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Trauma Splitting, Structural Dissociation and The Highly Sensitive Empaths

Trauma Splitting, or Structural Dissociation, is a psychological mechanism that allows someone to tolerate complicated and overwhelming feelings. It is often seen in Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs), Empaths, and Gifted Adults who suffer from Complex PTSD or childhood trauma. Having trauma splitting means your psyche is split into different parts, each with a different personality, feelings, and behavior. As a result, we feel completely different from moment to moment. Since Highly sensitive persons (HSPs) respond to Complex Trauma (CPTSD) more intensely, trauma splitting became their only resort in a dysfunctional family situation. Trauma splitting creates a split in your psyche, causing many confusing symptoms. Dissociation associated with it may also be why some therapies do not seem to work for you.

Complex Trauma and Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs), Intense and Gifted Adults

Narcissistic trauma affects highly sensitive and intense people more intensely.

Like any other of your reactions to stimuli, as a highly sensitive person (HSP) your trauma reactions are also more intense than most. As a result, many HSPs and empaths have used trauma splitting, or structural dissociation, to cope.

Because of your receptivity, you see, hear, and know what others don’t.

Your empathy means you take in more and feel more. You cannot help but be affected by toxic family dynamics, overt or covert abuse, and manipulation.

Being different by default, as a child, you needed extra love and support to counteract isolation, alienation, and despair.

Your perceptivity and intolerance of injustice mean you are susceptible to existential depression.

Your need for emotional attunement means you are wounded by emotional neglect if your parents were cold and dismissive.

Things that do not affect your siblings or peers traumatize you.

In other words, your sensitivity and overexcitabilities make you susceptible to more substantial and lasting trauma responses.

Unfortunately, few mental health professionals understand emotional intensity and chronic childhood trauma or Complex Trauma/ CPTSD. You are more likely to be overdiagnosed and medicated for mood disorders or personality disorders than to get the understanding you need.

Here, we will discuss the mechanism of childhood trauma splitting, which is a common reaction to complex trauma.

What is Trauma Splitting?

How did childhood trauma splitting happen? The usual reaction to pain is to withdraw. But, as children facing parental narcissistic abuse, you had few options; even when your parents were abusive, you could not leave. So instead of physically exiting, you psychologically withdrew. This is the mechanism of childhood trauma splitting. In psychology, this is also known as ‘structural dissociation.’ Like the circuit breaker in an electrical system, the split is hardwired into you to protect you.

Complex Trauma/ CPTSD is different from PTSD, which results from a single incident. Under normal circumstances, you would want to avoid your abuser and never go back to them. However, when they are family members or parents, you have no choice but to stay. You could not deal with the trauma in a healthy way, so instead, you created a ‘separate self’ in your mind to survive the invasion.

Unfortunately, when you dissociate, you not only withdraw from external psychic injuries but also from yourself, and the joy and aliveness life has to offer.

Structural dissociation is a split in your personality. It does not mean you have psychosis or suffer from schizophrenia. In structural dissociation, you are conscious of who you are, but you feel completely different from moment to moment on the inside. Structural dissociation as a psychic defense or coping mechanism is often also a core part of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), especially Quiet BPD. This is not surprising when we consider that BPD is often linked to parental narcissistic abuse or having emotionally unstable or unempathic parents.

Childhood trauma splitting started as a coping strategy for overwhelming experiences. When chronic narcissistic abuse or stressful events such as parents’ arguments, physical violence, verbal abuse, or prolonged neglect happened, you had no choice but to cut off. Because you are highly sensitive, you may not have externalized your pain but instead withdrawn and internalized your anger. You may even direct your anger towards yourself, turning it into self-blame and shame.

Taking childhood trauma into adulthood, you feel an internal conflict almost daily. For instance, a part of you may be like a child who is easily hurt and acts impulsively, while another part of you manages to be a robust and competent adult. One part may dominate your home life, another your career life. When triggered, you flip from one mode of being to another, confusing both yourself and others.

To a degree, having different personas is normal. For instance, it is considered healthy to be different at work and at home. However, when your sensitive psyche is traumatized, ‘taking over’ various parts can become automatic and unmanageable. You do not know why you are triggered, but before you know it, you react in ways you later regret.


Complex Trauma, Childhood Trauma Splitting
Come, said my soul,
Such verses for my Body let us write, (for we are one,)
That should I after return

Dedication, Walt Whitman


Trauma Splitting and Structural Dissociation

For many highly sensitive persons (HSPs), empaths, and gifted ones, trauma splitting might be the only way you knew or could have used to carry the unspeakable burden of parental cruelty from narcissistic abuse or neglect. Despite carrying a painful past, you have to maintain a facade to go on with your everyday life. If your life now involves people who have hurt or abused you, you want to protect them. You do not want to open Pandora’s box and cannot afford to let the memories, pain, and anger surge up. You carry heavy, unopened baggage wherever you go.

PTSD experts Van der Hart and colleagues (2004) labeled the parts of the personality driven by daily life’s priorities as the Apparently Normal Parts, and the parts driven by your trauma as the Emotional Parts. Janina Fisher, an expert on structural dissociation, calls them ‘Going on with Normal Life Parts’ and the ‘Trauma-Related Parts’.

Usually, there are more than two subpersonalities. The more severe the trauma, the more complex the childhood trauma splitting is, and the more ‘separate’ these parts feel. But here we will simplify the picture and discuss these two parts.

The Apparently Normal Part navigates daily life with little or no emotions. You might feel empty and numb. In this mode, you might not recall your painful past at all, or you might remember but feel as though it happened to someone else.

While the Apparently Normal Part gets on with life, the Traumatised Part holds the traumatic memories. It sometimes bursts through and catches you off guard.

Your Traumatised Part reacts to situations with fight, flight, or freeze.

Your Traumatised Part likely carries a lot of dysfunctional schemas. 

Your Traumatised Part reacts disproportionately to situations and sees danger, criticism, and abandonment everywhere.

Your Traumatised Part is frozen during the trauma- likely when you were a child. While in an adult body, you are reliving your childhood loneliness, fear, and despair over and over again.

Your Traumatised Part is always on guard. When people come close to you, you immediately assume you will be harmed or betrayed.

When your Traumatized Part is running the show, you are filled with tension, paranoia, and avoidance.

Sometimes the Traumatised Part will intrude on the Apparently Normal Part, where you suddenly experience sensations or hear critical voices that seem to come from inside you but feel alien.

Your Apparently Normal Part dominates your mind; it is numb and appears to be in control. The Traumatised Part controls your body and emotions in ways you are not always conscious of. For instance, when you grind your teeth at night, or when you burst into an uncontrollable rage.

In trauma splitting, you may find that your feelings are constantly shifting or feel that you are on the verge of spiraling out of control. Such a reaction is often more than just a mood shift. You may feel that you can go from being ‘normal’ one minute to feeling and acting like a completely different person the next. It is as if there are different personalities or ‘modes’ (Young, Klosko, and Weishaar, 2003) inside you. All these modes come with their own mannerisms, feelings, and personalities. For instance, you can be particularly prone to anger in one mode, and feel sad and completely fragile in another. One moment, you are impulsive; the next, you are numb, detached, and shut down. When you are in a destructive mode, the healthier, more resourceful parts of you seem to vanish, and you cannot bring yourself back to calm.    

What makes the situation even more difficult is that sometimes, the triggers for your emotional flips are not known to you. You may ‘wake up feeling bad’ without knowing why. This is a core issue for those who struggle with emotional regulation, and the constant mode shift also makes it difficult to hold onto a solid sense of self –  as a result, you may be left with the dreadful feeling of hollowness inside.


Trauma Splitting and Childhood trauma

“Dissociation is adaptive: it allows relatively normal functioning for the duration of the traumatic event and then leaves a large part of the personality unaffected by the trauma.”
― Bessel A. van der Kolk


Trauma Splitting Creates a Phobia You Carry

In trauma splitting or structural dissociation, you almost have to re-design your life entirely just to avoid getting in touch with your traumatic memories.

Your dissociative symptoms get worse as you mentally pair more and more ‘cues’- sound, people, certain things others say, places— with the trauma. Your already highly sensitive system becomes more prone to being overwhelmed. For instance, someone not looking into your eyes reminds you of the years of being neglected by your parents. Or, crowded places remind you of when you felt helpless and left alone in public. Or, any sudden and loud noise reminds you of the door slamming at home when you were little.

In trauma splitting, you have shut out the past as a way to survive, but occasionally, the trauma will break through, and you suddenly become flooded with fear and pain.

To maintain your normal facade, your sensitive soul might have taken on various avoidant strategies:

You fear potential rejection or betrayal, so you avoid relationships.

You fear criticism, so you stop expressing yourself spontaneously.

You fear disappointment, so you would rather say no to hope and sabotage opportunities.

One of the most common avoidances is that of intimacy. Because you have been hurt in the past by your parents, siblings, or bullies, you experience any attachment to be threatening, and the fearful part of you wants to avoid becoming attached at all costs. Of course, the healthy part of you yearns for love and connection and seeks out touch and relationships. These two parts then evoke each other in a vicious cycle, resulting in what, on the surface, looks like confusing push-pull behavior. One moment, you are loving and giving; another moment, you are fearful and numb.

When, as a highly sensitive person, you experience complex trauma and trauma splitting, you may even avoid your body- and then you lose touch with your internal signals of hunger, tiredness, and stress. You even lose your passion and sex drive.

As you craft your life desperately trying to avoid your past, your life becomes increasingly restricted.  In the end, you build a wall against both the outer and your inner emotional life and end up feeling empty and numb, leaving your life barren.

Blocking, as you have done in trauma splitting, is, unfortunately, not a long-term solution. Your traumatized part has a strong need to be seen and heard; sooner or later, it will come back in full swing, and you will not be able to neglect it any longer.

Why Do You Regret What You Say Or Do?

Your subconscious mind works by association, so without your conscious awareness, it can be triggered by seemingly random imagery and sensory associations. Sometimes, the association is so subtle and rapid that your reasoning mind cannot catch up or make sense of it.

Whenever something occurs that the mind associates with your original upset, the memory of that bad experience is reactivated, and you may suddenly feel drastically different, have certain intrusive thoughts, or act in a certain way. When you have a ‘mode flip’, it is as if you suddenly switch from being a rational adult into being a tantrum-throwing child. This is because, in a way, you are reliving the trauma at a child’s level. As a result, you may lash out at your partner, have unexplainable rage, or engage in addictive or self-sabotaging behavior without knowing why.

While the image of the event may not come back consciously (flashback), as it would tend to do if you have actual PTSD, the negative self-talk that you consistently engage in (e.g. ‘I am no good,’ ‘I am not safe,’ ‘I cannot trust anyone’) is directly related to the perspective you had at the time of the original bad experience. The knot in your stomach, tightness in your chest, and the feeling of fear, shame, and powerlessness are all directly related to the original event or series of events that you experienced as a child.

We have little control over these episodes or outbursts because the conscious, logical, thinking mind gets bypassed whenever our trauma memories are reactivated. This mechanism is hardwired to protect us: Since there is a perceived threat, our fight-flight system kicks in and takes over for survival or protection and is given priority over reasoning and logic.

We cannot quickly identify our actions as responses because we may be unaware of the stimulus that caused them. However, it is helpful to know that when our reaction seems ‘illogical’ or ‘disproportionate’, the actual stimulus is almost always a memory.


Trauma Splitting and Childhood trauma

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou

Complex Trauma (C-PTSD) and Childhood Trauma Splitting Symptoms

Here are some of the symptoms of Complex Trauma and childhood trauma splitting that may interrupt your day-to-day life. These symptoms might not always be present and only appear when certain parts of your personality take over.

Selective memory loss

You cannot recall parts of your memory or may know what happened intellectually but do not feel it happened to you.

Emotional numbness

You feel empty and numb, unable to connect with yourself or anyone close to you. You have learned how to move outside your body, so you watch life events pass by before you are in them. You might ‘know’ what is happening in your life but feel it belongs to others. Being a detached observer comes with a cost. While you feel little pain, you also feel little joy, love, and vitality. You might also become fully identified with your intellect, distancing from your instincts, spontaneity, and creativity.


In trauma splitting, you may become dissociated from your physical body. As a result, you have difficulty knowing when you are tired, hungry, thirsty, lonely, or sad. You may lose the ability to self-care. You burn out as you cannot receive signals from your body.  You lose touch with your motivation, needs, desires, interests, passions, and even sex drive.

Lack of motivation and stamina

Perhaps you are motivated and positive when you set a goal, but when the traumatized parts take over, you lose the mental ability to take action. You may have trouble starting or completing actions because your various parts have different motives, psychology, and mental capacities. You may find yourself endlessly procrastinating even for something you want to do. On the other hand, you might suffer from chronic fatigue. This is because energy is expended to suppress your memories and emotions.

Counter-dependency and Isolation

You develop a self-sufficient armor and cannot trust or depend on anyone. You put up a wall to avoid being known by others. You avoid exposing yourself because you are fearful of rejection, abandonment, and betrayal.

Inner Critic

You develop a self-persecutory inner voice. This voice started as a protective mechanism: ‘It’ believes that by criticizing harshly, you will not venture out for love, career opportunity, or abundance, so you will never be disappointed again. Unable to feel fulfilled, you resort to addictions or mind-altering drugs for stimulation or comfort. This perpetuates a cycle of shame.

Is Trauma Splitting Different to Dissociation?

Trauma splitting, or ‘structural dissociation’,  is a little different from general ‘dissociation’ or ‘dissociative disorders’ as listed in the DSM.

To put it simply, trauma splitting is a specific type of dissociation, but dissociation covers a wider range of experiences beyond the rather specific coping mechanism of trauma splitting. As discussed, for a vulnerable child in such an environment, escaping the pain was not an option, so psychic withdrawal becomes their only option. This internal “split” became a hidden retreat, an unconscious act where a part of oneself containing pain and anger was locked away, frozen in time. Psychologists term this coping mechanism specifically as “structural dissociation.”

Structural dissociation, as a form of dissociation, involves the mind building walls within the psyche to separate and shield from overwhelming emotions. While distinct from losing touch with reality, as in schizophrenia, it creates a scenario where certain triggers, often associated with humiliation, abandonment, or rejection, make one feel overtaken by foreign “parts” of oneself. These parts come with their own personalities, feelings, and behaviors, resembling different characters within, often manifesting at much younger ages.

Dissociation, on the other hand, refers to a disconnection between various aspects of consciousness, such as thoughts, identity, memory, or perception.

While trauma splitting is a specific form of coping with trauma by compartmentalizing, dissociation can occur for various reasons and may involve a more general disconnection from one’s sense of self or reality.

Furthermore, trauma splitting often arises in response to chronic emotional distress or neglect, particularly during formative years. The coping mechanism of trauma splitting serves as a way to manage the overwhelming emotional burden associated with persistent adversity.

In contrast, dissociation, as a broader phenomenon, is not exclusively tied to trauma. It can manifest in response to various stressors, not solely those rooted in childhood aversive experiences. Dissociation may occur as a response to acute stress, biological trauma, or other factors that challenge one’s cognitive and emotional integration.

Moreover, dissociation can present itself in diverse forms, ranging from mild detachment to more profound experiences like depersonalization or derealization. These variations highlight the expansive nature of dissociation, showing that it is a spectrum of experiences that goes beyond the specific coping mechanism observed in trauma splitting.

Therefore, while trauma splitting is a notable aspect of dissociation, the latter encapsulates a broader spectrum of phenomena.

Trauma Splitting and Structural Dissociation

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
― Neil Gaiman, Coraline


The Neuroscience of Trauma Splitting

Much of how we relate to the world is learned in the first few years of our lives.

New findings in neuroscience inform us that our early attachment patterns deeply affect how we process information throughout life. Securely attached children learn from an early age that they can trust the world and those around them and how they feel within themselves. As adults, when distress happens, they can trust their own ability to regulate and modulate their states.

However, in other cases where the caregivers were unavailable, aggressive, unpredictable, or unable to regulate emotions, there would be a rupture in the child’s attachment patterns.

Children are not meant to be left alone to deal with emotional upsets. Without a responsive caregiver to mirror their feelings and model healthy regulation, a child would not know what to do and would be overwhelmed by his/her own distress.

This is vividly demonstrated in the Still Face Experiment (a famous psychology experiment conducted in 1975 by Edward Tronick; a short YouTube video clip can be found here.) As you can observe in the video, the emotional dysregulation caused by the mother’s lack of mirroring is so horrific that it cannot be taken in or understood by the child’s brain. It overwhelms his natural processing system, resulting in psychological trauma.

Most psychologists support the theory that BPD results from early traumatization (Timmerman & Emmelkamp, 2001), often of a chronic, developmental, and relational nature. These traumas result from a series of repeated, often ‘invisible’ childhood experiences of maltreatment, abuse, neglect, and situations in which the child has little or no control or perceived hope to escape. As a result, these children’s memories will be dissociated into fragments. There is a breakdown in their capacity to process or integrate their experience and their states. Even as adults, they feel ungrounded, fragmented, and unable to hold onto a solid sense of self.

We live in a Delta Theta brainwave state during the first six years of life. Before we can think rationally or express ourselves, all experiences- good, bad, and ugly, are recorded through the reasoning level of a child. This is particularly problematic when memory is negative because the original distressing situation will be stored in the brain in its original form, with the visceral reactions and logical reasoning of a child’s mind. For instance, even when nothing objectively disastrous may have happened, if, as a five-year-old, we felt unloved or rejected by the world, the memory remains within us- with all the helplessness, hopelessness, and fear of a five-year-old. The Traumaized Part of your Childhood Trauma Splitting is young and helpless.

In psychology, the relationship between conscious and unconscious memories is illustrated as an iceberg, with most memories remaining buried and unconscious below the waterline. Your current attitudes, emotions, and sensations are not simply reactions to a current event but are also manifestations of physiological information stored in your memory. Everything that has ever happened to you is recorded in your memory, even if you do not consciously recall it all.

According to the Adaptive Information Processing Model (Shapiro, 2007), our brains have a processing system naturally geared toward integration and healing. Uninterrupted, it can link useful and restorative memories with difficult ones to help us maintain emotional equilibrium. However, when we encounter a particularly difficult or traumatic situation that overwhelms us, the brain’s adaptive processing is disrupted. The distressing incident will then get stored in our minds in a way that is ‘frozen in time’. It becomes a stand-alone piece of information disconnected from the other parts of our memory network. We may not even consciously remember it. Our negative behaviors and uncontrollable feelings often result from this dysfunctionally held information (Shapiro, 2001). This is related to the ‘Traumatized Part’ in childhood trauma splitting, as described above.

When you go through emotional trauma, even a small one, your higher rational thinking is disconnected. When you are in shock, your brain dissociates— it tries to ‘lock up’ the incident and all the associated feelings in a drawer of your memory bank. In other words, you remain ‘stuck’ because that piece of traumatic experience is stored in isolation, unintegrated with the more extensive system, and therefore it is unable to link up with newer, more useful, and adaptive information that promotes healing (e.g.,, I am an adult now and not everyone hates me). To put it simply, your memories become frozen, and this bank of frozen memories is what underlies the structural dissociation.

Complex PTSD and Structural Dissociation

‘That’s why time doesn’t heal all wounds, and you may still feel anger, resentment, pain, sorrow, or a number of other emotions about events that took place years ago. They are frozen in time, and the unprocessed memories can become the foundation for emotional problems. … And since the memory connections happen automatically, below conscious level you may have no idea whats really running your show.’

Shapiro 2015 

Why Therapy Doesn’t Work For You

‘Why doesn’t therapy work for me?’ You might have asked this question critically many times. No matter what the honest answer is, it is essential to know that it is not your fault.

 It might be because you and your therapist do not form a good fit or that they have little understanding of your particular struggles. There could be multiple reasons why therapy is not working for you.  The answer might be more complex than you imagine, especially if your symptoms include mood instability and complex trauma.

By combining theories from the fields of cognitive psychology and neuroscience, the following section explains how this sudden and drastic shift in your feelings and behaviors can happen and why traditional therapies such as CBT may be limited when it comes to addressing these issues. 

It is proposed that about 10-20 unprocessed memories are responsible for most of the pain and suffering in our lives (Shapiro, 2015). However, the number may be much higher for chronically neglected or bullied children.

Traditional forms of therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), may not effectively heal the deep emotional trauma that causes your current reactive responses because most of these pre-language trauma memories are shielded from your cognitive process. Your intellectual, ‘logical’ brain gets bypassed when you are triggered. So even if you logically know that your reactions are ‘irrational, it doesn’t change your emotional reality, which still contains the feelings, perceptions, and physical sensations you once felt as a child.  Where CBT may teach you to suppress or argue with your negative emotions, more often than not, before your logical mind can take over, you have already acted out from your emotional brain.

CBT or other ‘intellectual’ ways of coping also assume that your ‘irrational’ thoughts cause all the problems. As we have reviewed, the idea that thoughts precede emotions is not true in most cases.  For emotional pain that finds its roots in developmental and attachment injuries, it is unrealistic to think that one can ‘think’ oneself into healing and integration.

Moreover, as an emotionally sensitive and intuitive individual, having a real, synergistic relationship with the person you are working with is essential. Not only is it about trust and rapport, it is also about what your therapist emulates and the ‘health’ of the energy in the room where healing occurs. One of the ‘roadblocks’ (Markowitz, 2005) to CBT being effective is that if the therapist focuses solely on what she considers to be ‘dysfunctional thoughts’, she neglects the fact that she is facing a multi-dimensional individual with his own unique psychological, social and biological make-up. After all, the whole point of therapy is not just to download a set of skills that you can find from self-help books but to gain from the synergistic work between you and a therapist who has done work on him/ herself and can model qualities such as assertiveness and resilience from the inside-out.

Therapies that create lasting change work on a visceral and relational level. On top of the therapeutic relationship, your therapist may incorporate experiential techniques that evoke impact in an emotionally connected way. These techniques aim to produce physiological and even neurological changes, bypassing the cognitive mind.

EMDR, for instance, uses a technique called ‘bilateral stimulation’ to directly evoke a healthy connection within your memory network, linking the bad, locked-up memories with the good, adaptive ones. Schema Therapy uses specific experiential strategies and the therapeutic relationship to promote healing on an emotional level. Other body-based techniques, such as Somatic Experiential, are also effective in creating changes from the ‘bottom-up’, rather than ‘top-down.

Ideas concerning which therapies are most effective have changed in recent years. The newest research challenges the old assumption that long-term intensive treatment is essential for good outcomes, as it was found that therapies with various integrative modalities can have equally if not more, positive outcomes. If you had felt ‘stuck in talking therapy or were frustrated with constantly arguing with your mind, it may be worth exploring these alternatives. Do give yourself the time and opportunity to look around, as this is an essential investment in yourself. The real therapeutic work comes from honoring your specific needs as an emotionally sensitive and intense individual.

Therapies/Treatments for Structural Dissociation

Whilst there is no ‘guarantee’ when it comes to healing and therapies, in addressing your structural dissociation, relational, integrative therapeutic approaches may be helpful. These approaches aim to integrate fragmented parts of yourself and promote healing. Here are some possibilities:

Internal Family Systems (IFS):

Internal Family Systems (IFS) provides a powerful therapeutic lens for tackling structural dissociation by delving into the concept of internal “parts.” In the IFS model, you are guided to recognize and engage with various facets of your psyche, like a family of inner characters. Two notable components within this model, relevant to your structural dissociation, are the “Manager” and the “Firefighter.” The Manager represents the organized and strategic aspect of your psyche, akin to your “Normal Self.” On the other hand, the Firefighter is the impulsive and reactive part, seeking to alleviate emotional distress. IFS also introduces the concept of the “Core Self,” an undamaged, compassionate, and confident center. The goal is for individuals to lead from this Core Self rather than being dominated by extreme Managers or Firefighters. This is crucial in the context of structural dissociation, where the “Normal Self” may be a managerial facade. Acknowledging and understanding your internal roles within the IFS framework offers a nuanced approach to integrating fragmented aspects of yourself.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT):

DBT, developed by Dr. Marsha M. Linehan, is a therapeutic approach originally designed for individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD). It integrates elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with mindfulness and dialectics. In the context of structural dissociation and trauma splitting, DBT provides a framework that includes four modules: emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness.  Mindfulness practices may help you recognize dissociation as it begins and practice grounding techniques. Emotional regulation skills help you to identify triggers for extreme emotions and develop strategies to regulate them. Distress Tolerance allows you to learn to tolerate distress without resorting to impulsive behaviors or dissociation. Interpersonal Effectiveness training helps you communicate needs and emotions clearly, reducing the likelihood of relational triggers for trauma splitting. In a nutshell, DBT provides practical skills and strategies to address the challenges of structural dissociation and trauma splitting.


Dr. Roberto Assagioli’s psychosynthesis is a holistic and integrative approach to psychology. It acknowledges the existence of subpersonalities within an individual and emphasizes the self-realization process. Psychosynthesis provides a framework for integrating fragmented aspects of the self into a cohesive whole in the context of structural dissociation and trauma splitting. According to psychosynthesis, individuals have multiple subpersonalities or distinct parts. These parts may represent fragmented aspects created as adaptive responses to trauma.  The concept of the Higher Self, a transcendent and unifying aspect that represents the true and authentic self, is central to psychosynthesis. The Higher Self directs the integration process by providing wisdom and direction. The Psychosynthesis process encourages you to identify with your Higher Self rather than just your sub-personalities. This disidentification process promotes greater self-awareness and liberation from the automatic responses associated with trauma splitting.

Psychosynthesis uses a variety of techniques to aid in the integration of subpersonalities. Tools such as guided imagery, journaling, and role-playing are examples of how to become aware of, communicate with, and eventually integrate fragmented aspects. You can reduce internal fragmentation associated with your psyche by working toward alignment with the Higher Self, promoting a more integrated and balanced sense of self. This approach may be especially appealing to those who are spiritually inclined.

Relational Psychoanalysis:

Relational Psychoanalysis focuses on the impact of interpersonal relationships and relational dynamics on mental health. In the context of your structural dissociation, this approach can help you explore how early relational dynamics contribute to the development of your trauma-splitting mechanism. By examining the therapeutic relationship itself, relational psychoanalysis provides a unique opportunity to address and repair attachment-related challenges. The therapeutic alliance becomes a crucial space for integrating fragmented parts, fostering a sense of safety and trust that supports the healing process. A distinctive feature of Relational Psychoanalysis is its emphasis on reshaping internal representations of relationships. In the context of structural dissociation, this means working towards creating new, healthier templates for relating to oneself and others. The therapist collaborates with you to challenge and modify distorted perceptions and assumptions that may have contributed to the development of trauma-splitting.

These therapeutic approaches, each with unique strengths, can contribute to a comprehensive strategy for addressing your structural dissociation.  One or a combination of these approaches can offer a holistic and effective path toward healing and integration.

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy:

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy teaches you to recognize your body’s critical role in trauma processing and healing. This approach, developed by Pat Ogden, seamlessly blends traditional talk therapy with specialized body-focused techniques tailored to address the physiological dimensions of trauma. During Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, your therapist will guide you in tuning into your bodily sensations, revealing how your body both harbors and expresses traumatic experiences. The emphasis is on developing a strong Mind-Body Connection, which allows you to gain insights into the interplay of physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts. This teaches you to identify and articulate your emotions through bodily sensations, allowing you to gain a better understanding of your inner world.

Techniques such as mindful movement, breathwork, and grounding exercises are effective tools for releasing stored tension in sensorimotor psychotherapy. This procedure creates a safe haven within your body, promoting a profound sense of safety. Tracking Sensations will be a skill you develop, increasing awareness and facilitating the integration of aspects that may have been disowned or dissociated. The emphasis on the body serves as a catalyst for integrating fragmented aspects of trauma splitting, resulting in a more unified sense of self.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR):

EMDR is a structured therapy that can help you process distressing memories. It was created by Francine Shapiro and uses bilateral stimulation, often in the form of rapid eye movements, to access and reprocess traumatic memories. The EMDR process is divided into eight stages, which include history taking, treatment planning, and the crucial reprocessing of traumatic memories. You actively participate by using your eyes to follow your therapist’s hand movements while revisiting distressing memories. Bilateral stimulation’s rhythmic dance becomes a conduit for processing traumatic memories, reducing their emotional intensity. EMDR goals include cognitive restructuring and the development of adaptive beliefs and perceptions about oneself in the context of traumatic experiences. EMDR becomes a powerful way to integrate fragmented aspects tethered to trauma splitting through memory reprocessing, facilitating the creation of a more cohesive narrative.

It should be noted that the majority of the above approaches, particularly Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and EMDR, should be facilitated by trained professionals with experience in these modalities. The approach you choose is determined by your preferences, the nature of your trauma, and the strength of your relationship.


Structural Dissociation Imi Lo

“I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

Healing from Childhood Trauma Splitting and Structural Dissociation

Even though the wise, healthy part of you knows trauma splitting or chronic dissociation is no longer serving you, you might feel ambivalent about change. You are afraid of losing stability. Even if structural dissociation is what takes you to a barren, lonely place, it is what you know.

With your Apparently Normal Part, you get to shut down hunger, tiredness, and any need for anyone else. For a short while, you feel as though you are invincible. This might have led to some degree of career success and convenience, but your soul is crying for help.

You are, after all, a human, not a robot or machine. Your needs and vulnerabilities, though denied, do not disappear.

The longer you stay disintegrated, the less able you are to take care of yourself in a realistic way appropriately.

The longer you stay numb and empty, the more time you spend watching your life go by without being in it.

The longer you avoid intimacy and opportunities, the longer you delay a whole, rich life.

But there is certainly hope- the fact that you have read thus far means something in you really want to change.

Apart from the Apparently Normal Part and the Traumatised Part discussed by the trauma experts, you must also acknowledge something in the matrix of your Complex Trauma/ CPTSD psyche: Your inner wise or healthy part. No matter how traumatized you are or how hidden this part is, it is there. It is your innate driving force towards wholeness and health and has been with you since day one.

Your wise part is the key to healing from childhood trauma and trauma splitting.

This wise part absorbs love from the people who have supported you; it tells you we are worthy.

Your wise part downloads knowledge and wisdom from books, resources, and teachers and acts as the guiding light within you.

Though the cloud of trauma and chaos often shields your wise part, it is there, pulling you back up from setbacks and nudging you to take the next step.

It is the part of you that pushes you to go to therapy, to look online, and to seek out support.

It is the part of you that reads poetry, makes a painting, and sings a song to express your unspeakable pain.

It is the part of you that loves the truth, seeks justice, and searches for insights.

In our work towards integration, you must find and reinforce this part of you.

Healing is to integrate, to have all your parts talk to each other, and to respect and harness the strengths of all of them.

Healing brings all your elements together rather than living a disintegrated life with little control.

Resilience is being able to tell the past from the present rather than emotionally reliving the past repeatedly.

It is frightening when you first drop dissociation as a protective shield.

However, there is nothing to fear- you are merely going home.

As you take small risks and gently open, you become extra delicate, sensitized to pain and beauty.

The breaking down of your armor comes with force and pain- but that pain is an honorable one.

When given an opportunity, healing from trauma splitting can actually become your door to a sense of belonging- one so sincere that it connects you to not only your intimate partner and neighbor, but the rest of humanity, nature, and the universe. This growing pain is a small price to pay, as compared to the deadliness of being an empty shell.

Beyond trauma, it is in your power to take the next step.

Step by step, you can re-open as a human and re-emerge as a soul.

Your life is waiting for you. 


Complex PTSD and Structural Dissociation

“You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.”
William W. Purkey




Academic References:

Fisher, J. (2014). The treatment of structural dissociation in chronically traumatized patients. Trauma treatment in practice: Complex trauma and dissociation.

Harris, M. (2007). The haunted self: Structural dissociation and the treatment of chronic traumatization. Psychiatric services, 58(9), 1232-1232.

Wieland, S. (2011). Dissociation in traumatized children and adolescents.

Consultant and Author at Eggshell Therapy and Coaching | Website

Imi Lo is a consultant and published author with extensive and international experience in mental health and psychotherapy. Her books Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity and The Gift of Intensity are available worldwide and in multiple languages. Imi has two Master’s degrees; one in Mental Health and one in Buddhist Studies. She works holistically, combining psychological insights with Eastern and Western philosophies such as Buddhism and Stoicism.