10 Things I Wish People Understood About Living With Dissociative Identity Disorder

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By Iain C.  in The Mighty 

Not long ago I was doing pizza and movie night with some friends when that thing I hate happened. A character in the movie, wild-eyed and demented, was revealed to have… dissociative identity disorder! (cue the creepy music)

Some of my friends shuttered, some laughed, others scoffed. They didn’t know someone with dissociative identity disorder, or DID, was sitting right there on the couch, slice of pizza halfway to my mouth. I wanted to tell them DID isn’t like that. I wanted to explain it’s really just another way of being human. It’s our way of managing life and not a joke or a threat to them. In the end, I realized my friends didn’t know enough about DID for me to even begin the conversation.

Here’s a list of what I wish everyone knew so we could really talk.

1. We’re not all ax-murderers like you see on TV. We were overwhelmed by pain and suffering when we were children. It changed us and now our minds work differently than yours. But just like you, we want to have a good life.

2. We have different identities/alters inside one body. They are different ages, have different feelings, ideas, talents and agendas. We work very hard to maintain a functional system that gets us through the day.

3. Switching between identities/alters isn’t very dramatic. Most of the time the switches are internal, seamless and invisible. And, unless you’re our therapist or a really close friend, they’re none of your business. We’re handling things the best we can.

4. When we lose time, it’s really lost. We’re not faking. If anything, we’re pretending we know more about what happened than we really do.

5. If a teenaged identity/alter takes over, they’re not an adult pretending to be a teenager. They’re a real teenager. Demanding they think, act or decide like an adult isn’t going to work. Relate to them based on their age and unique personality.

6. The adult out front isn’t the real us. They are the identity/alter who’s best at getting along in the world. The real us is all of us together.

7. If you’re dealing with us in a crisis and kid identities/alters come out, don’t ignore them and try to force an adult identity/alter out instead. If we could get an adult out front to run things, we would. Help the kids feel safe and our system will stabilize.

8. When the system feels threatened, protector identities/alters can come out. They may be angry, cold or determined to escape. Please don’t take this personally — we’re just overwhelmed. The best way to help is to back off and let us get safe.

9. We already know DID is “controversial.” You don’t need to remind us some people think it doesn’t exist — which sounds a lot like we shouldn’t exist — which sounds a lot like what we heard from our abusers. Not good.

10. There’s nothing wrong with the way I am. We’re different in some ways and like you in lots of others. We share the same world and want the same good things you want. We’re not “crazy” or weird — just a little complicated.

7 comments

    • Thank you for your comment. I really appeciate it. All the best for the future. Erin

  1. I love the clarity with which you tend to convey a very confusing phenomenon from the stand point of someone who does not know what DID is… basics about DID could not be articulated any better …

  2. I have been told by a therapist they feel I have DID I do lose time and seem to find clothes in the wardrobe that I don’t recall buying, meet people I don’t recall meeting before. I can handle the thought of dissociation and accept that. But it’s taken 10 years to accept Bipolar diagnoses and then C-PTSD had multiple sexual abuse as a teen but I am just struggling with the DID. If I don’t accept that perhaps it might go away! 😀 I am at a point if I start slipping away I can actively now pull myself present. Think that’s surely healing and progress!
    Reporting abuse & Royal Commission I was at my worst maybe Redress will make this issue bad again. 😥. Sometimes better to just forget. 😖

    • Hi Hope
      It sounds like you have some of the symptoms of DID and if you have had sexual abuse it is highly probable. I totally understand that is hard to accept along with your other comorbid disorders. You have a lot on your plate. It sounds like you are coping really well with it. I too was at my worst during the Royal Commission and all the talk about the Redress is bringing it all up again along with Pell and Wilson’s trials. It’s always in the media so very hard to get away from it. You need to work with your therapist on strategies on dealing with reports in the media and reminders which trigger your memories and your possible DID. Use grounding techniques and other methods that you can find for brining yourself back into the present so you don’t digress to the past which is triggering. Easier said than done I know. I find it very difficult. I have alters that kick in when I dissociate that cause me self-harm so I am dealing with that. I am making slow progress to get them under control.

      Thanks for getting in touch and good luck for the future. Hope all goes well for you. Erin

  3. I’ve been diagnosed with DID and this is so accurate. It really just is a different way of interacting with the world, out of necessity because of having to handle so much trauma. It’s such an intelligent way to keep functioning. Yet we’re misdiagnosed, told we’re making it up, etc. I was misdiagnosed for so many years and made so much worse because of it. So thank you for sharing this!

    • Thank you for commenting. I appreciate you taking the trouble. I am glad the article resonated with you and I totally understand everything you have said having DID myself I know exactly what you mean. I have finally found a psychiatrist who is an expert in DID and it has made all the difference as he understands me and my alters and the dissociation. He doesn’t judge. He’s wonderful and I’m finally making progress. All the best for the future. Erin

I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. All feedback is much appreciated. Thank you. Erin