D.I.D: Class is in Session
To those who are unfamiliar with the term Dissociative Identity Disorder, I’ll give an outdated clue to help bring everyone up to speed: Multiple Personality Disorder.
God, what a misleading name for a diagnosis. Let me help clear the air, shall I?
Dissociative Identity Disorder, or DID, is not a personality disorder but dissociative, hence the name. Its primary purpose is to compartmentalize trauma away from the consciousness of a young child, so they are blissfully unaware of anything amiss.
The DSM-5, the holy bible of psychology, states that the major symptom is observing a person with at least two alternative states of consciousness that switches control of the body. Memory loss beyond normalcy is also noted. But how does the mind do it, and why?
Psychologists theorize about how identity forms at birth. Everyone starts at square one, in which their identity has yet to fuse together. A child learns early on what is right (“I shouldn’t lie to Mom.” or “I shouldn’t call people names.”) and what is wrong (“Is it okay to steal if someone else does it too?” or “Should I help my friend cheat on the math test?”). They learn from those around them and anticipate that this is the way the world welcomes them (“Daddy and Mommy always fight, so I have to fight for love” or “Nobody comforts me when I cry, so people are cruel and crying shows weakness.”).
During the years from birth up to the age of nine or ten, the different states of consciousnesses compile together and become one identity with morals, likes and dislikes, and one perspective of how the child views themselves and the world.
But, if abuse is thrown repeatedly into the complicated mix, the process gets destroyed. It focuses intensely on safety, and the brain rewires itself to cope with the child’s reality. A mental barrier is put into the splits of consciousness that didn’t get a chance to merge. Oftentimes children developing this healthy coping mechanism cannot escape their situations. If they can’t flee, they’ll dissociate between these altered states, termed alters, routinely to stay alive.
Now that we know how and why DID is created, how does it present itself?
Well, depending on the person, it ranges significantly.
A DID system is the collection of alters. It can be as little as two alters in one system to hundreds or more, sometimes thousands.
Yes, I’m not exaggerating.
Alters hold various roles in a DID system, ranging from holding specific memories as a fragment to protecting the body as protectors to living everyday life as the host. Roles are not set in stone and can bounce and be shared between them. Alters may have different ages, genders, and sexual orientations, among many other characteristics. A switch is when two alters trade places; one comes forward, another steps back.
Its main purpose is survival, and, in many cases, discretion is the key. There are many systems who are aware of their diagnosis and choose to stay hidden, even to loved ones. It is what is familiar or what feels the safest, and it is not meant to be taken personally. Each alter is their own person, but if they don’t want you knowing they exist, you’ll be none the wiser. Those systems that do choose to let you in, be aware of the amount of trust and faith they place in you. It is not information to cast aside as an afterthought.
According to a StatPearls scholarly article by Mitra and Jain, about 1.5 percent of the international population is diagnosed with this disorder. Using these numbers, 7.9 billion and 1.5 percent, results in a total of 118,500,000 confirmed DID cases.
This is not counting the people who cannot or are afraid to reach out for help.
The attached stigma of DID being dangerous, violent, or fake causes confusion, isolation, and terror to those who watch media films like Split after receiving the diagnosis. It gets so little right in a sea of wrong information with a horrifying message.
Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine your home hosting several roommates that will not leave. They’re people with interests, goals, and motives, right? Perhaps one is a chatterbox and annoys you to death; they take your things without asking and leave your place a mess. Another avoids you altogether and can’t hold down a job. The older gentleman is strictly religious and constantly fights with the atheist. One may suffer from major depression or a chronic illness and constantly needs your support. The youngest one, well, they love to take your keys and hide them in weird places, like the dishwasher or the back of the freezer. They find it funny to watch you panic.
Now, imagine those same people housed inside your mind. All day. Every day. They have the ability to use your body and do things without your conscious awareness of it. And, to your horror, people discredit and fear you when you beg, help me, please; someone, help me!
It is not a disorder to mock, romanticize, discredit, or be fearful of.
People with this disorder also suffer from shame, trauma flashbacks, and imposter syndrome. Asking for help seems like a burden, like too much trouble, like it would end the world or come back to bite them. But it should not ever deter anyone in that position to not reach out for help.
For more in-depth information, check out YouTube channels MultiplicityandMe, Acrylic and Aether, and The Entropy System; they do a fantastic job in educating and giving others an inside view of what it’s like to live with DID. For those wanting to reach out for help or support others, An Infinite Mind specializes in therapy services for dissociative disorders, and NAMI specializes in mental health education and support.
Featured Image by Gerd Altmann via Pixabay.