4 Things I Wish People Understood About My Dissociative Identity Disorder

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a highly stigmatized disorder, primarily because people don’t understand it. People with DID respond to trauma differently, like freezing, fighting, running or becoming so overwhelmed that they choose to hide within their own minds. Here are some truths about DID:

1. DID develops as a response to deal with trauma.

DID is a result of complex, prolonged, trauma. Though the DSM-5 has very specific criteria for DID, it doesn’t necessarily speak to the co-morbid disorders that accompany it. The trauma can also contribute to complex PTSD, anxiety and depression. This is why many people with DID may spend an average of seven years with symptoms before they are correctly diagnosed with DID.

2. DID is a hidden disorder.

Like many mental illnesses, DID isn’t often recognized in someone just by their actions and appearance. There is a common desire to be unseen, like, “If I don’t make a noise maybe, it will hurt less.” Most people would never know I have DID unless I told them or they know what symptoms to look for. I am able to blend in with society fairly well… until I am triggered.

3. DID is not a personality disorder.

DID was originally called multiple personality disorder (MPD), but was never then, nor now, classified as a personality disorder; it’s a dissociative disorder. DID is not a way to relate to other people or respond emotionally to others. It is not a way of thinking about oneself or others. DID is a reaction to overwhelming, repeated
childhood trauma that feels like there is no escape from. It is a way to feel hidden even when you can’t hide.

4. DID is experienced by each person differently.

While there are a common set of characteristics that indicate the disorder, every person with DID will experience the disorder in a different way. DID develops in childhood, and children do not have a list of rules or guidelines to follow when trying to escape inside their minds. While one system may have animal alters (alternate personalities), another may not. Some systems have a set of alters that are most predominate in certain seasons, while some are less organized; the alters come and go year round. My system is very weather-oriented– I am triggered by the feel of the air and light patterns, but other systems may be more triggered by smells or sounds. There is no right or wrong way to experience DID.

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