In an attempt to cope with the traumatic experiences, the theory goes, the child ‘dissociates’ – it splits itself into parts. One part endures the abuse and contains the horrific emotional and physical impacts; another part exists afterwards. Or, there might be one part that endures the abuse, another that gets the body back to its bedroom, and another that goes down to breakfast in the morning. If the abuse goes on over years, and also if different scenarios and perpetrators are involved, many different parts may splinter off.
It’s the dissociation that allows the child to keep going. In fact, “it’s the ultimate adaption system. It’s using your unconscious cognition to adapt your way of thinking and behaviour in order to be more safe,” Aquarone says.
Melanie describes it this way: “If you’re in a totally impossible situation, you dissociate to stay alive. Trauma can freeze you in time. And because the trauma is ongoing over years, there are lots of little freezings happening all over the place.”