There and not-there: some thoughts on dissociation zines – by Tamsin Walker
Over the last few years our Madzines PhD researcher, Tamsin Walker, has been accumulating quite a collection of zines that are about, or at least touch on, dissociation. In this blog she reflects on ones that challenge common misconceptions about this experience.
The zines I’ve gathered vary greatly in how they tackle dissociation. As dissociation itself is contentious, zines about the subject inevitably ‘craft contention’ about the experience. Some introduce and define dissociation using the language and categories in psychiatric classification manuals like the DSM and many outline and/or recommend coping techniques like grounding techniques and mindfulness. However, I’m going to focus on those zines, including my own, that challenge and question myths, misconceptions and media misrepresentations about dissociation. This includes those which communicate or support the development of bottom-up survivor knowledge about dissociation by describing or representing the zinester’s experience of dissociation in some way, or by helping the reader explore and articulate their own experiences.
Challenging and questioning myths, misconceptions, and misrepresentations
In My Evil Alters: a Dissociative Identity Disorder Zine, the zinester Otherbuttons challenges the media portrayal of people who dissociate as having evil and abusive alters and explains that dissociation is caused by childhood trauma and people are more likely to be victims than abusers.
They also challenge the misconception that Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) always means someone has multiple personalities, explaining that dissociated identities are part of a single personality (Image 1), and they challenge the belief that DID isn’t real or is rare by pointing out that it shows up on neuro imaging and is believed to be underdiagnosed (image 2)
I made my own zine Superpower to question the binary where dissociation is seen as bad and reducing dissociation is seen as good. I tried to do this by highlighting the functionality of dissociation (images 3 and 4) and illustrating how and why reduction in dissociation might at times reduce people’s ability to function (images 5 and 6).
Articulating and sharing survivor experience
Textbooks often categorise dissociation according to DSM Psychiatric classification criteria such as: Dissociative Amnesia, Depersonalisation, Derealisation, or Structural dissociation. However, the ways people actually experience dissociation in their lives can vary greatly and don’t neatly fit into these categories. Dissociation can be an experience of being both present and not-present. It can involve a sense of fragmentation and distortion, things being real and unreal, near and far, connected and not connected. Textbooks can be abstract and theoretical, rarely showing what it can mean for a person to forget, feel unreal, or have different memories or senses of themselves stored in separate places.
The zines in which zinesters describe or represent their experience of dissociation in some way do something that I haven’t seen elsewhere; they give specific real-life examples from inside the experience, and they explain the quality of the (dis)connection. In a previous blog about zines ‘from the inside of the experience’, I wrote about people using zines to articulate and share the connections they make, their associations, and the order in which they experience things. The zines I’m writing about here communicate the quality of the (dis)connection zinesters’ experience.
Zinesters articulate their experiences of dissociation and (dis)connection in lots of different ways. In Its just an account of the worst year of my life Laura uses text to describe her specific experiences of dissociation and what she has found useful when dissociating (image 7). Laura describes what she does, thinks and feels when she is dissociating, and what she is (un)aware of and what she is partially aware of. She explains that, for her, dissociation occurs when she is away from home and stressed and can involve feeling far away and unreal, becoming obsessed with light and texture, but unresponsive to people.
State of mind 2 by ReflectiveZines includes words and phrases about different parts of the experience vying for space on the page. As a reader, this gave me a sense of fragmentation, connection and disconnection (image 8).
By contrast, in their zine Identity and Dissociation, TigerLily uses fragmented, distorted and overlapping images to give a sense of what they are (dis)connected to/from and communicate a sense of fragmentation (Image 9). Similarly, in You are not alone by Otherbuttons, the way figures and text overlap and don’t have a solid form gives a sense that they are both present and not present (Image 10).
Similarly, in Dissociation Location the anonymous zinester combines images and text to give a sense of connection and disconnection (Image 11). For example, the reader can see a landscape, but we can’t see the details and we are told it’s like the scenery of a model train set; we can see the sky, but the text tells us it’s like the dome of a snow globe. When I read Dissociation Location even the translucency of the paint gives me a sense of being both connected and disconnected, of being both there and not there.
In a similar way to these other zinesters, in my own zines about dissociation I have tried to articulate the quality of the (dis)connection I experience, my experiences of being there and not there, or alternating between these states. More recently, I have started to explore how different zine-related crafting techniques and materials can help articulate this experience. For example, I used different binding methods (Image 12) and translucent paper (Images 12 and 13) to represent how I experience connection and disconnection simultaneously.
Zines which craft contention through challenging and questioning myths and misconceptions about dissociation are an important reminder that there is still much to learn and understand.
By taking people’s experiencing as a starting point we will have a better chance of developing understandings and theories which fit people’s experiencing, rather than expecting people’s experiences to fit into the models we already have. By articulating and sharing survivors’ experiences of dissociation, as they themselves experience them – including the ways in which (dis)connection happens – zines make a hugely important contribution. . Through supporting survivors to make zines we can better understand what dissocation is, how people experience it, and what it means to them. In this way zines can create space for bottom up survvior knowledge (this is also discussed by Meg-John and Hel in the Madzines blog about Self care zines).
Laura Saunders’ zines can be found at penfightdistro