Grief and Dissociative Identity Disorder: Symbolic Loss

August 17, 2016 Crystalie Matulewicz

People with dissociative identity disorder (DID) often experience recurring grief. This grief is not always connected to physical loss and death. It can also be connected to symbolic loss, a type of loss commonly experienced by trauma survivors. This type of loss can have profound, lasting effects. For a person with DID experiencing grief because of symbolic loss, the entire system can be affected, complicating the grieving process even more.

Symbolic Losses and the Effects on Grief and Dissociative Identity Disorder

Symbolic loss involves aspects of our lives that are intangible, but, nonetheless, vital and necessary. The loss of identity is one example of symbolic loss. It can be difficult to form a stable identity when you have experienced consistent trauma, as most people with dissociative identity disorder (DID) have. It's also difficult, when you have so many different parts of your identity, to differentiate what makes you, you. In DID, your identity is fragmented. You never had the opportunity to form a whole identity as others have. You have all of these pieces of you, but still feel like part of you is missing. That is a loss.

The loss of safety and security is another type of symbolic loss experienced by trauma survivors and those with DID. People who experienced trauma and abuse early in childhood were also neglected of their basic needs of safety and security. Those losses can continue to be carried into adulthood, especially if safety and security are never provided.

The Difficulty in Recognizing the Need to Grieve Symbolic Loss in DID

Society recognizes the need to grieve physical losses like death quite readily. When a person passes away, there is usually some type of announcement and a gathering for remembrance. Regardless of religious or spiritual beliefs, the loss is recognized in some kind of way.

Losses of identity, safety, and security are often experienced by those with DID. Learn to cope with symbolic loss throughout your system with these tips.

When someone grieves the loss of his or her identity, there's no announcement in the local paper. When someone grieves the loss of safety and security, there's no funeral. Those losses aren't recognized in any physical form. Most times, unfortunately, society doesn't recognize these symbolic losses. It's a type of disenfranchised grief, misunderstood by society, and leaving those who grieve without much support. It's a double whammy for people with DID, who often already lack support and understanding just because of their diagnosis.

Help Dissociative Identity Disorder Alters (and Yourself) Grieve

Just as with grieving death and loss, everyone in a DID system can grieve symbolic losses differently. Loss of identity, for example, may not be a significant loss for most parts, but can be a huge loss for the core person. Loss of safety may be more prominent for parts who hold traumatic memories, as well as younger parts who experienced childhood trauma and/or neglect. Parts who did not experience trauma would not share this type of loss, and therefore would not need to grieve it.

It's important to recognize which parts are grieving and work with those parts to help them heal. Acknowledge and validate their grief. Empathize. Be supportive. Let them know that they are safe now. Do all of the things for your parts that you would want others to do for you. Reach out for help if you need to.

When you have DID and you're grieving, don't forget to acknowledge your own grief as well. I often get so tied up in validating my parts' experiences and feelings that I forget that those experiences were mine, too. It's okay to grieve what you've lost. Even if you can't see it. Even if you can't remember exactly when you lost it. It's still a loss to grieve. You're not alone.

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APA Reference
Matulewicz, C. (2016, August 17). Grief and Dissociative Identity Disorder: Symbolic Loss, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Author: Crystalie Matulewicz

Crystalie is the founder of PAFPAC, is a published author and the writer of Life Without Hurt. She has a BA in psychology and will soon have an MS in Experimental Psychology, with a focus on trauma. Crystalie manages life with PTSD, DID, major depression, and an eating disorder. You can find Crystalie on FacebookGoogle+, and Twitter.

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