Dissociative identity disorder (previously known as multiple personality disorder) is a complex psychological condition that is caused by many factors, including severe trauma during early childhood (usually extreme, repetitive physical, sexual, or emotional abuse). In my case, it is caused by Complex PTSD due to repetitive abuse during my early childhood and adolescent years as part of paedophile ring organised by parents and their best friend in our local town in Ireland. I escaped when I was eighteen and immigrated to Australia when I was twenty and suppressed all memories until I turned fifty-one when the Royal Commission into Child Abuse commenced in Australia brought it all flooding back. The last four years have been hell.
What Is Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Most of us have experienced mild dissociation, which is like daydreaming or getting lost in the moment while working on a project. However, dissociative identity disorder is a severe form of dissociation, a mental process which produces a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of identity. Dissociative identity disorder is thought to stem from a combination of factors that may include trauma experienced by the person with the disorder. The dissociative aspect is thought to be a coping mechanism — the person literally dissociates himself from a situation or experience that’s too violent, traumatic, or painful to assimilate with his conscious self.
Is Dissociative Identity Disorder Real?
You may wonder if dissociative identity disorder is real. After all, understanding the development of multiple personalities is difficult, even for highly trained experts. The diagnosis itself remains controversial among mental health professionals, with some experts believing that it is really an “offshoot” phenomenon of another psychiatric problem, such as borderline personality disorder, or the product of profound difficulties in coping abilities or stresses related to how people form trusting emotional relationships with others.
Other types of dissociative disorders defined in the DSM-5, the main psychiatry manual used to classify mental illnesses, include dissociative amnesia (with “dissociative fugue” now being regarded as a subtype of dissociative amnesia rather than its own diagnosis), and depersonalisation/derealisation disorder.
Myth: it’s just a movie, people can tell it’s fictional
Research undertaken by the University of Melbourne found that ‘pervasive negative portrayals can have harmful effects, perpetuating the stigma associated with mental illness and reducing the likelihood that those with mental illness will seek help.’And when it comes to DID, movies and TV rarely provide an accurate portrayal. Symptoms are frequently sensationalised, exaggerated or just plain wrong.Movies and TV shows that misrepresent DID spread inaccurate information about a real illness and stigmatise the people living with it. Stigma discourages people from seeking help and isolates them socially.Related: Reducing stigma
Myth: DID = schizophrenia
Schizophrenia and DID are often confused with each other, but they’re very different things.Schizophrenia is a psychotic illness: symptoms include delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, disorganised thoughts, speech and movements and social withdrawal. It does not involve alternate personalities or dissociation.People with DID are not delusional or hallucinating their alters. Individuals with DID may experience some symptoms related to psychosis, such as hearing voices, but DID and schizophrenia are two different illnesses
What Are the Symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Dissociative identity disorder is characterised by the presence of two or more distinct or split identities or personality states that continually have power over the person’s behaviour. With dissociative identity disorder, there’s also an inability to recall key personal information that is too far-reaching to be explained as mere forgetfulness. With dissociative identity disorder, there are also highly distinct memory variations, which fluctuate with the person’s split personality.
The “alters” or different identities have their own age, sex, or race. Each has his or her own postures, gestures, and distinct way of talking. Sometimes the alters are imaginary people; sometimes they are animals. As each personality reveals itself and controls the individuals’ behaviour and thoughts, it’s called “switching.” Switching can take seconds to minutes to days. My switching happens spontaneously, sometimes with a trigger sometimes not. My “alters” are myself at different ages of abuse and one power “alter”, my Mother. She is very dangerous as she is the one that compels me to suicide and is therefore very destructive. She is very secretive and operates covertly hiding blades and stashing medications waiting for the opportunity to present itself when I am not supervised adequately to act. I in my 2017 “present state” an unaware of her actions so can be of no help to my partner to reveal her actions. Sometimes in Therapy under EMDR she makes her presence known and will show her plans and something can be done to make me safe. It is very stressful for the whole family. The Psychotherapist is working to bring the various “alters” together into a coherent whole and have them communicate with each other to work for my benefit. She has explained that my strength I have gained from my Mother so having her “alter” is not totally a bad thing but obviously she has to be convinced that my demise is not to her benefit anymore and my life and living is. It is slow laborious work.
Are There Famous People With Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Famous people with dissociative identity disorder include retired NFL star Herschel Walker, who says he’s struggled with dissociative identity disorder for years but has only been treated for the past eight years.
Walker recently published a book about his struggles with dissociative identity disorder, along with his suicide attempts. Walker talks about a feeling of disconnect from childhood to the professional leagues. To cope, he developed a tough personality that didn’t feel loneliness, one that was fearless and wanted to act out the anger he always suppressed. These “alters” could withstand the abuse he felt; other alters came to help him rise to national fame. Today, Walker realises that these alternate personalities are part of dissociative identity disorder, which he was diagnosed with in adulthood.
Another example of my DID is my “alter” fourteen years who witnessed the murder of her nine year old friend who was also abused. I lay with her under a blanket for hours after she was smothered before they took her body away. I did not realise she was dead and could not understand why I could not warm her up even though I wrapped her up in my special quilt that I used to share with her. I dissociate back to that fourteen year old at that moment frequently and that frightened, terrified teenager emerges, confused as to what has happened to her dear little friend. My Mother came in and checked her pulse and then a man arrived and took her body away. I was bereft knowing I would never see her again as any of the children I had seen being taken out in a white sheet never returned. It traumatised me deeply and remains unresolved to this day with a deep seeded grief that I cannot contain and drives my suicidality to unmanageable levels. Combine that with my Mother “alter” and you can see how difficult DID is for professionals, myself and family members is to manage.
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