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You may have heard about Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) in the media recently: Split, United States of Tara, just to name a couple. I’m here to tell you that what you’ve seen is totally sensationalized and overly exaggerated.
Way back in the day, it was known as Multiple Personality Disorder. Now the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) classifies DID as a dissociative disorder- not a personality disorder.
A DID diagnosis is characterized by:
“A. Disruption of identity characterized by two or more distinct personality states, which may be described in some cultures as an experience of possession. The disruption of marked discontinuity in sense of self and sense of agency, accompanied by related alterations in affect, behavior, consciousness, memory, perception, cognition, and/or sensory-motor functioning. These signs and symptoms may be observed by others or reported by the individual.
B. Recurrent gaps in the recall of everyday events, important personal information, and/or traumatic events that are inconsistent with ordinary forgetting.
C. The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
D. The disturbance is not a normal part of a broadly accepted cultural or religious practice. Note: In children, the symptoms are not better explained by imaginary playmates or other fantasy play.
E. The symptoms are not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., blackouts or chaotic behavior during alcohol intoxication) or another medical condition (e.g., complex partial seizures).” :292
Read more: http://traumadissociation.com/dissociativeidentitydisorder
So, what is Dissociative Identity Disorder actually like?
As someone who is a multiple, the best way I can explain it is imagine your mind like a giant filing cabinet. Each drawer has files loaded with lots of information. Consider each drawer to be it’s own personality- or alter. You may not know exactly what is in each drawer, but somewhere in your consciousness you have the information. You may just not have access to it.
How are alters created?
Alters are created in childhood to cope with traumatic events. A person’s personality and mind are still forming as a young person. So, when there’s a traumatic disruption in early life, the personality will split.
Example: There’s a little girl named Jane. Every night, Jane’s father comes home, gets drunk and hits her. In an effort to protect her, Jane’s mind creates a new personality named Mary, whose job is to take over when her father comes home. Mary contains all of these memories so that they do not affect Jane.
Fast forward to adulthood. Jane may still have no recollection of the abuse because her other alter holds the memories. The mind is a pretty scary and powerful tool.
So, how many alters can one person have?
The number of alters vary and certainly depend on the extent and duration of abuse endured in childhood. Some DID systems can contain 5, 10, 20 alters, while other more polyfragmented systems contain 100 and more.
I have about 12 known alters. It took a lot of therapy work to uncover them and their memories.
Do switches really happen like they do in movies and TV?
No. Well, at least not really. Every DID system is different, but usually switches are not so drastic with costume changes (I’m sorry you have bad examples of DID like Split. Yuck.)
Switches can go undetected, which makes sense if you’re thinking in terms of survival. Alters are like special camouflage. Some of my alters have accents and they all have their own unique mannerisms. If you know me well enough, you’d be able to tell “who’s out.” For the most part, however, I can use mood swings as an excuse when people notice something is going on with me.
It’s important to note that for a switch to happen, there must first be a trigger. This could be mean anything from the scent of an abuser’s cologne, to a specific song, to actual danger or a threat of danger. Usually, a multiple is totally unaware of their switches and cannot remember what happened when they weren’t in direct control of the body.
What kinds of alters are there?
The most common alters that one would typically find in a system:
- Host- the most active personality (may or may not be the “original” host)
- Protector- one who protects the system from perceived danger
- Helper- one who takes on responsibilities for the system, or helps manage the alters
- Little- one who is much younger age than the body, typically they are the age just before the abuse happened, or the age during the abuse. Many systems have several littles
- Persecutor- one who blames one, or more, alters for the abuse that was inflicted on them
What kind of symptoms does a multiple experience day-to-day?
Full-fledged DID feels like you’re constantly walking into a room and forgetting what the hell you came in for.
For me, I know that I’m dissociating when everything feels like a movie. I actually feel that I’m on a movie set, complete with cameras, a script, and characters. There’s a voice in my head that consistently narrates every little thing I do. “She picks up the coffee cup and takes a sip.” Sometimes, I’ll look down at my hands and I don’t recognize my own body. It doesn’t feel like body.
Other symptoms that a multiple may suffer from:
- eating disorders
- nightmares and night-terrors
- hallucinations (auditory, visual, tactile)
- multiple past diagnoses; including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia
- illogical phobias
- seizure-like episodes
- sexual difficulties and/or hyperactivity
- ability to “turn off” pain
Is there recovery for DID?
The main goal, usually, for a DID patient in therapy is integration; meaning the fragments of personality become whole again. It is possible and happens often. However, it’s a long road to recovery. Therapy is hard work, especially when you’re uncovering severe trauma.
Recovery is 100% possible in most cases.
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Books That I LOVE Regarding DID
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