The best actors don’t act, they believe. They don’t act as if they’re a boxer, gangster or drug addicted saxophonist, they believe they are a boxer, gangster or drug addicted saxophonist. The same goes for undercover agents.
The most difficult jobs require deep, prolonged cover. There are those who are able to maintain an identity for years on end, but everyone has their limits. Even after the completion of the case there is a tendency for agents to go off the rails. Untreated, 63% of all undercover Field Agents require some sort of counselling and/or early retirement, which, as you can imagine, is a tremendous burden to the Department.
The solution is Visual Dissociation. Like all great inventions it’s really very simple. It works along the same likes as Verbal Dissociation. This is something you may well have tried. If you look at a word for long enough, perhaps repeat it out loud or in your mind, the chain of letters will begin to dissociate from the sound and the meaning attached. For a short while the word becomes completely unfamiliar.
Can this be repeated with other signs and signifiers? The answer is yes. Research has shown it is possible to erase someone’s identity through prolonged exposure to images of their face. This is true of the face, not the body. Though people feel like they occupy their body, it is the face that functions as the avatar. The meaning of a person is channeled through their face. Put it another way, no one could pick out their elbow in a line up.
The process of visual dissociation can be hurried along by mind-altering drugs though they are not necessary. Either way you start by exposing the subject to pictures of their face, pictures they know and have seen before. Begin slowly but prolong the process, both the amount of time the subject spends on each photograph and the length of the session.. After 24-36 hours the subject is usually develops a profound ambivalence towards their image, some even begin dissociating at this point.
Unless the subject is fully free of their moorings the next step is to start the dissociation. The subject is shown pictures of themselves inserted into scenarios they know unrealistic or impossible. When the subject questions this they are told, emphatically if needs be, that the scenario depicted happened and is real. The scenes depicted gradually change from neutral and mundane to embarrassing, upsetting, compromising, obscene and horrific. The subject is eventually repelled by their former identity and become ready to assume a new one. The process of deconstruction and rebuilding can again take up to another 24-36 hours.
The total process cannot go much longer than three full days. Visual Dissociation has a 60-66% success rate. Any longer and the odds of permanent psychosis shorten dramatically. Any longer than 96 hours and the subject is guaranteed to break down irreparably, requiring termination. Visual Dissociation is still a top secret process, for this reason it is not advised for existing agents willing to go undercover. It is best used on recent recruits, particularly Category D.