What is Dissociative Identity Disorder – The Definition
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), previously called Multiple Personality Disorder, “is an extremely complex psychological disorder characterised by the presence of two or more distinct identities that repeatedly assert control over a person’s behaviour” (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2019). DID is developed or created as a coping mechanism resulting from complex developmental trauma through childhood abuse. People impacted by DID may commonly refer to their unique identities as “parts” and the part that is in physical body communicating with you at that time, as the part with the “world face”. Each part may have their own unique skills and interests, be different ages and experiences, have different tastes in food, and have a preferred name(s) and behaviours. It is always best to have an open supportive mind and talk to each part as a unique individual, as you would any person.
According to WebMD, Dissociative Identity Disorder “affects between 0.1% to 1% of the general population ……. with a further 7% of the population having undiagnosed DID”.
Those who know or have worked with me are well aware that I squirm at the word “disorder” or ” diagnosis”. For me, everyone I work with are people ….. impacted by their experiences, yes, ….. but people nonetheless. Reducing unique identities to a “disorder” label is dehumanising. I have the absolute honour of walking alongside people, experiencing and living with DID, in their healing journeys. I asked their thoughts on some things that they would like people to know about what it is like for them. For safety and confidentiality reasons their names are not listed. Also, please note that there is a potential trigger warning for some of this blog.
What is important for the Community to understand?
“The community perception that we are dangerous and have parts that might harm them is really insulting. We have experienced this kind of harm from infancy, and we know how it feels to be hurt in terrible ways …. there is no way we would ever inflict that kind of harm on another human being!”
Time sharing a single body is not easy
“When you spent your entire childhood and young adulthood simply trying to survive the abuse ….. when you finally get free …… to have safe people, places and opportunities to learn, grow and experience good things … you feel like a whole bunch of people are all clamouring for a chance to drink from a single glass of water after a long trek through a desert. Yet we are still constantly scared that the water will turn out to be harmful at some point. This means that trusting people is incredibly difficult and more often than not some parts will be trusting while others will remain incredibly wary or just plain terrified of people. It is because of this that it’s incredibly difficult to hold people in mind in a stable way. We wish that people would have patience with us around this.
We are really good at hiding how we are feeling in stressful situations. This was necessary for our survival. We also struggle to feel safe in expressing our distress. We wish people could understand the depth of fear and pain we live with and not dismiss and ignore us”.
Each part doesn’t always seemlessly communicate with the others. This can mean that as each part comes into the body and is the world face, it can be confusing and disorientating. Simply taking your cue from the person, introducing yourself to the new part (if you haven’t met them) and calling them by their preferred name can provide subtle support.
Connecting with people in your community who are experiencing DID, can give you a wonderful insight into varying points of view on a topic or issue from a variety of ages, experiences and interests – “all packaged neatly’ in one body”.
“In situations where we observe many people getting frustrated or bored, we are always amusing ourselves perfectly fine, and are expert multitaskers”.
“We have the ability to move outside of societal norms, which gives us an outside perspective.”
It is a sad part of our society where as we grow into adults, we may be less likely to play, be curious or tap into our ‘inner child’. One of the insights and gifts that people experiencing DID can show us, is how to fully embody our play, ‘inner child’ and curiosity.
“Who else has the option to say, ‘I’m done with this for today .. you deal with it for a while’, and then you can retreat and someone else has to cope with whatever is happening in the world, while I can go inside and rest for a while”.
What do Therapists need to Understand?
“Please do your own inner work and ensure you have suitable supports around yourself to enable you to be fully open heartedly present when you are working with trauma survivors”.
“We are not broken or in need of fixing”.
“If you see no potential, goodness, strength in or hope for someone you are working with, you can not effectively walk along side them on their healing journey”.
Encourage Curiosity and Connection
On this International day of Dissociative Identity Disorder, I encourage you to be curious and extend safe connection with members of the community that are experiencing and living with DID.
Educate yourself and I encourage you to celebrate the uniqueness of connecting in a safe and respectful way with members experiencing DID in our community.