Back in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s, when I first started down this long, difficult, amazingly rewarding path, the word polyfragmentation wasn’t used in connection with multiplicity. Or if it was, it didn’t pop up in any of the myriad books about ritual abuse that I read at the time and so I didn’t know about it. Well, I knew about it intuitively, and so did many others, but we had no words to describe it.
Now most all survivors know what polyfragmentation is and feel a lot less lonely and crazy. Which is great!
But do they really know? Poking around, I found that the term seems to be used in several different ways. Just knowing that the word comes from poly = many and fragmented = the state of being broken off, detached, or incomplete doesn’t help a whole lot. (from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fragment)
Here are some of the ways the term is used:
1. More than 100 alters. I assume that means alters with names, ages, personal histories, etc. Some may be more fully formed than others, but basically they are all like people. That’s a lot, but it seems to me that it’s more a crowd than a group of fragments. Though I suppose if you consider that all alters either come from the original personality or from alters that have already split off, you can consider all the alters fragments. But wouldn’t that be true of people with 79 alters, or 5, or 3?
2. Parts with only one function, or formed during one specific instance of abuse. These parts might not have personalities and probably would not appear too often. They were split off from an existing alter and, because they are so limited, could be considered a fragment.
3. Parts arranged in layers throughout the system, generally isolated and not in communication with other parts of the system. Here I start getting confused: I can see that the system could be considered fragmented, but I can’t see the parts as fragments. They seem to me more like “sleeper alters.” I think my confusion has something to do with the type of system organization: it generally indicates government/military programming, which I always have trouble understanding. This pattern may co-exist with either or both of the other two described.
4. And then there is my kind of fragmentation, which I don’t consider confusing at all, of course, because it is normal for me. There are little bits of things floating around with no consciousness or purpose, sort of like dust particles in the air. When I want to do something, a number of these things coalesce into what might be considered an alter, or a group of alters (for more complicated tasks.) It’s not necessarily the same particles each time. All this is very logical and simple to me…except…who/what decides what to do? who/what picks the group of fragments? who/what decides when the action is complete and the particles can disperse?
The mind is never simple, is it?
In a sense, we don’t have to know how our mind works. We have been doing what we do for years and years and by now it is automatic. It takes no effort for me to assemble an internal crew to do the dishes (once I stop procrastinating) and being able to describe it as clearly as I can makes no difference. I still can’t decide if I am a proper multiple or not; I’ve just stopped worrying about it. I have better things to do with my spare time.
I have to end this post by telling you about a man I knew years ago whose mind was totally different yet remarkably similar to mine. I think it is so fascinating.
He said his mind was a slide rule. He lined up all the components of an action, and if he got it right, it went smoothly. If one part was missing, he froze until he could find it and put it in place. And if he picked a wrong part, he risked acting inappropriately.
Here’s an example. Phone rings. Select ‘phone.” Select “answer phone.’ Woman says, “Hello, may I talk to Bill.” Select ‘woman.’ Select ‘identify self as Bill.’ Woman says, “Would you like to join us for dinner Thursday?” Select ‘mother.’ Select ‘find excuse.’ You get the idea.
It all happened at lightning speed. The only way he could analyze what was going on was to further dissociate and have a part look at the process as it was happening. After observing it many times, he found a simile for how his mind worked and was able to describe it to others. But, like me, he had no idea who or what was observing the process or who or what made the decisions – who selected ‘mother’ rather than ‘bill collector.’
I wonder if there are others like him out there. And I wonder if others truly understand polyfragmentation.