Media tends to portray Dissociative Identity Disorder - what many people know as "multiple personality disorder" a certain way. If you've ever seen Sally Field's performance in the movie Sybil, you know what I mean. As far as movies and television are concerned, it's several different personalities who don't know one another all sharing a body. They fight for control, ruin things for one another, and have little to no awareness of what the other is doing.
But what does having DID look like for real sufferers on a day to day basis?
One Reddit user asked:
People with Dissociative Identity Disorder, who are your alters and how do they affect your everyday life?
As happens so often with the media - reality usually isn't that close to what we see on our screens. Quite a few brave people responded, and their answers are really enlightening.
Not Like TV
I was diagnosed with DID a few years ago. I live in England.
For many, including myself, there are no alters, its not like on TV. All the "me's" are me.
Imagine there is a me who hates bananas and a me who loves them. When my mind responds to stress, it might be banana lover me who is in control. 'Control' means heavy influence, not complete, cast iron domination. But the banana hating me is fucking miserable with the banana spree, so she screams in my ear so loudly, so incessantly, that I both love bananas, hate bananas and am just so fucking confused.
I do have episode of lost memory, and complete dissociation, but those episodes are rare. Perhaps two in a bad year. I might come to myself and realise I have bought £800 worth of bananas. I might find a bunch I don't recall buying.
I have spent a loooot of time in the nuthouse. A lot. I have never met a fellow DID with alters. I have met many people with severe BPD who dozens of them.
I am NOT gatekeeping DID. I live in England, and am diagnosed privately & under the NHS. I don't know the US criteria, nor the prevailing attitudes the psychs there have I strive to support every brother & sister of mine fighting their own mind. But, whereas I will tell anyone I meet about the rest of my mental health landscape, I tend to keep the DID diagnosis to myself because it is so deeply misunderstood. I have met others with this diagnosis who have the same problem.
If you have ever seen Deep Space 9, Jadzia Dax has very, very similar experienced to DID, but handles it beautifully. The episodes where she is replaced by Ezri show the bad side of it.
I am happy to answer questions, with love, but, DID is a bit different in life than it is on Tumblr.
The Hulk Needs Black Widow
I suffer from BPD. Borderline personality disorder. But, the idea of me having DID has been tossed around.
Mostly, I do things and then later can't believe I have done them. I will have faint memories but they feel more like dreams. I will say things to others and barely remember even talking with them at all. It is like someone else had control of me during that episode. I don't hear voices (at least I don't think I do. I have intuition, of course but, I don't have more than that one voice helping me make decisions each day)
With my meds, I am pretty good. Keeps episodes down to a very minimum (once a year or less). But, I have to rotate between a few different concoctions due to tolerances.
Prior to my wife convincing me to get help, I would have moments of full black out anger. Thankfully, I only ever directed this at myself and inanimate objects. (I would hit myself and break things). And, strangely, my wife could eventually pull me out of it and I would come back not really realizing what I had done or said. (She actually can't watch the scene where Black Widow calms down the Hulk. She said it just brings up too many traumatic memories)
I also have a mountain of other diagnosed issues. MDD. Bi-Polar. ADHD. I stutter badly.... Pretty much, my brain chemistry is fucked.
When I am the regular me, I am nice and kind and fun to be around. But, when the demon comes, it isn't good. I thank my wife daily for dealing with me for so long. She just says I am lucky I am cute otherwise she would have kicked me to the curb. She's a strong woman and a wonderful mother. She took care of 2 kids and me.
Mental Illness is no joke. I sure wish it would stop getting treated like it is.
My friend's dad has DID due to a history of child abuse, which was then heavily triggered, because he worked in journalism, often on child abuse stories, which just wore him down after a while. The person at the top of the thread that said, it's all "me" and not like characters on a TV show is totally right. I love United States of Tara but it is nothing like that.
He is probably in his early 60's, and I have only seen one alter personally. I didn't even realize it was an alter. Apparently, when he gets stressed, he gets a little like a teenage boy super obsessed with comics, Star Wars, all that stuff. I found this out because we have a very long and in-depth conversation on Godzilla. I guess that is just a happy place for him, so that's what happened.
Secondhand, I have heard from my friend that he does have an alter that basically does not want to be a husband or father. He joins dating sites, has lashed out violently at his adult children, and has no recollection of any of this. He genuinely is the sweetest person, so it was shocking for me to hear this, because my friend's family is super close. It has just been something they learn to deal with, and from my understanding, this angry personality is not a common thing. He is much more likely to slip into teenage boy obsessing over nerd culture state.
My alters are me. They don't have names and they don't "come out" very often. For example, only one has been "out" so far in 2018.
Between mid-February and late May I lost a lot of time. I can't remember attending my sisters birthday, even though there are photos of me with her from that night. I can't remember spending almost £400 on camping equipment on ebay (I don't even like camping), and I can't remember sending an e-mail to my University department head telling him I was dropping out. I'm a heavy smoker, but I would randomly find my cigarettes in the bin. I'm a nail biter, but I would suddenly realize that my nails were clipped and filed down. It's just silly things like that. I hear them in my head, and I talk to them more often than they "come out". Mostly, they comfort me when I'm in a bad place, but sometimes they're very harsh with me. Cruel, occasionally. (edit: I'm aware I'm talking to myself when this happens, but lots of mes in different moods)
I don't have a lot of friends and I'm not close to my parents, but my sister, brother-in-law and best friend of 20 years have met at least one of my alters. The general impression I got from them was that the change isn't dramatic like you see on TV. For example, whichever alter my friend met maintains eye contact when speaking, which I can't do. They also don't swear, whereas I have a really bad habit of swearing in every second sentence. The most intimidating thing my friend told me was that the alter "looked different" somehow, like they wore facial expressions that she had never seen me display in the 20 years we've known one another. But no, they didn't rush off to change clothes, they didn't talk in a different accent and they didn't do anything bad.
I resent saying this, but my experience of DID is very "boring" compared to most fictional portrayals. And I resent saying that because on bad days, I'm so miserable that I want to kill myself. Losing time, even if it doesn't happen often, terrifies me and I spend a lot of time just waiting for it to happen again. Sometimes I just feel so empty inside that I just spend weeks lying in bed, thinking and feeling nothing. Sometimes I have no idea who I am, and I don't actually think I'm real. But other times I'm alright, and I just get on with things. Therapy has really helped me.
Organization Is Key
Hi. I'm in the US, diagnosed and in treatment. Almost 40, female.
All of the dissociative parts of my personality are aware that we are one person. We perceive reality very differently, and feel differently about it, but accept that we're parts of the whole. We know our legal name, the body age, etc. We feel detached from it in a variety of different ways, but we know it's reality.
My everyday life consists of each of my parts trying to do the best they can, just like anybody else. We get up, we keep our body clean and healthy, we socialize and work, we have passions and interests, etc. We have to spend a lot of time working on inner alignment and resolving inner conflict and we spend a lot of time in therapy, reading, writing, self-analyzing, and other types of "doing the work".
The biggest challenges we face are related to our trauma, and the other disorders it spawned. General anxiety and panic attacks, intense phobias, nightmares, flashbacks, etc. Relationships are really tough too.
I've also organized the sh*t out of our life. I'm a professional project manager and use the things I've learned on myself, regularly, to try and help us function as a team. Like I keep a lot of lists so that whoever comes out has a battle plan and knows what's been done already.
Don't Need Them Anymore
I have 8 alters and then myself. Most of them are quiet and not around much (a couple not at all). The most prevalent are a 4 yo girl, a woman in her early 20's and myself. It is very rare that I lose any time and I am most likely what would be called a gate keeper or main "personality." I believe that the 4 yo is the original though.
My issues stem from childhood loss, one alter is a result of molestation and the teen alter is around because the 8 yo alter that was molested hid away. The young woman is the nurturer and caregiver of the home and children (she was a single mother of my oldest daughter). She married a man who was violent and tried to destroy who she was as a person mentally and nearly killed her so I took over. I carry all the memories of the violence in the marriage. Then there is another alter who is the protector but she isn't around anymore because we don't need her. There are others but their parts to play are minimal and rare.
I am in a position in my life right now where I don't need them anymore. Some I am unsure if they even exist anymore or if they are just quiet. I don't know where they are to be honest. The 4 yo comes and goes and shes a delight. I would love to merge the young woman and myself because I think our qualities compliment one another and would make me a more well rounded woman.
Not Even The Problem
I have DID and there are a whole bunch of us, but probably about four, including me, who handle most situations on the "outside." The rest either mainly handle situations on the inside, they have more specialized skills, or they would just really rather stay inside. Honestly I couldn't get through life without their help. We survived our childhood as a team and, while some people get us into some weird situations, we're all just trying to heal. I know I couldn't have survived what we went through alone.
I know for me, the other alters aren't really my "problem." My poor mental health is because of the flashbacks and other symptoms of trauma, and the other alters and I have to handle these effects together. If I had a magic wand, I personally wouldn't want to heal the DID, despite the grief certain alters have given me, but I'd definitely want to heal our PTSD and other mental health issues.
I'm not going to use our real names on here on the incredibly off chance that someone recognizes us, but here's a rundown of the main four fronters:
Alter #1 (me): Host. I do school, work, and family stuff. I don't really know how to describe myself but I usually do well in school, though I've been struggling lately. I'm pretty patient and I'm a good listener, which helps with friendships. I'm nerdy so I like to stay in and do stuff in small groups or with one other person.
Alter #2: Protector. She's very stoic, reserved, and formal. She is a lot faster, stronger, and wittier than I am. She comes out when we feel physically and sometimes emotionally threatened. She handled a lot of physical abuse and mental games. She enjoys hiking, sports, and leather jackets and is actually a lot like Rosa from Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Alter #3: Internal Self-Helper. She's very submissive and shy, but she's coming out of her shell. She soothes alters on the inside if they're upset and she helps us regulate flashbacks or other intense emotion. She handled a lot of the emotional manipulation (ex. women's roles, "I love you... just kidding," "God wants you to do X," etc.) and sexual abuse from our primary abuser. She likes knitting, cooking, cat videos, that kind of thing but she absolutely HATES germs.
Alter #4: Protector. She's very outspoken and flirty. She used to drink, party, get us into trouble, etc. but she's incredibly helpful and friendly now, and will sometimes take over for me if I need a break with school. We were forced to provide "adult entertainment" in our childhood as part of our cycle of abuse. She's the one who experienced most of that. She's interested in fashion, being outdoors, and board games with friends.
I Was Never One Person
So when most people think of DID, they think that there is one original identity that splits into parts due to trauma, but that's not actually how it works.
DID is caused by trauma during very early childhood, during the time when children are actually going through a stage of development when something called "identity integration" is naturally happening. During this stage of development, children naturally develop one cohesive sense of self, where they can naturally shift from one identity state to another seamlessly, and with a flowing, natural autobiographical memory. For example, they might behave differently at school than they do at home, or with their friends, or with their grandmother, but they are still the same child in all those situations, and they maintain their sense of self and their memories during all those situations.
A child exposed to severe trauma and repeated dissociation does not experience identity integration. Their identity forms in pieces. I was never one person. I have always been many pieces.
Drape A Film
I'm one of those alters, made an account just for this. From the outside we don't seem too different from anyone else. (Maybe a little eccentric, but that's not really related to DID.) Basically we all work together to take care of the body and support the host. They also take care of us to a certain degree.
We were formed because of trauma.
When there's situations that the host can't handle, one of us steps in. Sometimes we use the body completely but more often we sort of drape a 'film' over the every day world, if that makes sense. Everything is experienced at a slight difference. It's like wearing tinted glasses, the world is still the world but it's coloured differently.
Anyway I'm the only one who's 'fronted' as myself. I used to have my own friends separate from the host's but we drifted away which kind of sucks. NGL it can get a little lonely, but it is what it is. Sometimes the host and I integrate to a certain extent. It's disorienting to both of us. Not necessarily a bad thing though. I feel like we're more balanced when we're together but it's also weird because then its more his life than mine, you know? If we could be reincarnated I'd want to be my own person. I think I'd form a rock band.
The host tends to be a little ... lets people get away with a lot of stuff I guess. Lets people be mean or abusive towards him. I don't. If I can get control I'm more likely to tell people to fuck off or just walk away from the situation. I can also handle anger a lot better than him -- when he gets upset he self-injures, when I get upset I just sit with it and wait for it to go away.
We have different preferences for music and different writing style. I feel like I'm a little more motivated too. I'm more willing to sit and work away at something but the host's like, something has to happen right away!
Other than me, there's:
Isiah -- chill guy, likes people and customer service so yeah he comes out sometimes when we have to get through long work days. Likes ice cream so sometimes after a bad day we walk to get some
Ichi -- Isiah's friend, kinda gloomy but a good guy.
?? -- someone else, doesn't come out much but it's cool when she does. I think she's younger than the rest of us, doesn't talk much. When she's out we sometimes look like a typical "crazy" person, like walking in circles and humming to ourselves and someone's gotta watch the body to make sure we don't wander off the subway tracks or something.
Recently, we've all been a little more integrated with one another. Not sure why. We tend to split more when there's more stress.
Part Of A System
Well we are a system for someone who has DID. The central person is purely internal, they never face outwardly. Facing is up to the rest of us. There are 4 main people, 2 secondary (think highly specialized) and then the "core" which is actually 2 people. So 8 on total.
Right now we're working on integration. The workhorse of our group is finally feeling emotion and it's been really overwhelming and painful. Imagine having absolutely no emotional experiences for 30 years and then one day you feel a twinge of frustrating and the next day you're so full of rage you want to break anything you can get your hands on.... It's been hard, but we have good support. We support each other, and we have really amazing people in of life, and an especially good therapist.
I don't think most people would ever be able to tell we're a system identity. The whole point of DID is protecting and surviving, and being at all off inhibits that. So we have struggles, but most people are none the wiser that they are talking to a completely different identity; they just chalk it up to me being a little forgetful now and then.