Dissociative Identity Disorder: Creating a Timeline

Alex Robboy, CAS, MSW, LCSW
Individual, Couples & Family Therapy
IMAGO Certified Marriage Counselor
AASECT Certified Sex Therapist Supervisor
Founder & Director of the Center for Growth Inc.

Posted by: Alex Robboy
CAS, MSW, LCSW Individual, Couples & Family Therapy IMAGO Certified Marriage Counselor AASECT Certified Sex Therapist Supervisor Founder & Director of the Center for Growth Inc.
267-324-9564

Dissociative Identity Disorder Treatment in Philadelphia: Why make a timeline?

Many people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder, experience trouble remembering portions of their life, as well as day to day occurrences.  This loss of time can be attributed to switching alters or even the blocking of traumatic memories.  Having a timeline of one’s life can help someone with DID piece together the significant events of their life, as well when each alter developed.  Knowing which alter developed in reaction to which traumatic event(s) can help you know more about yourself and your system.  The more knowledge you have about the host and each alter will increase your ability to manage your DID symptoms.
 

What To Include on the Timeline:

The DID timeline is made up of two important categories of events.  The host’s life events make up the first category and will always be listed on the right side of the timeline.  As the host, include the following events:  births, deaths, marriages, significant accomplishments, traumatic experiences, moves, important educational experiences, significant changes in family dynamics, romantic relationships, medical issues and instances of substance abuse.  If there are other important aspects to your life that do not fall in the above list, record them.  If you find an event significant, then it should be on your timeline.
 

The second category is made up of information about your alters and will always be listed on the left side of the timeline.  The focus should be on when each alter emerged.  You may find this difficult to determine but knowing even a general time frame of when this alter possibly developed is important.  One way to find out when each alter developed is to directly ask.  However, this may not always be possible and alters might not necessarily know when they developed either.  Try journaling to your alters about their development.  Ask each alter the following questions to possibly determine when they emerged:

1. What is your earliest memory of being a part of my life?
2. What are some of the important events you remember about your life? 
3. What are some important events you remember about my life?
4 . Can you describe your earliest happy memory?  Sad memory?  Angry memory?  Also reflect on how you responded to each feeling at that time.
 

The distinction between “my” and “your” life is important when talking to your alters because it is possible that they are holding events for you that were too traumatic.  For example even if you have no memory of being beaten severely by your mother you might remember being in the hospital in first grade for “falling down the stairs.”  If one of your child alters reports being beaten by mom around that time, that might be an important connection.  An alter might even say something as direct as “I helped you go away when mommy was mad.  I let mommy hit me.”  Although you might never have a complete memory and might never know “for sure” you might be able to gather enough information to piece some events together.  Also keep in mind that some alters may have split at the same time.  One time period could have developed several alters.
 

Questions you should ask yourself about each alter to determine a general time period of when they emerged include:

1. What is my first memory of this alter?
2. Looking back on my life, when did characteristics of this alter begin to appear? 
3. When have I received feedback about characteristics of this alter?  For instance, did your fifth grade teacher tell your parents you sometimes acted “infantile” during class?
4. Knowing this alter’s role/function and personality, looking back on my life when would this characteristics best serve me? 
5. If the alter has disappeared, what was your last memory of this alter? 

Key Points for Completing Your Timeline:

1. Start with the month and year of your birth.
2. Include each year even if you do not have any memories from that year.
3. When you can, include the month or day to an important event.
4. For events that are date ranges (like romantic relationships or period of abuse) include the range.
5. It is okay to include a date range for the possible emergence of an alter.

Remember…It is normal and okay if your timeline has gaps.  The important task at this point is to get a general idea of how different events in your life influenced how and when your alters developed.  As you learn more about yourself and your alters you can and should modify your timeline.  Creating a timeline is just one of several activities you can do to better understand yourself and your DID.  The more you know, the more likely you will be able to manage your DID.

The Center for Growth / Dissociative Identity Treatment in Philadelphia