6 Things Dissociative Identity Disorder Is (and Why 'Split' Gets It Wrong)


I saw the preview for “Split” blowing up my newsfeed. Friends, colleagues and people who hold esteemed positions in my life raved about how good it was going to be. My curiosity piqued and I clicked to see what it was about. I immediately knew I had made a mistake. I felt like I was sitting in a fishbowl watching some horrible depiction of everyone’s worst fears about psychiatric issues, especially dissociative identity disorder (DID). As someone living with dissociative identity disorder who has attended two DID conferences, I can assure you no one was kidnapping anyone and forcing them to live in some alternate version of reality. I could sit here all day and tell you what DID is not. But instead, let me tell you what DID is.

1. DID stems from trauma.

Typically chronic and horrific child abuse, though there can be other causes as well. Children have great imaginations. My therapist always says, “It takes a truly brilliant child to create an alternate identity to hold the abuse so the original child can continue living and surviving.” If you are being subjected to daily torture as a child, you will do whatever it takes to survive. Children have limited coping skills. Their greatest asset? Imagination. So if 3-year-old “Sally” is being abused daily by her grandpa, but has been threatened if she tells bad things will happen, Sally may push the trauma into a separate part of her mind and call it “Jane.” Now, every time Grandpa comes to hurt Sally, the door to “Jane” is opened. Jane takes the trauma and then once it’s over, Sally comes back and continues to survive, not thinking about or feeling the trauma that just happened.

2. Certain events may trigger someone with DID and cause a personality to pop out.

People with DID survived by being able to blend into any situation and not make a fuss. In general, you will never know someone with DID is switching personalities. I can count on one hand the number of people who know my diagnosis. I work with the public every day. I am involved in the community I live in. Yes, I have dissociated after being triggered. No one noticed, except those who knew what to look for to help me get grounded back to the present. I am not a threat to society. The only person I’m a threat to is myself.

3. Part of being in therapy is learning to set boundaries within yourself, to prevent dissociation in inappropriate places.

Most DID systems have something like a protector or mom figure. In my system, I have a part who mimics me almost perfectly, but does not feel any of the trauma we have endured. She can keep others in their “rooms” and get us to a safe place to deal with whatever is triggering us.

4. People with DID can merge and become one again.

It is a long, lengthy process. It takes years and a wonderful support system but it can and does happen.

5. Everyone dissociates.

Dissociation is the root of DID. Imagine driving a familiar route, say on your way home from work. You leave the parking lot, merge into the highway and then the next thing you know, you’re getting off on your exit with no recollection of the drive? That’s dissociation. Have you ever been in a wreck and remember only bits and pieces? Have you ever read the same page of the book three times because you keep “zoning out?” Dissociation. It does not make you a monster, anymore than it makes me a monster.

6. We work hard at blending in.

I’ve met people with DID who are doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, stay-at-home parents, fast food workers, retail workers, therapists. We exist and function as members of society. We work hard at healing. We are successful, productive humans as well.

I believe in having fun. I love a good movie, just like anyone else. Please, if you do watch “Split,” remember it is Hollywood’s version of DID. Can someone with DID murder? Yes. Can someone without DID murder? Yes. But DID is not the thing that makes someone a murderer, kidnapper, rapist or bad person. DID is a survival skill. Just like there are more fatal car crashes than plane crashes each year, it’s that one plane crash that gets the media attention because it’s so rare. The same principle applies here and this is the Hollywood version of a very real problem many people live with every day.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image from Split Movie Facebook.


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Dissociative Identity Disorder

We With Dissociative Identity Disorder: Two Minds, One Body

Normally when writing, “I” is used because only one person is speaking. For those who live as multiple, this is not always the case. We have decided to write something together in the hope it will help others to have insight into what it is like to socialize, have relationships and fall in love when [...]
face of a woman

When You Get Diagnosed With the Condition You Hoped You Didn't Have

I’ve known for a while now I needed to be real about my dissociative identity disorder (DID) diagnosis. I’ve been avoiding writing about it for months. I keep wishing I could ignore it and make it go away. But it’s time for me to deal with reality, and if I have to do that, I [...]
Promotional image for "Split" featuring two men with pained expressions looking forward.

More Than 20,000 People Are Boycotting 'Split' for the Way It Portrays Mental Illness

M. Night Shyamalan’s new horror film “Split” comes out in theaters today, but more than 20,000 people won’t be seeing it, saying the film’s portrayal of mental illness and gender identity are offensive. A petition posted on Care 2, which has been signed by more than 20,000 people, asks petitioners to boycott the movie for the way it [...]
a picture of the Statue of Liberty

What It's Like Traveling With Dissociative Identity Disorder

Sometimes, I find myself looking at a photograph, and struggling not just to recognize its content, but to know why I have it. It isn’t that I pick up random images… I’m talking about pictures I obviously took, but have no memory of taking. It isn’t so so much that my conditions can affect how [...]