Have you ever seen the series “The United States of Tara” or the movie “Split”?
These portray a very common and typical understanding of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).
However, overall, they portray a gross misunderstanding of DID (years ago called Multiple Personality Disorder); let me explore what I liked and didn’t like about these portrayals, as a mental health professional:
- I did like that these portrayals acknowledged the issue, and that it is very ‘real’.
- I did like how it showed that Personalities can be very, very different.
- I did like the portrayals of how it can affect the person and their loved ones in a very significant way.
- I didn’t like how Split gave the impression that those with DID are dangerous and could be potential killers. All this does is breed ignorance and fear. Nothing could be further from the truth. Almost all people with DID suffer in silent, painful isolation due to ignorance and fear. This just reinforces what happened when the person was younger, as DID has its origins in significant trauma at an early age. Folk with DID are far more likely to hurt themselves, than others (Foot et al 2008).
- I didn’t like how in both portrayals, the ‘switching’ between the personalities (or ‘Parts’ as I prefer) was so exaggerated and over the top. Parts can indeed be very ‘differentiated’ or distinct from the person, which can be very stressful for the primary person who ‘loses time’ and is not aware of what is happening. However, the changing from one Part to another is often extremely subtle. It is usually missed by someone talking to them, unless you have some awareness of how DID works.
The Facts about Dissociative Identity Disorder
So what is accurate? Well, the ‘official’ symptoms as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition include the following:
- Disruption of identity characterised by two or more distinct personality states.
- There is dissociative amnesia that includes gaps in the recall of important personal information and/or everyday events and/or traumatic events that are inconsistent with ordinary forgetting.
- There is severe distress and impairment in the person’s functioning because of the disorder.
- The disturbance is not part of normal cultural or religious practices.
- The disturbance can’t be explained by substance use or other medical conditions.
The above sounds so academic doesn’t it? While such labels and diagnoses are useful, the actual experience of DID is far more scary, as one person with the disorder shared:
I convinced myself that the things that happened to me, that were completely baffling and unexplainable, happened to everyone. Didn’t everyone lose track of time, belongings, people? Didn’t everyone find things in their possession they couldn’t recall buying, or money spent they couldn’t recall spending? Didn’t everyone have such drastic extremes in desire and goals? Didn’t everyone regularly run into people whose names and faces couldn’t be placed? *
One of the good things to emerge over the last 15 years or so, has been the many biographies and autobiographies that have been written. These are a fantastic way to discover what it is truly like to have DID. At the end of this article is a sample from my own collection. There are many more and I would encourage anyone with DID to read them (be mindful of triggers) and see that you are not alone, and for loved ones to better understand what people go through.
- DID is not as rare as most believe (Ross 2015).
- DID is not just about having Parts or Alters; there’s a lot more to it and if affects all of the person’s life.
- People with DID usually have other difficulties as well such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety. There could be nightmares, flashbacks, body memories, addictions and wanting to die.
- For some, self-harm is a key way to cope with the pain, and no, it’s not ‘attention-seeking’.
- Most with DID like many other forms of mental illness, put on the fake smile and try their very best to ‘look normal’. On the inside though, is pain, chaos and loneliness. So resist the urge to tell them (or anyone for that matter!) to “snap out of it”.
- DID is caused by childhood trauma in various forms. This means that there often is many developmental gaps or delays for the person. Don’t be surprised then, when the person seems to struggle with skills they as an adult should have. An emotionally and psychologically health adult will always have at least an adequate emotionally and psychologically healthy childhood – something your friend or loved one missed out one. So be patient.
Author: Dr David Ward, BSocWk, BA., Grad Dip (Couple Thpy), M.Couns., MPhil., PhD.
Dr David Ward is a psychotherapist with over 20 years’ experience, providing therapy to adults, adolescents, children, couples, and families. His areas of professional interest include the use of EMDR therapy to help with recovery from domestic violence, child abuse, PTSD, depression and anxiety; family therapy; and working with victims of spiritual and ritual abuse.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129
- Foote B, Smolin Y, Neft DI, Lipschitz D. (2008) Dissociative disorders and suicidality in psychiatric outpatients, Journal of Nervous Mental Disease, 196 (1) 29-36.
- Ross, C. (2015) When to Suspect and How to Diagnose Dissociative Identity Disorder, Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 9 (2) 114-120.
*Retrieved 25.07.2018 from www.healthyplace.com/abuse/dissociative-identity-disorder/what-s-it-like-to-live-with-dissociative-identity-disorder-did
Some books to help with understanding Dissociative Identity Disorder:
- A Fractured Mind: My Life with Multiple Personality Disorder, by Robert Oxnam (2006).
- I Am WE: My Life with Multiple Personalities, by Christine Pattillo (2014).
- The Sum of My Parts: A Survivor’s Story of Dissociative Identity Disorder, by Olga Trujillo (2011).
- Down the Hallway: The story of one woman’s journey with Dissociative Identity Disorder, by Sherry Showalter (2013).
- Twenty-Two Faces, by Judy Byington (2012).
- I Am More Than One: How Women with Dissociative Identity Disorder Have Found Success in Life and Work, by Jane Hyman (2006).
- We Are Annora: A True Story of Surviving Multiple Personality Disorder, by P. Marrow, (2010).