Reflections on the Original Face.

There I lay, a naked I, abandoned by memory, lost to thought, devoid of affect, simply being in the here and now, experiencing without the most rudimentary understanding — though being nonetheless.

Empty yet aware. Awake and confused, unable to shake it off, I just stare at moving shapes with colors, sounds that mean nothing to me. Slowly, things begin coming back, falling into place.

Laughter. That was what I was hearing, and these were the amused and mildly worried faces of my friends. I had fallen asleep in the back of the car. It was difficult to explain to them what had happened just then. Tabula Rasa, that was how I felt: I was a blank slate, without any sense identity, virgin mind grasping for a clue.

That happened years ago, perhaps a year or two after I graduated high school, but I’ve had similar moments. Things I should remember — my name, age, address, phone number, the names of friends — it just fucking vanishes. Language, though I hear it, is stripped of meaning. It’s just fucking noise. Desperately I try to remember as the terror creeps and it’s like trying to hold onto water for dear life. 

Frighteningly futile. 

Memories come back, of course, selective blindness evaporates, shit returns to abnormal, but this sort of thing tends to breed some concern. If it’s not dissociation, I haven’t the foggiest clue what to call it.

I never recall it being so complete as that day in the back of the car, however, and no matter how brief, it makes me wonder — especially as I continue with my daily meditation routine. I have become fascinated with the notion of Witness consciousness, the core of awareness behind the mind — observing thoughts, emotions and sensations from a detached perspective.

Much as water in a lake — which would have served as our initial and natural mirror — our minds perhaps act not only as a medium to objective reality but a mirror for our true self. Just as you cannot see your physical face but require a reflective surface to see it indirectly through reflection, it makes sense that you would require the mind to see the inner self indirectly. So is my brain just a malfunctioning, meaty transceiver? 

Or is it truly that the real me, my inner self, the witness, my “original face” is entirely devoid of any characterizing qualities?

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Goblins of the Threshold.

I. Samhain.
11/1/09

Closing my eyes, letting go, my mind drifts, blossoming spontaneous motion pictures, as is usually the case before I slide into a dream. Relaxed and numb, I am certain I will fall asleep for the few hours I have until I have to start waking up for work, but suddenly, in the silent movie in my mind, one of them pop up. Short, slender, large head and black, slanted, almond-shaped eyes. I come out of it, then drift back into another motion picture, but again they emerge, uninvited.

Curse my unconscious.

Getting up out of bed, I pour myself a mug of coffee. Sit in front of the computer. And then I just stare off into space. Stare into the void where answers should be.

II. Just Another Paranoid Afternoon Morning.
11/13/09

It is the eleventh; the day before my birthday. Something feels “off” from the moment I open my eyes. Suddenly I just wake up, as if out of a trance at the snap of fingers, and look at the clock, which reads around one in the afternoon. Apparently I had gotten up, turned off my two alarms and fell back asleep without realizing it, which happens a bit too often. Either in my hand or just near it on the bed is my cell phone, which immediately struck me as odd, as I always keep it in the chair next to the head of my bed and would have no reason to have it in my hands anyway, as I hadn’t set the alarm on my cell last night. Strangest of all, I was positioned on my bed wrong; my feet were towards the head of the bed, my head at the foot. I sure as hell hadn’t fallen asleep that way. Granted, I must have gotten up to turn off the alarm, which I’ve done countless times without realizing it, but I’ve never settled back down in bed in the opposite direction. And that still didn’t explain my fucking phone.

Later, I would become disturbed by the possibility that I might have been sleep-walking, or more specifically sleep-talking — that I had either answered the phone in my sleep or called someone and had some conversation I didn’t remember. Checking my cell later on, I saw no number called or received during the time I was out. I’d had a few beers the night before, but I certainly wasn’t drunk when I fell asleep. So I just got up, made some coffee, checked the net, took a shower. Tried not to think about it, tried not to reinforce my own stupid paranoia.

And failed fucking miserably.

III. Faces Out From the Haze.
11/16/09

Saturday night, more like Sunday morning. No sleep aide tonight. No pill, no bottle. Back to the mattress, lain straight, I close my eyes, focusing on deep breathing, imagining a cocoon around me, and then relaxing myself from toes to the top of my head, going deeper, deeper. Just breathe. Just relax. Again I see them in my mind’s eye. Involuntarily rising up from the mental haze, this time it is just their faces staring down at me, real close up to my face. Eyes raping my eyes. Breathing deeply, relaxing further, I try to find focus on Ajna, the third eye region, but even with that calm concentration where I feel entirely compact and focused, I see one of them looking down at me, face so close its almost touching mine. Even my mind is against me. Rolling over, face to the wall, clutching the wadded-up blanket like a child, I tell myself just to go to sleep. To forget them. Just sleep without dumbing yourself down tonight. Ignore the sounds, its just the neighbors, the people upstairs, the cars outside, the plumbing, the computer. No one is there. No one is there. Fucking go to sleep.

IV. Supine.
11/20/09

I wake up on my back, my body positioned straight, legs together, both my hands placed on my chest, and paralyzed. I am unable to move anything but my eyes. Unless I am meditating, this is a weird position for me to be sleeping in, and even when I do meditate and eventually fall to sleep I roll over on my side or my stomach shortly thereafter. As I open my eyes, staring at the ceiling, an afterimage of a straight line blinking in my field of vision for a few moments for some odd reason, I immediately recognize how peculiar all this is, and though perplexed, I am unafraid. I move my eyes, which is the only part of me I seem capable of moving, towards the clock, but I cannot remember what time it was that I saw. Nor can I recall my dreams, though I feel certain I had more than one. I remember thinking it was a shame I had not kept my webcam recording me sleeping as I had several nights prior. I then close my eyes again and drift off to sleep.

V. They Are My Waldo.
1/12/10

If you ever watch South Park you may have noticed that in many episodes that have stretched out across the seasons cameos have been made by “The Vistors,” as the writers call them, or, as they are more popularly known, the Gray aliens. Its like Where’s Waldo? only in this case Waldo is short, skinny, with a huge head like an overturned egg upon which rests two big, black, slanted and almond-shaped eyes. And even if you don’t look for Waldo, he pops up out of nowhere, haunting you. Sometimes these cameos are blatant, but more often you’ll find them hiding in the crowds or in the scenery.

Well, for the past few months this is precisely what my head has been like when I’m lying down trying to go to sleep. As is always the case, pictures emerge out of the haze of my mind as I am on the bridge of sleeping and waking; sometimes these images are in color, sometimes they manifest in this crisp, vivid, opaque kind of quality, as if I’m viewing it all through a pair of dark sunglasses. Often its scenery, sometimes people; sometimes freeze-frames, sometimes there’s movement. So I’ll be letting my mind go and drifting calmly off to sleep when out of nowhere one of the Grays will appear, walking around, and they will look dead at me like some character on television that suddenly looks back at you from within the screen and you get the startling sense that the character is real and can actually see you. As can be expected, this freaks me out and I bolt awake, physically bolting upward, only to try and fall asleep again, often to only have it happen again.

To be entirely honest, I prefer this to what was occurring maybe a month or two ago, when I could not lay my head down into the pillow sober without seeing, within my mind, images of a group of Grays looking down on me from real, real close-up. I always sleep on my side or with my face down in the pillow, rarely on my back, so the fact that I always saw them looking down on me from a supine position shocked me even more; despite the fact that these were before-dream images, it felt as if I was actually there, real-time, on my back, despite the fact that I most certainly was not (or at least at the time, I can say with confidence). I really would have hoped that after all these years the sight of their faces would not haunt me so; that they would not be so very entrancing and yet simultaneously frightening.

To some things, it seems one can never become desensitized.

Of Two Worlds.

During the experiences written of in “Evolution of Intrusions” I retained my ability to distinguish the sensory from the imaginary. It was only that there were forces in my imagination that were out of my control, and that seemed to make the imaginal a different kind of real. If it stopped here maybe I would consider it be a product of extreme fantasy-proneness, but I have two memories of disturbing episodes that sound like a form of partial dissociation between host and alter.

The autonomy of my imagination may have repeated itself later in life, specifically after the flashbacks during high school, and this time in an abrupt and extreme fashion: the out of body experience.

It generally happens the same way every time. During a period of intense inner tension, a sudden exhaustion comes over me, an impulse to hit the sack, after which I’m out like a light for perhaps a moment before I reawaken into a paralyzed body. I slowly drift out of and descend from my physical body.

Translated into controversial psychology, the typical OBE involves depersonalization, or more specifically dissociation from the body. The world to which your body belongs remains the same. Your body is at a distance, but otherwise the same.

My OBEs went more than a few degrees further in distance and distortion, however, as they involved both depersonalization (bodily dissociation) and derealization (sensory dissociation). More specifically, my experiences comprised dissociation from both my body and sense perceptions (sleep paralysis), both of which were replaced with their respective compensatory sensory simulations.

Or I was locked out of my body and left to find an immaterial monster in another reality, which is certainly what it felt like.

In the initial experiences, when I was still stuck in a state of heightened awareness and high tension, the experiences were at their most fantastic: the objects themselves required no external light source, but were self-luminescent. Later I caught on that there seemed to be a correspondence between the degree of my conscious attention and the clarity of either the dreamscape around me or my non-corporeal extrasensory perceptions of an alternate reality.

When I awoke from these experiences, I tried to immediately write down the details before the memory faded. The episodes of exhaustion can provide fair enough warning for me to note the time, too, and when I have done so and checked the time after I have found that rarely so much as a half an hour has passed, despite how long it seemed in mind-space. This was the reverse of missing time.

Often I am extremely thirsty afterward, too, and feeling brain strain. My physical body does not seem to move on the numerous occasions I’ve paid close attention.

It seems most likely to me that these alternate realities I experienced in my OBEs were simulated sensory representations of implicit memories.

On the whole, implicit memories are cumulative patterns of structure and association established by exposure to intense and/or redundant patterns of stimuli. This is why we can execute all the motions at a job with the most meager amount of attention: in implicit memory we have our behaviors preprogrammed. This why we can drive to work or walk around a room in the dark, too: in implicit memory we have our “mental maps” of familiar, external territory.

By nature, however, implicit memories would provide the structure but not the explicit substance for experience.

How I found myself referring to these environments as “abstract planes” and “alternate realities” confused me at the time, though it now makes sense to me in retrospect when I think of it in terms of abstract art. This is essentially art that depicts varying degrees of dissociation from the visual field and the expressive filler formed from the noise.

The products could be interpreted as “nonobjective abstractions” of my explicit, episodic memory. They would be sensory simulations based on, though not imitations of, my familiar sensory experience. Hence my arrival in environments based on places familiar to me from my life with varying degrees of artistic license.

It is no mistake that I often initially “awoke” in an alternate version of my bedroom, either, as my bedroom was where implicit memory would place me most recently in the waking state. The other environments were either common ones or altered renditions of environments in which my “alien-related” memories had occurred. These realities were full-sensory and three-dimensional, and entirely void of any sign for a living population save for myself — and, of course, the
enemy I came to face during my very first experience.

Inner Aliens, Ex Nihilo.

Recently I have been reading the words of Marlene Steinberg, MD, in her 1999 book The Stranger in the Mirror: Dissociation — The Hidden Epidemic.

It is an interesting book in general, but I read with intensity a particular chapter, Chapter 15: “Aliens from Inner Space: UFO Abductions, Past Lives, Near-Death Experiences.”

Here she conveys her hypothesis that alleged alien abductees are in actuality sufferers of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). The content of the abduction experiences are in actuality metaphorical screen memories of childhood trauma. These screen memories can play out in dissociative trance states in which hallucinatory externalizations of inner alters “alien” to the “abductee” host personality act out the aforementioned screen memories.

The strangeness experienced both bodily and perceptually throughout the alien abduction experience can, she maintains, be adequately explained by the distortions, illusions and hallucinations commonly experienced in severe DR/DP.

In her eyes, alien abduction experiences represent a double-dose of dissociation. Not only was the memory of the original childhood trauma dissociated from consciousness , giving rise to amnesia, but the memories themselves were subject to dissociation, giving rise to distortions, erasures and metaphorical manifestations of the root memory. Evidently the aim of the substitution is to reduce the emotional impact of the actual traumatic memory.

Though I have read the suggestion elsewhere before, the notion that transforming the actual perpetrator into an alien will somehow soften the blow of a traumatic experience still strikes me as ridiculous. To have a trusted figure abuse you as a child would certainly be a traumatic experience and a screen memory would be understandable. An alien abduction would not appear to be a choice cover-story if the intent is truly to lubricate the truth, however.

These “screen” experiences and memories are themselves traumatic on multiple levels. They isolate the abductee socially, for there is considerable difficulty when it comes to sharing the anomalous experience with others. Even if one accomplishes it, others may seem to doubt the abductee’s sanity or even subject them to ridicule.

Given the apparent reality of aliens, their telepathic powers and technological magic, the anxiety of uncertainty arises regarding the nature of reality on the one hand and the potential possibility of their utter fucking insanity on the other. There may also be identity confusion produced by the assertions of the aliens, who often claim to be ancestors or parents to the abductee, or who claim more directly that the abductee is “one of them.”

Despite this, I somehow manage to feel certain that had Steinberg read John Mack’s book, Abduction, she would have found only more support for her notion, particularly in the abduction cases which involved both past life memories and a “duality of consciousness.” This duality arises in some abductees who seem to be host to an alter that identifies itself as alien. It has distinct knowledge as well as memories of a life as an alien. It can sometimes even “take over” the body during an abduction and work alongside the aliens as one of them, or even switch on partially or completely during mundane life, as suggested by Budd Hopkins in his books Witnessed and Sight Unseen.

If she were to have read the other literature, especially the later literature, perhaps she would interpret the notion of transgenic children that represent a cross of both alien and human as a symbol of synthesis or integration. Signs that the barriers distinguishing the host and alter are breaking down.

Dissociation does not explain why the alien abduction schema explained so many other aspects of my experiences, memories and dreams, however, and how they relate to those of so many other people.

Many, such as Jacques Vallee, suggest that the answer resides in the fact that the UFO and alien abduction phenomenon are merely modern upgrades of age-old mythologies. Steinberg seems to agree when she writes:

“Carl Sagan … pointed out that the fantasy life of people has always been influenced by the prevailing cultural images in all times and places. When everyone believed that gods regularly came down to earth, gods were what people envisioned as fearsome otherworldly beings. In the Middle Ages, when demons were in vogue, it was incubi and succubi. Later, when fairies were widely believed in, it was fairies that were said to paralyze and rape human victims. Now, in the space age, when we are sending spaceships to Mars and have begun to think aliens might exist, aliens descending from space ships are the imaginary predators that people see in their dreams and flashbacks.”

Within the second flashback I had there was what only could have been dissociative distortion, for the tall, slim and “muscular” Gray alien by my bedside was devoid of a face. It was shadowy, contoured, but blank. If the true perpetrator was not the creature I saw plus a face I dissociated away, then the creature itself was a cover. If the intention is to substitute a known identity with an alien one, why replace the true perpetrator with an alien just to wipe the face of the screen memory clean?

Rather than merely an amnesiac gap of “missing time,” Budd Hopkins suggested, the aliens often create false or misleading memories. These screen memories that substitute for the real memories buried beneath amnesia. For the most part Steinberg could dismiss these alleged alien-imposed screen memories as she did with respect to an apparent memory of a deer tied to an abduction event: it was merely the hallucinatory exteriorization of an animal alter alongside alien alters.

What makes considerably less sense to me is how this fits into the first flashback I ever had. I encountered a frowning, wrinkly reptile-like alien who then looked into my eyes and after explaining some things telepathically went on to throw me into a “screen memory” cover story for our encounter, or so it seemed. He was now a grinning doctor in a white lab coat, holding a clipboard. He was working with scientists and he was here to give me a check-up. Most importantly, I feel, was the fact that he and his team were still clearly aliens.

He was not an alien, she would claim, but a screen memory for an actual human dick-head that traumatized me in my youth. I get that. Yet why would I double-wrap the true dick with fiction — so that he can safely fuck with my mind for the rest of my life, delivering all the implicit agony while protecting his identity in the selected distortion of explicit memory? Why would I have “nested” screen memories, both depicting an alien encounter?

My mother was oppressive as well as subtlety manipulative, but she never hit me, nor has my father. I watched my friends get physically abused by their father, but I was never physically abused. I have never been sexually abused.

I know I’m sensitive. I know I have dissociative tendencies, I have had what must have been hallucinations and its becoming increasingly less of a leap for me to fancy the notion that I may have an alter sharing my headspace, but all of this without a triggering mundane event in sight? All of this ex nihilo? Without rhyme or reason?

Eclipsing the Vessel.

Whereas derealization is simply dissociation from the world you perceive to be around you, it turns out that depersonalization is a rather loaded word. This is is dissociation from one’s “self,” with the issue being all that evidently falls under that category. As far as I have been able to discern, depersonalization is when you experience partial or total dissociation of the body, of cognition, emotion, behavior, memory and/or identity.

Dissociation of consciousness from specific parts of your body can lead to distortions or loss of body perception. It may seem as if parts of your body are becoming different sizes and shapes, for instance, as in my aforementioned experience of watching my eyes grow in the mirror when I was young. Conversely, it may leave a part of your body numb or even void of sensation altogether. You may even have the sense that its under someone else’s control if you are host to an alter. Consider dissociation of the hand. Ouija board experiences, automatic writing and automatic artwork could perhaps have some light shed on them here.

Right after the flashbacks my artwork, my writing, and even my handwriting itself changed dramatically. I let myself drift into this trance where I felt as if I sort if shared power with some other part of myself, where we worked together in a collaborative project. Sometimes the power would shift in my direction, sometimes towards the other part, but we both played a role.

The process of my writing was one of high-speed, coffee-fueled, uninhibited stream if consciousness. I would put my fingers to the keyboard and literally wrote whatever came to mind, as fast as I could. My fingers could hardly keep up with my rush of thoughts.

Essentially the same was the case with my artwork. I would simply begin drawing and the result would feel as if it were a collective effort between my conscious self and some other part of me of which I was only vaguely aware. They were highly detailed drawings done with a Bic pen and pastel works, both often depicting strange creatures with surreal faces. Hidden in the drawings were other images such as faces, but often things of a blatantly sexual nature as well.

I had gone into the art room when no one was there one day, as I essentially lived out of that room, and got a huge sheet of paper and drew a huge, detailed, grotesque face which I hung in the back of the room. Several periods later when I came into art class, the art teacher, Mrs. Lila, pulled me aside and told me that I should probably take it down, as several students had complained about something in the drawing that I hadn’t even known I had drawn. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten if it was a huge vagina or massive penis, but in either case the embarrassment and my prompt disposal of the picture would have been equally, unbearably profound.

Aside from sexual themes, the theme in many of these collaborative works was often that of duality: two people, faces melting in or out of one another, a creature with a homunculus in the head or the mouth. Sometimes there was a third eye in the Ajna location between and above the eyebrows, too.

Sometimes a creature would extend an arm in front of itself and look at it with amazement, confusion and curiosity, as if they are uncertain as to who or what they are. I have drawn this several times, realizing so only long afterward.

Aside from varying degrees of dissociation from specific body parts, there may also be a fixed sense of not being in the right body, of which I am also guilty. I had never met anyone who felt uncomfortable in their own skin in this all-too-literal way until a met a specific girl at work this year.

While she felt less like a lesbian and more like a man in a woman’s body, I feel only that I don’t fit right in my body. There is no difference sexually or persuasively in my case, save perhaps for the fact that at the deepest, most innermost core I feel like a sexless something stuck with the controlling impulse of the heterosexual man.

My “soul-wedgie” was from not fitting in this form; thats how it felt, like uncomfortable cloths. I cannot say for certain what I would fit as, however. She said that her aunt felt exactly how I described feeling, which made me even more intrigued. I was not the only one. There were at least three of us.

In addition to the degrees of bodily association described above there is the extreme end of bodily dissociation. Here you dissociate from your body as a whole, experiencing out of body sensations. This, it would seem, is evidently more my style.

Rather than merely extreme depersonalization, in my case it was also extreme DR. I did not just vacate my physical body, it seemed evident to me at the time, but the physical reality I experienced through that empty shell. What I instead found myself in we’re what appeared to be alternate realities. Some were near-duplicates of familiar environments, most often my bedroom, and then environments that constituted varying degrees of abstraction from those familiar environments. Dimensions would be wrong, there would be duplicates of objects, objects missing or added, furniture moved and colors different: that sort of thing.

Even in the beginning I worried that someone else might be trying, even accomplishing getting behind the wheel of the body while I was thrown into some alternate reality. I thought I was being possessed by some vile spirit.

Perhaps that “spirit” was a buried part of me. And those alternate realities were backdrops to false memories, home to an alternate identity.

Perceptual Anomalies of Derealization.

Derealization (DR) is sensory distortion — when familiar people, places and things in the world of the senses are experienced as being distorted, distant, foreign or unreal.

The experience of finding a close friend or family member unfamiliar or seeing them as an imposter, for instance, may be a dissociation between your sensory perception of that person and the emotions typically associated with him or her. You can see them clearly and you know who they are (or at least should be), but it doesn’t feel as if its really them, or they may not even feel real at all. The same would appear to be true with familiar places and objects that are suddenly foreign to a person.

The sensory field itself can also be dissociated from consciousness in whole or in part, giving rise to witness consciousness, pareidolia, negative hallucinations and positive hallucinations.

Witness consciousness involves the sense that you are a passive witness, watching reality from a distance. As sensory distortion increases, the mind struggles to make sense out of this perceptual chaos and pull the signal from the noise. Depending on the amount of noise, there are various degrees of projection that come into play in our perceptions.

The mildest is known as pareidolia, which could be defined as perceiving something that is there as something other than what it actually is. In the struggle to interpret vague, ambiguous sensory data, the unconscious imposes its own structure. We see faces and figures in clouds and stains and ink blots on cards. In such cases we usually know that the cloud is not really a puppy, of course, but in other cases we indeed mistake pareidolia for actuality.

We are sure we hear voices in the static, in the hum of the fan, in the record played backward. We see someone walking towards us from some distance away, convinced is a friend of ours — only to discover upon closer proximity that it is in actuality a stranger.

Mildly more vivid, perhaps, were also the “face-phasing” instances I’ve written of previously. The majority of instances of this face-phasing are relatively mild illusions that always seemed to occur with girls, and in all cases save for one they were women I was sexually and romantically attracted to. In that one case I was speaking in front of my class during my senior year of high school, in the midst of an anxiety attack, I looked at a girl I had gone to school with for years and her face seemed strangely different somehow. In the other cases the face of a girl I am currently interested in momentarily morphs into the face of a girl I was interested in at some prior point. Be it anxiety or sexual desire, it would appear that a common feature for this face-morphing is intense emotion.

Aside from pareidolia, other illusions occur during DR such as a change in the color intensity of objects, a sudden change in lighting. On various occasions my field of vision has gotten suddenly brighter, clearer, colors more brilliant and on others everything has had this dim, intense kind of overcast to it. This happens to me quite often, as a matter of fact.

I have yet to hear anything akin to an episode I had on two occasions in which my field of vision abruptly and temporarily took on photonegative qualities. The first occasion was on December 25, 2002, upon reconnection with my physical body proceeding a rather intense out of body experience. It was the only occasion in which I returned to my body after an OBE to find my eyes to be already open. The other occasion was shortly after breaking up with my girlfriend in 2005 (I think) when one of my roommates at the time, Nick — also my current roommate — took me for a drive in his new car. We were at some parking lot when I seemed to slip away for a moment, only to realize my vision was in photonegative.

In DR, it is said that objects may even appear to change in size or shape, though Steinberg notes that this typically only occurs in severe derealization, typically signs of a dissociative disorder. In other face-phasing cases, women I have been interested in have suddenly appeared incredibly ugly, as if all their faults (always the face) are suddenly highlighted and magnified in such a way that it inspires the most overwhelming sense of revulsion in me towards them.

As the distortion of DR intensifies, the mind keeps up the struggle to procure some semblance of coherence from the breakdown despite having a decreasing amount of hints keeping it hinged to and guided by objective data. Illusions give way to either total or selective hallucinatory phenomena on the sensory field. These can come in either the form of negative or positive hallucinations.

Negative hallucinations occur during hypnosis and its parallel, once known as hysterical blindness and now part of what is known as conversion disorder, is thought by many to be a dissociative disorder. In essence, conversion appears to selectively dissociate sensory data without filling the gap with compensatory material. You can look directly at something, for instance, and not see it.

In September of 2002 I had an experience that, in the half hour that it lasted, had me convinced I was going blind. I think I remember seeing a bright flash while in the kitchen at work, then a purplish blob like an afterimage. And then a blob slowly began growing in my peripheral vision, growing up and over, closing in on my focal point. As it grew it revealed triangular cells in its blurry form which began shimmering in rainbow colors. Eventually, after half an hour of terror, it stopped.

Though I had no idea what they were at the time, after a few more episodes I did some Internet research. In the end, it seemed clear to me that I was seeing “scintillating scotoma,” a common component of a migraine aura. It seemed equally clear to me that this must be what is known as an Acephalgic migraine, basically a rendition of the migraine auras my mother saw, only of considerably shorter duration and strangely void of the excruciating headache she experienced throughout the ordeal.

My mother’s migraine auras would play over the excruciating headache like a recording, a program that played the same way each and every time she had the experience. My own, on the other hand, have changed.

On one occasion I even managed to will them away through relaxing meditation and distraction. The meditation suggested, in the very least, that fear of the experience exacerbated the experience and relaxation broke the self-reinforcing feedback loop.

The blurs have also changed. The most recent instance of the blurs occurred early morning on Friday, June 15th of 2013, while I was at the tail end of third shift at my fast food job. All the visual contained was a serpentine blur that began just around my point of focus and then grew larger over the course of half an hour. More interesting than its placement was that the serpentine blur was rounded — it was eating its own tail, a symbol I know too well to be the orobouros.

My mother never found what caused her migraines, but she mentioned to me that she did not even prefer to talk about them, as when she does she often has one of the migraines shortly thereafter. All of this seemed to suggest it was psychosomatic.

Rather than a migraine of any type, this instead sounds much like what has been called hysterical blindness, and which now falls beneath the broader heading of conversion — specifically, converting dissociated emotions into hysterical blindness through the spread of the serpentine scintillating scotoma.

The most disturbing episode of the blurs was one that I “awoke” in the midst of, and when it was at such a peak that it entirely encompassed my field of vision. It occurred in November of 2002. The blur field was pure visual distortion, but I felt tactile things vaguely if I concentrated enough, though never exactly getting my bearings. Were these mere projections?

In any case, it left me considering the possibility that the blurs might act as a form of negative hallucination that provides a canvas for positive hallucinations — a subject I’ll ramble about when I write on depersonalization.

There is also the apparent selectivity of these psychological blurs and blinders to consider, however. In the kitchen at work in 2003, right before I was about to move out of my parent’s house for the last time, the blurs struck again. It began as a negative hallucination that blotted out the bottom half of a guy’s face (who’s lack of teeth I was trying to avoid looking at) and then devolved into the typical experience of the blurs.

The meaningful selectivity of the blurs in this instance and how they can evidently act as a negative hallucination makes me wonder if it also plays a role in other “perceptual anomalies” I’ve had — those that would certainly constitute positive hallucinations.

Positive Hallucinations, if you have yet to guess, are when you see something that is not there at all — something that may or may not be acting as a screen or masque concealing or replacing something that is indeed truly there.

In the laundry room in the back of the house my parents used to have a chest freezer. My parents slaughtered chicken occasionally and bought some stuff in bulk, so this was where you went when gazing at the contents of the fridge and freezer in the kitchen didn’t inspire the ol’ reach-and-grab.

One evening in maybe seventh grade or so I go in the back, lift the cabinet freezer door. As my eyes scan the contents, I suddenly see something that struck me as disgusting. Within a sealed freezer bag sprinkled with frost I swear I saw a full rabbit, dead, stripped if hair, its eyes closed and its ears swung back.

We have eaten rabbits before and it always bothered me, as most if them were pets and my mother once had around a hundred of them. I had always assumed that as with the chickens, they decapitated the rabbit.

It was not until some time later that something reminded me and I casually brought it up with my mother, who was disgusted by what she clearly took to be an absurd story, and even seemed to feel insulted about it. I cannot say for confidence that it was there, but I know I saw it clear as day just the same.

There are also two instances in which the face-phasing of pareidolia was juiced up to the level of a selective positive hallucination. Both involved mirrors and both were interesting in their own right.

There are quite a few things, for instance, which still plague me about the experience I had as my parents drove me home from the hypnosis session that eve of April 27, 1995. Looking into the rearview mirror from the back seat of the van I saw, in place of my father’s face the face of a Gray alien with wrap-around, almond shaped eyes. The skin or exoskeleton was not gray, however, nor were the eyes black. Both were of an iridescent, phosphorescent purple-blue color.

I’m forced to consider the realistic appearance of the alien reflection, the unearthly color, the way it would apparently need to fall into perfect synchrony with the movements of the true reflection it obscured. How consistent it was over the course of the ride home, how I did reality checks and everything else seemed to be normal, but as soon as I look in the rearview mirror on the dash, well, its all over. For there I see the reflection of a neon blue-purple alien in place of my father. Beside him in the passenger is my mother and they are talking. I have a funny feeling she would have noticed an abrupt shapeshifting in her husband of so many years. There is clearly no denying it was a hallucination.

Nor that the other event was a hallucination as well if not merely a vivid childhood dream. With that said, it did not seem like a memory of a dream but of a real instance. It was vivid and sensory rich, taking place from the viewpoint of a fixed first person position, and it began as abruptly as it ended.

I was in the bathroom at the old house looking into the mirror, perplexed because something I couldn’t put my finger on seemed off about my reflection. Soon enough it became clear that the issue was my eyes: they were growing larger and increasingly slanted.

My mouth hung open in amazement and in effort to confirm it was not merely my reflection but my actual face, I reached up my hand, watching its reflection move in perfect correspondence on its way up to my large, slanted, unblinking alien eye. Then I let two finger touch and slide across the skin on my eye.

If not a sensory-rich dream, this experience appears to represent DR/DP correspondence so complete that I watched myself with alien-shaped eyes in the mirror as I felt the slick, rubbery surface.

Dissociation.

In its adaptive form, dissociation is a transient division of consciousness, as if the mind were a mother cell capable of undergoing a transient, mitotic phase of consciousness. This dissociation results in two daughter cells that are capable of parallel processing. One is governed by the conscious ego, the other by automatic or autonomous programs. Adaptive forms are rare, mild or transient divisions that offer panoramic memory, clarity of the senses and mind and serve as a coping mechanism for stress, allowing one to function.

Paradoxically, the most typical forms of dissociation are triggered by association, the more intense the absorptive focus on the target the greater the corresponding decrease in peripheral awareness by means of dissociation. Take daydreaming while driving: consciousness has to separate into parallel processors with one part running on automatic programs and driving the car while the other becomes involved in imagination. Same thing with reading a book, watching a movie, or gazing a bit too intensely at a hot girl. At the more extreme end we have flow states, peak experiences and mystical experiences. All of these experiences are common and transient examples of dissociation due to association.

The function of dissociation does not require association, however, as one may experience when dissociative capacities are triggered during transient traumatic experiences or high stress circumstances. Active awareness need not pull itself away but may merely push itself back into Witness consciousness as autopilot programs pick up the slack.

While in mild states the dissociated daughter cell is automatic, in more extreme states autonomous, and in the most severe states an alternate personalities or “alter” develops. Chronic, enduring, or severe division brings on “brain fog” and distortions for the conscious ego, amnesia and flashbacks, and serves instead to produce of exacerbate stress or dysfunction. The more extreme, chronic, or enduring the stressful experience that triggered the dissociation, the more compartmentalized the dissociated aspect of consciousness.

Typically there is a distinction made between an individual dissociating from their sense of reality and an individual dissociating from their sense of self. Essentially anything sensed as exterior to the skin that is dissociated is a case of derealization (DR) or distancing from sensory reality; anything at the level of the skin or “deeper” (cognition, emotion, behavior, memory and/or identity, in other words) is considered depersonalization (DP) or distancing from one’s sense of self. Ultimately DP/DR seem to be convenient though arbitrary categories of dissociation, as they not only frequently operate in tandem but also go solo, and in either case often partially opposed to completely.

A side effect of maladaptive dissociation in DR/DP is what is conversion, a psychological function that acts as a means of discharging chronically dissociated emotions in an alternate manifestation. As the pressure of compartmentalized emotions (such as anxiety) increases, conversion offers a release valve by “converting” those emotions into consciously experienced physical symptoms such as numbing, blindness, seizures or paralysis.

Dissociations of Our Personal Narration.

“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
— Muriel Rukeyser.

A narrative is a story told by a narrator to the equally obvious reader. We are both the narrators and readers of our own personal life story, though given the existence of automatic negative thoughts or “ANTs,” this is often done automatically and largely subliminally.

“Evidence strongly suggests that humans in all cultures come to cast their own identity in some sort of narrative form. We are inveterate storytellers.”
— Owen Flanagan, Duke University.

Narrators such as ourselves tell their stories through one of three general perspectives or points of view, each expressed by the use of specific personal pronouns. These points of view reflect the nature of the narrator’s relationship with the story.

The first person (1p) narrator identifies with a character in the story and tells the story to the reader through the perspective of that character. This is accomplished through the use of the singular pronouns I, me, my, we, us, our(s). We are each our own narrator stuck in 1p perspective, telling ourselves, the reader, stories in alternating tenses through a character we identify as self — a story and leading star that we have become “seized” by in the Joseph Campbell sense.

With the use of pronouns you and yours in second person (2p) narration you are assigning an identity, relationships, circumstances as well as the private psychological reactions to a reader.

So we go from I to You, from Us to Them.

In our personal narratives this can manifest as transference, parataxic distortion or projection of aspects of one’s own denied personality traits onto another individual, leading to projective identification and self-fulfilling prophecy. In any case, by use of 2p you are drawing an individual into a story not of their own as you accomplish distance from that story.

In the book Stranger in the Mirror: Dissociation — The Hidden Epidemic, authors Marlene Steinberg, MD, and Maxine Schnall describe dissociation as representing a continuum with adaptive association at one extreme end and maladaptive dissociation on the other.

Maladaptive dissociation — defined as a “persistent, recurrent and disruptive to social relationships and job performance” — is a psychological defense mechanism triggered in response to stress and is characterized by a distancing and distortion from one’s senses, memories and sense of self. It is thought that traumatic histories involving abuse or negligence in the early years can nurture maladaptive dissociative tendencies.

When a child is exposed to a trauma from which one cannot run or hide nor has anyone in which to confide, we might expect this 2p function to kick in as a psychological survival mechanism.

Moving from “I am being abused” to “you are being abused” requires either repression and projection or dissociation and identity alteration.
If not projected onto an Other in your social environment, than the embodiment is custom-made as the alternate personality or Alter in the psychological environment. Here your dissociated parts take on the form of an imaginary friend, enemy, or the ever-ambiguous frienemy. To this imaginary entity the dissociated memories can be attributed, and so securely compartmentalized in the 2p Land of Not-Self.

This extreme end of maladaptation in the whacky world of dissociation comes to us in the form of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), otherwise known as Multiple Personality Disorder. Here the aforementioned imaginary entity can develop into a full-blown alternate identity or Alter.

In DID, at least two distinct personalities constantly take the driver’s seat of the body. The alter may identify with a different age, sex or species. It will have its own distinct body language and speech pattern. To boot, the Alter can take the wheel and assume position in the driver’s seat of the body.”Switching” is the term used to denote the transition from one personality to another, but this is not a simple on/off switch.

Partial dissociation involves varying degrees of overlap where both personalities are consciously involved in the body at once. It would seem to comprise both the experience of depersonalization and derealization. In depersonalization, you look at yourself from an outside perspective or feel detached from parts of your emotions or body. In derealization, you are instead detached from your immediate environment, now distorted, and familiar people seem foreign.

As an important additional ingredient, however, there is what Steinberg elected to call “identity confusion,” which is a overwhelming sense of uncertainty or conflict with respect to one’s sense of self. The host may find himself compelled to do things without any sense of control over them. Depending on the degree of the switch, one may feel like a passenger in one’s very own skin.

Full dissociation involves the complete “switching” from one personality to the other, leading to “dissociative amnesia” — loss of memory regarding your past or identity — for the Host. Having evolved now from identity confusion, we are faced with “identity alteration.”

Typically we use 1p and moderate 2p in our life narrative, but there is indeed a third. You get there by the following pronouns: he, she, it, him, her, his, her(s), they, them and their(s). In this third person (3p) narrative perspective, the narrator impartially observes the story unfolding from an outside-looking-in perspective. The style in which the narrator does this fractures into 3p into four different subcategories, namely the objective, omniscient, subjective and limited 3p perspectives.

3p objective is limited to descriptions of the physical circumstances and conveys details in a neutral or impersonal manner without any direct insights into the subjective processes of the characters. You are a camera, a fly on the wall, just looking over the shoulder of the character or characters in a neutral, uninvolved fashion. 3p omniscient has an additional degree of freedom in that not only objectivity but telepathy with those of one’s choosing is available, and even some interpretations of the events. The 3p subjective narrator reveals the narrative by honing in on different characters, one at a time.

Then there is 3p-Limited, which offers an additional dimension of perspective to the first person perspective. The narrator closely follows a single individual and knows his thoughts and emotions directly, though from a distance but everyone else is perceived externally.

Mild degrees of dissociation are experienced to some degree by ordinary individuals in response to emotional stress, sensory overload or experiences perceived as life-threatening. These are rare, swift episodes that have minimal effects on one’s ability to function. There are other important distinctions, however.

“The two main characteristics of dissociation are that it occurs automatically, and that it allows a person to not experience something,” writes Stephen Wolinsky in his book Quantum Consciousness.

A paragraph later he adds:

“The dis-association of self-observation, by contrast, allows you to become aware of what you are already feeling, and happens only as a consequence of conscious choice.”

This is the “witness” consciousness, which seems synonymous with adaptive dissociation.

The mind is like a camera with a zoom lens. Concentration, which is exclusive to whatever you happen to be zooming in on, is cultivated through forms of meditation like trakata. It narrows the attention down on a specific target as periphery awareness dims to nonexistence. Mindfulness, also cultivated through meditation, is inclusive. It involves stepping back, zooming out with broad awareness covering the full scope and depth of the present moment. This is accomplished through becoming attentive to our thoughts, emotions and sense data without judgement, manipulation or identification.

Narratives of a Neutral Mutation.

Most who rationally contemplate the subject appear to come to the conclusion that conscious awareness is a relatively recent adaptation. Consciousness, the land of the ego, arose out of the unconscious sea at some point in the history of our species, so they say: yet did it do so all at once? It seems doubtful when one takes some time to consider it. This, of course, makes one wonder about what the “missing links” that led up to this might have been. Were their members of species, even entire species, who were consciously aware yet had no ability to exert conscious influence on any of their body functions, and perhaps only having access to some senses? Is “locked-in” syndrome an evolutionary precursor to conscious awareness as we experience it today?

Evolution does not merely favor successful mutations, after all, but are perfectly willing to carry along neutral ones that, in the very least, don’t serve to threaten survival. Perhaps consciousness began as just such a neutral mutation, a witness or passenger to the bodily instincts that could not intervene, and therefore being neither helpful towards nor hindering the organism. Then additional mutations would have built upon that one, awakening us to a form of conscious self-awareness that also permitted conscious deliberation at the physical level. We graduated from the passenger’s seat to the driver’s seat of the body. We created visual and auditory language, we utilized our opposable thumbs for the creation of tools. In this way, we became capable of applying our imagination to reality rather than just operating on the basis of genetically-hardwired programs.

So the story goes, anyhow. Consider, after pushing human pride to the side, that all we take to be human achievement is the achievement of the human species, perhaps, but that consciousness had nothing to do with it whatsoever. Birds can build nests, ants can organize to build an anthill, the bees and wasps build their glorious hives. Other instincts displayed by members of the community of life are astounding in their complexity. Might the behavior we exhibited in the creation of human culture and technology be little more than an outgrowth of such instincts — with not the least bit of consciousness thrown in for good measure?

Is it perhaps possible that we are still “locked-in,” though in bitter denial regarding it? We know, in the very least, that this is true in some cases. When Jose Delgado hooked up electrodes to his patients so that he basically had a remote control with which he could make them execute certain behaviors, he discovered that his subjects always made up stories to justify why they had committed the behavior. They rationalized the behavior so that they honestly believed it was an action they chose to commit and that it was consistent with their sense of self. We know that fMRI studies have shown that by observing brain activity a person’s “choice” can be predicted some time before they actually consciously “chose” it, implying that a part of their mind unconscious to them generated the decision and then the conscious ego “owned” it, thinking that it made the decision itself. Given that the process by which the decision was arrived at was unknown to them, we might assume that the same storytelling capacity came into play here as it did in the case of Delgado’s subjects.

Could it be that we do this all the time, that there is never an occasion in which we do not do this? Could derealization and depersonalization be less coping mechanisms in times of acute stress and more akin to merciful releases from your illusions when it all becomes too much? For it is not just the narratives we fashion to explain our world, but the starring role in that narrative, that puppeteer of the body we presume to be ourselves. We must be the central fiction in the stories we tell ourselves.

It makes me think of when my sisters and I were young and our parents would take us to a restaurant, a mall, or maybe an actual arcade. I would move the joystick around, playing the game until my parents would laugh at me, telling me that no one had put in a quarter — it was just the advertisement for the game, a sample of what it was like to play the game. I was truly effecting nothing by moving the joystick. Nonetheless, it would feel to me as if I was committing those actions on the screen. I identified with the car, for instance, on the screen and took responsibility for its actions, rationalized its behavior into a product of my own free will.

Perhaps this is the case with everything we do. Not only was I not changing the game through movements of the joysticks despite my beliefs to the contrary, but I was not moving the hands moving the joysticks, either. As a mere observer locked in my head, absorbed by the sense data, I watch my body commit actions and make noises and only believe I’m the one making it do so, only believing that I’m giving real answers when asked why I do what I do and say what I say. In reality, perhaps all I’m doing is telling a story, piecing together a narrative, playing a story game of connect-the-dots with my body’s reactions.

We would be like Billy Pilgrim in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. And it was a good novel, but that would suck.