What living with dissociative identity disorder is like

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is an identity disorder characterized by having two or more distinct identities. Since identity and personality are two completely different things, it is not a personality disorder.

DID is associated with repeat childhood trauma between the ages of 1-9, the brain’s formative personality years.

Until 1994, DID was misunderstood to be a personality disorder and thus referred to as multiple personality disorder (MPD).

Hollywood and stigma perpetuated this term, despite DID being an identity disorder, and even went as far as encouraging the audience to view people as “split personality” — a derogatory term.

A more accurate approach to describing DID in laymen’s terms is calling it a trauma disorder.

What is dissociative identity disorder?

To educate or not to educate?

My job is not to educate people on my existence. I’m tired of putting in the emotional labor in ~~hopes that people will one day see me for who I am instead of trying to find reasons to discredit and dehumanize me.

Dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia are NOT the same, but ignorant singlets perceive it as such. Emotionally abusive people have used this angle to gaslight and convince me that I’m “crazy”, “mentally unstable” and so on.

DID is less a mental illness and more of a coping mechanism as the result of insurmountable trauma that a child’s brain could not find any other way to cope with.

How does DID form?

In order to understand how DID forms, you first after to understand how identity forms and what personality actually is.

Personality is how someone behaves.

Identity is the embodiment of your personality, what you identify with, and how you identify yourself.

By age of 9, a child has either

  • developed a solid sense of self or
  • has not developed a solid sense of themselves.

Who they are for the rest of their life is determined by who they are at age 9.

The way you develop an identity is by your environment, your upbringing, who you’re surrounded by, what you’re exposed to, your attachment style, how you were raised…

  • Were you raised to be self-reliant or dependent, entitled and full of insecurities?
  • Were you around a lot of people (socialized) or kept only around certain people (sheltered)?

A child gets little pieces of everyone else’s characteristics — maybe

  • a few traits from their parents
  • a couple from their extended family
  • loads from multimedia influence (books, movies, TV, toys, etc.)
  • animals and pets
  • random people in stores
  • playground kids/friends

All of these personality traits are distributed into different buckets.

A typically developed child’s personality traits remain in those buckets until they’re about 8-9 years old. In a typically developed mind, some collected traits from each of the buckets form into one identity (one bucket of personality traits).

They don’t keep all the personality traits, but they keep some of them.

With dissociative identity disorder, those buckets never form into one bucket. So they have multiple identities and can have other clusters of various identity-type information.

A person with DID isn’t broken and hasn’t “split” into multiple personalities or parts from their core self, because there was never a core self to begin with.

A child is multiple identity buckets and forms into one, unless they have an identity disorder.

Your five-year-old child is multiple buckets of various personality traits.

You can’t break something that was never whole to begin with.

How do you accept having DID?

Good question. I don’t know. I was diagnosed 10 years ago and didn’t begin talking about my DID publicly until I stumbled across the DIDTok community.

Previously, I talked about DID in secret. I didn’t know much about it and didn’t understand much. I’d only come across one system — rather, she came across my blog post about five years ago barely mentioning it.

Back then, DID systems didn’t admit to being systems. It was considered taboo, like talking about it was a major no-no.

I think a beautiful recollection of my journey to a DID diagnosis is my timeline of life goings-on. There, you’ll find themes of disconnectedness and dissociation common, as is present with covert and undiagnosed/unaware dissociative identity disorder systems.

Regardless of my diagnosis and evidence of the diagnosis, the typical day in my life involves the question Am I really a DID system if I didn’t switch today? Was this all in my head? What if my brain made it all up without my knowledge — but convinced me that I am a system??

GIF me turquoise tie dye shirt pink ponytail hands face looking to side

Meanwhile, non-systems don’t question whether they’re actually a multiplicity. They don’t wonder multiple times throughout their life if they have DID.

And feeling like you’re faking it because your DID symptoms subside for a few hours, days or months while you’re dissociative or your life is less stressful??

That’s a symptom of DID itself.

I’m not in denial, but I struggle to accept my DID diagnosis. Successful functional multiplicity is less about accepting DID and more about embracing that you are, quite literally, “the sum of all your parts”.

What is having DID like?

I feel like there are multiple people living in my head. It’s weird.

It’s weirder and unsettling when I see a response to a message or email I don’t recall sending, written like I’d write with minor discrepancies.

I struggle to wear certain clothes or colors that trigger odd, dysphoric feels.

experience both gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia because of my alternate identities.

Living covertly (secretly) encourages trauma responses, which is likely why many dissociative system are coming out.

Seeing people like you out there living their lives, embracing themselves — that’s representation, and it’s so life-changing that it boosts your self-esteem.

Seeing people like you exist helps you feel less alone.

Memory gaps

Different alters know about and have access to different memories. I don’t have access to every memory. The same is true for other alters.

Some memories, no active alter has access to.

Other people perceive an alter not remembering as attempts to gaslight them or deny something happened. In reality, that alter just doesn’t know what happened.

In emotionally abusive situations, wherein my DID system is exposed to gaslighting behaviors, my headmates and me all scramble to work as a team to understand the situation. Our Director alter has access to all memories, and the inability for her to find a history of the gaslighter’s claims is a huge red flag.

What dissociative identity disorder feels like

Cloudy, exhausting, and painful (migraines).

The more switching that occurs, the more migraines, more exhaustion, and more cloudy/sinus-feely I get in my brain.

Sometimes, it’s dizzying. Other times, it’s just inconvenient and annoying.

Explaining my alternate parts is difficult, because people misconstrue having multiple identities with being a scammer. I’m not a scammer — I just have DID.

DID gets depressing the more aware you become of stigma related to DID. You hear jokes about people having “multiple personalities”, how they’re “crazy”, etc.

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