Is My Girlfriend Disassociating?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I have been with my partner for over 6 years. In times of high stress, she will “go to her box” as she calls it, and another personality will take her place in the world for a while.

She says she “goes to her box” to get away from the stress and that there is a faceless young girl in the box with her each time. This is NOT the person who takes over for her in the real world. This is a third person who makes her punish herself at times (I’ve seen her hitting herself) but will normally just sit with her.

Her latest episode, however, has lasted almost 2 months. Until now, I’d never seen it last more than a few hours.

Due to work, I had the leave the state and we would be apart for 8 months. Within a week of my leaving, she started spending inordinate amounts of time in her box. She is saying that the girl in the box is making many of her decisions for her ever since. And, when I offered to come back, she said no, that she afraid to see me.

She is a different person from when I left and I am scared for her. She has mentioned hurting herself, but says if I tell anyone in her family about this (I am the only one who knows about “the box”) she will never speak to me again.

Is this some sort of Schizophrenia? I’m not sure if it is, though, because unless she goes to her box, she doesn’t hear voices or anything like that. She has complete control of when she goes to the box. But, she is saying that she’s confused because of what the girl in the box is telling her. She will not tell me what the girls says, however, as she says she is not allowed to.

Can you help me help her? Thank you.

A. It is difficult to determine what is happening to your partner. It doesn’t appear consistent with schizophrenia but only an in-depth, in-person clinical interview could determine a diagnosis.

She may be experiencing a form of disassociation or potentially dissociative identity disorder (DID). DID used to be called multiple personality disorder. It is a diagnosis contained in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, however some mental health professionals are skeptical about whether DID is a valid diagnosis and thus it remains controversial.

Dissociative disorders are real and can be debilitating. She probably utilizes “the box” when she is feeling stressed or unsafe in the world. It seems as though “the box” is a form of protection for her that makes her feel safe. “The box” is a defense mechanism, however she is using it more often and for longer periods of time. She is now confused and apparently believes that she is interacting with other people while in “the box.” These are all concerning symptoms.

She needs to be evaluated by a mental health professional. She should see a specialist who is trained to deal with dissociative disorders or trauma. You may be able to find a therapist by visiting the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Disassociation, an organization of therapists who focus on assessing and treating dissociative disorders. Click on the “find a therapist” tab to locate a specialist in your community. Do your best to convince her to seek treatment. It is highly recommended that she seek professional help. She’s not well and intervention is needed. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 Dec 2013

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2013). Is My Girlfriend Disassociating?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/12/26/is-my-girlfriend-disassociating/

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