Polly's pages (aka 'Donna Williams')

Ever the arty Autie

Autism and Dissociation


Dissociation is the ability to cut off from what is happening around you or to you. In its simplest form it is daydreaming. It is a skill all children have and which children with autism tend to overdevelop in managing a world they find overwhelming for a whole range of reasons. Dissociation, Derealisation (the feeling nothing is ‘real’ or that everything feels like a dream), and Depersonalisation (cutting off from emotions, detaching, inability to take experiences personally), are experiences most of us have had. Dissociative disorders are where these create problems with functioning and coping in every day life. Some people will have greater TENDENCY toward developing dissociative disorders and if they then experience significant trauma may be more at risk of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In fact, having a pervasive developmental disorder may predispose children to dissociative disorders:

Dissociative symptoms can coexist with other childhood psychiatric conditions (R1555256AA). In fact, an underlying mood disorder, cognitive disorder, or pervasive developmental disorder may lower a child’s threshold for coping with a traumatic environment and therefore make the child more vulnerable to the development of comorbid dissociative symptoms. (Dissociative Symptoms in Children
Joyanna L. Silberg, Ph.D.; Elaine D. Nemzer, M.D. Am J Psychiatry 1998;155:708a-709. American Journal of Psychiatry 1998)

If a child already predisposed to dissociative tendencies is are continually entrapped with traumatic experiences from infancy or very early childhood they may be at risk of more severe dissociative disorders such as Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (DDNos) or Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

But imagine that as an autie you get tolerated in a mainstream school of bullying, exclusion etc…. so you try your butt off to pass as ‘non autistic’ or at least mirror others…. but on your own out comes your autie self… and over YEARS the ‘acting normal’ self becomes an ‘alter’ and has its own abilities, its preferences, its dislikes, the things its invested in, the things its disinterested in (like all the ‘autistic’ stuff… because it would attract more bullying, exclusion, etc)….

Imagine you are a whole real person but you are put in an invasive, pursuing, relentless autism related ‘training program’ that feels completely NOT ‘autism friendly’… so you are in a room, sometimes up to 40 hrs a week, often filmed, always discussed as a ‘project’, your ‘progress’ constantly monitored, tracked… the goal of the therapy perceived to be that of ‘erasing YOU’…. so do you just let that part of you be erased? to ‘die’, or do you just HIDE it away, keep it private, secret, not let the ‘puppet masters’, the ‘programmers’, the ‘flag waving normality monger project managers’ see you being ‘you’? And after a year of this intensive ‘training’… or 2 or 3 years your masters are celebrating the ‘achievement’ of having ‘erased’ your ‘autism’ (which can include all that you ever had identified with)… do you then live as this new programmed child, or keep returning to the old one whenever nobody is there? And does the new programmed version like, value, feel any pride in the autistic self?

And if an autistic child found themselves among ongoing bullying… do they stay the well adjusted self or become the victim self? Or both, each reserved for different environments? And over time do each become compartmentalised, entrenched ‘identities’?

In 2010 I was diagnosed with the dissociative disorder, DID. I have since connected with a number of adults both on and off the autism spectrum who are also diagnosed with DID and used my skills as an autism consultant to begin to navigate the complexities of dissociative disorders.

You can also find more info at my website http://www.donnawilliams.netincluding my consultation page for DID where I offer online Peer Support.

Author, artist, singer-songwriter, screenwriter.
Autism consultant and public speaker.

I acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Owners of this country throughout Australia, and their connection to land and community.