Multiplicity – Rapid switching

‘Cascade switching’ is a term I coined after watching someone with multiplicity do an incredibly rapid series of switches over the course of a conversation. I’ve experienced it only a few times myself and I really hate it. Multiples are very different from each other when it comes to things like switching. Some switch frequently, some very infrequently. For some multiples switching a few times in a week would be highly unusual. For others switching a few times an hour is quite normal. I lean more towards the latter. It’s quite normal (hah) for me to switch all through my day, even if one is mostly out over a week, others will tend to peek out here and there, even if it’s just a young one noticing the jar of cookies in the cupboard or being distracted by little kids running around on tv.

Cascade switching is something else. It’s switching so fast and so frequently that it feels and looks something like shuffling through a deck of cards face up, almost too quickly to register what’s on each card. I’ve noticed that it seems to have been triggered in the cases I’ve seen by huge news that impacts everyone in the system (eg news of a death in the family), by encountering a situation that no one in the system can handle, so the switching just speeds up and becomes chaotic, or, as in my case, by the start of a new relationship. I’ve also done this when I’ve been under threat in dangerous therapeutic relationships.

It’s deeply unsettling, I’m switching from one sentence to the next, or even part way through sentences. My ability to track information is overtaxed by the chaos, and breaks down. We can’t tell who is out anymore, what we were doing, who we are with, even what year it is. The dissociation becomes overwhelming and I feel like I’m drowning blind and can’t even tell what way to swim to get to air.

For some multiples this is a common occurance. Their systems are highly fluid, parts constantly changing, disappearing, new ones being formed. Their experience of life is so chaotic and dangerous that their system doesn’t settle into a stable pattern but stays in a state of turbulence. Stability hasn’t served them for survival so they gear towards flux instead. These people are often not diagnosed as multiples because the DSM concept of DID presumes stability.

I’m settling down finally which is great. It’s been a few weeks of cascade switching with the occasional stable day or evening around my girlfriend, but that’s settling more into my usual patterns of at least having someone out for an hour or so. Not to mention that’s making it a bit easier for her to work out what’s going on or have some capacity to predict how I’ll react to her. I’ve been trying to unpick what’s driving it for me and I’ve been able to pin down a few things. One is that most of my system are keen to meet her. Another is anxiety about forming a ‘one-part bond’. Most of my friendships used to be this kind of bond, a few still are – where the connection is only to one part and no one else in my system thinks of that person as a friend, or even recognises them. (this makes life awkward when you run into people unexpectedly, that blank confusion that always makes me feel broken and ashamed) This is not what I want, because we are all parts rather than entirely separate people, we are all missing information about our life, and also missing skill sets. We are vulnerable to bad dynamics and painful relationships when only one part is involved and making decisions. We make much better decisions as a team. For a really important relationship like a romance, it’s even more crucial that everyone in my system is aware, involved, and has a voice in what’s happening. That doesn’t mean that the kind of relationship is the same with all the parts, but that there is a relationship of some kind being developed. So I think anxiety about that has been pushing up the switching – whenever one part is out for a while and things are stable, the anxiety spikes and the switching amps up. The downside is that cascade switching is so stressful and confusing that it’s very difficult to navigate a relationship with someone in the grip of it.

Pacing seems to be helping me get out of it. The obsessive focus you feel in a new relationship is delicious – you want not just to be with them all the time, but to climb under their skin, into their mind, investigate and submerge yourself… But the dating, the meet and part and meet again cycle is helping me settle back into my own cycles. Making the effort to keep the same part around for an hour or the whole night – then making the effort to have another part who wants to connect or communicate be present next time, we’re slowing down and things are becoming clearer. Trying to find a middle ground between adapting to another person where switches are triggered by how they are and what they need, and the kind of switching we do alone where they are entirely generated by our own needs… that’s a huge challenge! I can do one or the other, but trying to meld something between is a complex ask. A whole new kind of dance.

For more information see articles listed on Multiplicity Links, scroll through posts in the category of Multiplicity, or explore my Network The Dissociative Initiative.

5 thoughts on “Multiplicity – Rapid switching

  1. Pingback: Ask us anything! | freyasspirit

  2. Is there a way to prevent cascade switching? It has ruined our existence. All the conversations with people outside the system start to feel meaningless and manipulative to them. Nobody outside the system have knowledge of what’s happening inside. At times it’s a very awkard feeling when the person is logged into one particular account posting stuff, commenting or messaging strangers and cascade switching is happening. After the cascade switching phase is over, all of it start to seem like a catastrophe when the mature ‘sane’ part is in control.
    Can an internal war cause cascade switching? There are five parts in my(our) system.There is this ‘normal’ ‘order seeking’( now almost in a nazi-like way) dominant part who has taken over the entire system and is insulting, bullying, making fun of everybody(including the other dominant part) inside the system.
    The other parts try to drive him out of the system but he keeps coming back. He is extremely manipulative, dominant and protective. Is it possible to kill a part which tries to instill order inside the system (often what is demanded by the society outside the system)?
    There is one vulnerable child part in our system. Also, my parents and sister don’t know about our system. They think of us as one part person. Please help. Need advice.

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    • Hey there – sorry to hear things are so rough at the moment! Yes, there’s certainly things that can be done about cascade switching, my experience has been that it’s often caused by a system that’s under horrible amounts of stress that no one part can seem to resolve. Certainly internal conflict could be causing what you’re experiencing – extremely controlling, frightening, or abusive behaviour by other people or by parts can be a massive stress. Internal wars can use up a tremendous amount of energy as a system tears itself to pieces. I wish it wasn’t as common as it is, but often our systems try to model their ways of working based on what they have already experienced about how groups or families work and how power is handled – which is often not that great. Sometimes too, there is a huge tension between what is actually needed by a person, or a system, and what society expects or requires of us… people who are pressured to get over their grief instead of having time to express it and connect with others is a common example of this. I’d cautiously suggest that at the moment, order might not be the most important need, finding some safety sounds like where you guys are up to.

      I don’t know if it’s possible to kill a part because I’ve never tried it. If I had a homicidal part I guess I’d be looking into that. On a hunch, if you can create parts, it seems that it would be possible to un-make them. Having said that – I’d be super, super careful about going down that road. I’d suggest that a far more useful place to explore is every other option first. It’s hard when a destructive part has a lot of power, I know, but trying to figure out where they are coming from and what tiny amount of common ground might exist can give you a chance to communicate and negotiate. Sometimes if other parts team up and create pockets of safety inside, where they protect each other from an abusive part, speak up when one is being belittled, and look out for each other. A lot of strength can be regained when parts look after each other like this. Sometimes it can tip the balance of power. If you’re fighting hard and the other part is just coming back harder, maybe that means that fighting isn’t the right approach. Maybe this part is an essential part of your system, containing critical skills and abilities and you need them. Maybe they gain energy from the conflict and you need to find other ways to manage them. Maybe you need to focus on being able to do their job ‘maintaining stability’ for them and reducing the ‘need’ for their domination. Perhaps they are doing their best to protect you, albeit in a misguided way. There’s a lot of options! I really do want to encourage you that it’s not unusual that some of the nastiest, most difficult and frightening parts can become some of the strongest, kindest, most wonderful system members.

      You’ve also touched on another important aspect of an internal war – who has more power and why? Why are some parts able to take over the way they do? If your world is treating a dominant abusive part with approval and respect for their orderly behaviour, a lot of power can be a gained from that environmental support. Sometimes you need to do things to disrupt this – by seeking support from a therapist or friend or an online group, by disclosing to someone supportive, or by changing some of your environment. You might find some more food for thought on my post here https://skreece.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/power-shifts-in-a-multiple-system/

      I hope you’re able to find some approaches that settle things down for you guys. Cascade switching can be exhausting. On the other hand, it may be that there’s value in it, that at the moment it’s a way to make sure that everyone can get time out, however briefly, a little bit of voice and a chance to be known. That’s not a bad thing at all. Take care.

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  3. This is so helpful to read. When diagnosed, the Dr who had asessed me/we said how noteable the ‘rapid switches’ were during the asessment and at the follow up. As *I* didn’t believe D.I.D was a possibility, and am so used to missing time, whether seconds, minutes, hours, days (rarely longer) I had thought I came across as ‘together’ like I wanted during those meetings. It seems rapid-switching is our “normal” and am now trying to work our way through that to reduce the time-loss (and all that goes with it) and increase the internal dialogue.

    Am really pleased to see that you all found a way to find a ‘middle ground’.

    Thank you so much for sharing

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    • You’re very welcome, I’m really glad it was helpful for you! We’ve been doing a whole lot of work on our switching lately again and it’s really paying off! Sometimes our ‘normal’ works well for us, sometimes it needs a tweak. My system tends to switch fairly often (say once an hour or every couple of hours) and we’re starting to get better at switching to whoever is best at engaging the next thing we’re doing – eg winding down after a lot of energy has been used, or going home to be alone after being out and social all day. It’s really awesome. 🙂 Good luck working on your stuff, I hope you’re able to tweak things a bit so it’s easier. 🙂

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