the ability to remember almost everything that he encountered however his memory was so powerful that he had to construct his own methods for forgetting information such as writing down details and burning the paper afterwards. When asked to remember a word, he could recall the visual connections, auditory associations, and feelings that he experienced when he first read the word. He found it difficult to understand a single sentence and was constantly bombarded with information.

This episode brings to light both the benefits and tragedies of memory. Whether utilizing implicit or explicit memories we are constantly learning new information. Yet at the same time, our brains are discarding information that have lost necessary connections. I think one area that could be explored is the connection of eidetic memory and autism. According to stereotypes (like Rain Man) and observable symptoms, individuals with autism are often marveled as to having extraordinary memory. Do some people on the spectrum experience eidetic memory? Do the stereotypes actually reference remarkable working and long-term memories? Do autistic people experience side effects similar to Mr. S because of their memory capacities (individuals on the spectrum often experience sensory processing disorder)? Eidetic memory as a whole deserves to be further investigated when it is properly identified and has the potential to open a better understanding of how memory communicates with the brain to form the entire history of you.

 

References:

Black Mirror, The Entire History of You (Season 1, Episode 3)

Cognition Exploring the Sceience of the Mind Daniel Reisberg

Photographic Memory Mort la Brecque (https://muse-jhu-edu.ezproxy.umw.edu/article/597075/pdf)

Photographic Memory Kate Flint (https://www.erudit.org/en/journals/ravon/2009-n53-ravon2916/029898ar/)

Psychology: A Modular Approach to Mind and Behavior Dennis Coon (https://books.google.com/books?id=evrfDR09mDsC&pg=PA310#v=onepage&q&f=false)

The Dynamic Child Frank Manis

The Student’s Guide to Cognitive Neuroscience Jamie Ward

Anxiety Cells in a Hippocampal-Hypothalamic Circuit

In the US alone, forty million adults of the ages eighteen and older suffer from a form of an anxiety disorder. The DSM-5 describes anxiety disorders as conditions that heighten feelings of excessive fear and anxiety due to reactions to real threat and anticipation of threat. These behaviors are associated with fight or flight responses, escape/avoidant behaviors, over-preparation for future danger and more. When these behaviors occur past a period of six months they result in cognitive functional hindrances and inhibit an individual from fully interacting with their environment.

This article offers a summary on a study observing “anxiety cells in a hippocampal-hypothalamic circuit.” Mazen Kheirbek and a team of researchers have discovered specialized neuronal cells in the hippocampus of mice which become overactive when placed in situations eliciting stress. The hippocampus is involved with stages of memory and has been shown to be more vulnerable to stress due to memory retention of stressful events and their outcomes. Mental disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Epilepsy and Schizophrenia are commonly associated with various damages to the hippocampal region.

Often when studying the hippocampus (and other areas of the brain) researchers will use rodents to observe brain activity. This particular study utilized mice and observed their behaviors when responding to situational stimulus. This experiment emphasized place cells which are neurons located in the hippocampus that become active when an animal inhabits a specific area in its environment. The mice, already prone to higher anxiety levels, were placed in a maze in which several pathways led to open areas. Mice are naturally anxious in open areas, so the activity of brain cells were monitored specifically at the bottom of the hippocampus with focus during the period when the mice entered open areas.

The results demonstrated that as the mice entered these situations the action potential between hippocampal neurons increased with the rise of anxiety. The researchers then proceeded to prove that the cells were a primary motivation for anxiety responses by using optogenetics. Optogenetics is a technique that uses light to control chosen cells in living tissues that have been genetically modified to express light-sensitive ion channels. The team was able to increase and inhibit action potential firings in the lower hippocampal region and results showed that when the firings were increased anxiety levels increased as well, to a point where the mice refused to explore at all. Kheirbek describes that, “these cells are probably just one part of an extended circuit by which the animal learns about anxiety-related information.” He believes that the hippocampus is piece of the brain that speaks to the hypothalamus as part of the limbic circuit of communication when something should be avoided due to danger.

The direct route and reactions of neuron cells in the hippocampus and its influence on anxiety behavior of mice allows the possibility of advancing forward to conduct studies on monkey species and humans in the future. The findings of this study may offer suggestions for advancement in treatment techniques and searches for new branches of therapy regarding mental illnesses.

While I had to conduct research outside this article to search for missing information and identify the actual study as it was not listed, I think it’s an extremely important piece, bringing awareness to a disorder that influences the lives of so many people in modern day society. I personally have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Obsessional Compulsive Disorder that manifests into extreme levels of stress and anxiety every day. While I am extroverted and participate in a wide domain of leadership roles, I still worry about every little detail and how it will affect myself and others. The possibility of a new means of controlling my anxiety levels and a new option for improvement in other people is extremely exciting to me. I paid the four dollars to read the full experimental study and it proceeds to go into details beyond what is covered in this article by examining ideas about specialized cells and specific activation details within the mice’s brains. Overall, I think this study signals the increasing change around the stigma of mental disorders, as researchers continue to search for new ways to help those who need assistance. I’m eager to keep an eye on this study and see if they are able to discover new information and techniques that could reform so many lives!

 

Original Article:

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/01/31/582112597/researchers-discover-anxiety-cells-in-the-brain?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20180131

Original Study: 

http://www.cell.com/neuron/fulltext/S0896-6273(18)30019-9

References: 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4276740/

https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

https://web.stanford.edu/group/dlab/optogenetics/

Test Post!

Hey everyone, my name is Kiele Marston! Other people have posted pictures, so here’s one of me assisting a participant in the vocational program section of my job!