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DID – Dissociative Identity Disorder
“Do I have dissociative identity disorder?”
Somewhere deep inside you are probably asking yourself this question!
It would help to understand this condition so you can rule yourself out or take a decision to seek help.
Dissociative identity disorder or DID is a mental condition that affects a small portion of the population. This makes it a relatively rare condition that clearly has a lot of uncertainty behind it. However, the experiences that individuals have when they experience symptoms are unique and very telling. They’re so unique, in fact, that it might not even sound like something possible, but it absolutely is!
What Is DID?
Disassociate Identity Disorder is one kind of several types of dissociative disorders. Dissociative disorders are all characterized in slightly different ways while still possessing similar characteristics overall. For example, they all have a core set of symptoms that everyone may experience with a dissociative disorder. These symptoms include:
- Severe memory loss of specific situations, people, or time that can’t be explained away by simply forgetting naturally
- Having an out-of-body experience. This is most commonly described as watching yourself act and move as though you’re an outsider or like you’re watching a television show of yourself.
- Experiencing a traumatic event that might have also caused the development of depression.
- Suffering from anxiety.
- Emotional numbness or a sense of emptiness; feeling separated from your emotion.
- Not possessing a self-identity, feeling unsure of who you are
These are all symptoms of a general dissociative disorder and are not restricted to exclusively those experiencing dissociative identity disorder.
DID is most commonly identified and explained as one person having multiple personalities. Each personality might act different from the other, and they even might insist that their name isn’t the same. They might have their own unique mannerisms and voices as well. The person experiencing DID symptoms might feel like one or more voices are warring inside of their mind, trying to take control.
Researchers believe that DID is triggered when the person undergoes a traumatic event making the trigger for DID similar to that of PTSD. For example, abuse or engagement with the military through active duty in combat situations are the traumatic events that are often brought up when discussing DID. DID and other dissociative disorders most commonly form in children who were forced to experience long-term abuse of any kind.
DID is believed to be a way for the person to keep the memories of the event at bay and not have to deal with the effects of the memory.
For example, someone who experienced domestic violence might develop DID while avoiding being harmed by the memories. If another personality and, as such, another person is in control of their body, then the individual does not have to deal with remembering the memories since, sometimes, individuals experiencing dissociative states (or having multiple personalities) do not share memories between the personalities. It also might mean that if another personality takes over the body, then the “original” personality does not have to be harmed at the moment and can stay safe since they won’t remember what’s happening.
A diagnosis is developed when the person undergoes an evaluation by a medical professional who asks a series of questions and analyzes a person’s behavior for anomalies. There are no dissociative disorders tests that result in an immediate diagnosis. Instead, the process is typically lengthy as physical explanations must be ruled out first for the strange behaviors.
Women are diagnosed with DID at a slightly higher rate than men, but this doesn’t mean that men cannot experience symptoms of DID and potentially be diagnosed with it. Men may simply be less likely to admit to symptoms of DID and discuss past traumatic experiences. This could make a diagnosis more difficult and lead to a false negative diagnosis
Colac woman Lucy Adams knew something was wrong when she noticed she was dropping out of her own life.
“I used to lose time and I thought I was going mad. I used to come home with all these bags and think, ‘I didn’t buy this stuff’,” she says.
Lucy has dissociative identity disorder – what used to be known as multiple personality disorder – which is triggered by complex trauma.
She has suffered from various forms of abuse through her life and was sexually abused as a young child.
“From that point on, I hardly remember anything of my life, which means that’s when I was accumulating parts who knew the stories of what had happened.”
Lucy describes it as a sort of safety switch, which the brain performs to protect the person from suffering by hiding away the abusive experience.
“So these parts come out to protect the host from what they know happened, but the host doesn’t know.”
Over her lifetime, Lucy has accumulated 36 distinct “parts”, as she describes them, who make up her “mob”. And they’re not all human.
“I have John, who’s a stone, he’s a very tough little fella, about seven. Stretch, he’s 10 and a half, he’s like an elastic band, then there’s a little one called Mewsy and she’s a cat, she was abused very young.
“I have an Irish sheep farmer called Paddy and he’s got a dog called Rusty, he’s a bit of a character. Then I’ve got Prue, who is 38 and she is a very smart dresser.”
Lucy says it takes a “fairly extreme” amount of stress or anxiety for her to switch between her parts, and people have said they can tell when she makes the switch.
Having dissociative identity disorder has drastically impacted all aspects of Lucy’s life.
“It’s affected my work, it’s affected my mothering. I can’t drive anymore because I don’t want any of my younger parts driving,” she says.
“It’s even affected where I’m living. I live as far away as I can from people who abused me. So it’s been huge.”
Lucy says she’s “extremely grateful” to have access to a disability support pension when she needs it, because “it’s like working in a full time job to get through this”.
Colac is in the National Disability Insurance Scheme launch site of Barwon. In order to be found eligible for the scheme, Lucy had to prove she had what’s known as a psychosocial disability.
But Lucy says she sees her mental illness as a challenge, rather than a disability.
“My role in it is for me and my guys to learn to manage it better.”
As far as community perception of the disorder goes, Lucy says the label carries with it an “extreme” amount of stigma.
“For instance, when I went in to have an operation – a physical one – the surgeon got me to see a psychiatrist to make sure I was going to be fine in theatre and not, you know, do anything.
“People are very unsure. Do you have violent parts? What’s going on? People don’t really understand it enough to know, so I’ve learnt to take someone with me if I go to a specialist interview.”
She hopes if more people like her share their stories it will help break down some of that stigma.
But she doesn’t think all attention is necessarily positive.
For example, she wasn’t a fan of the television series The United States of Tara, a comedy-drama which follows the life of an American housewife with DID. In her opinion, it wasn’t “helpful”.
“But other people I know identify with it very greatly and say it really helped them. So it’s a very personal thing, and I know they had an excellent psychiatrist overseeing that program.”
Lucy says the hardest thing about suffering abuse and living with DID has been coping with the grief and loss in her past, including her sense of self.
“It’s very hard to get around that in a hurry. You can’t even wonder what would I have been like if I had never been through this, because that can almost destroy you if you think about it too much.”
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