What Life With (Hidden) Dissociative Identity Disorder Is Like
I’ve watched all the movies and TV shows about dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder. The screen has brought us “Sybil,” “Three Faces of Eve” and the “United States of Tara.” These shows, while introducing this relatively unknown and misunderstood disorder to the public conversation, have turned DID into entertainment.
DID is a challenging mental illness that is most often seen in victims of childhood trauma or repetitive abuse. Individuals with DID are characterized by having two or more distinct personalities. It is an extreme form of dissociation, a psychological adaptation where a person shuts themselves off from a painful memory or trigger by mentally escaping to another, safer, distinct personality. DID comes with challenges of memory loss, forgetfulness and lost time throughout a day.
I have DID. My friends and family are largely unaware of this because I know how to camouflage myself. Covering up my personality and its quirks is a lifelong occupation. My experience with dissociative identity disorder is not a life of obvious changes, in and out of personalities with stark contrasts like Jekyll and Hyde. It’s a journey of subtlety and confusion.
I have spent days driving around in my car unsure of where I was going or where I had been. I lose track of time for hours at a time. My internal dialogue is a smattering of different voices. I am a gathering of fragments of different people, rather than one whole brain. When I work or read a book, it is difficult for me to concentrate because of so many conversations going on in my head. My condition has inflection when I am triggered by past events, people, smells, memories or other triggers. I look in the mirror and the image staring back at me doesn’t look like it’s real.
Oftentimes, when I look at photographs of myself, I have no memory of the photograph happening. I have some vague understanding that the person in the photo is me but I don’t remember the moment depicted.
My children tease me about my horrible memory but it’s true — my memory is terrible because I can go someplace or have a conversation and later not remember it at all. Recently, I told my daughter we should go to a new restaurant I wanted to take her to and she told me we had already been there. I have no recollection of the dinner we had there together.
In the movies, a person with DID has an intentional and obvious switch in their personalities. “Three Faces of Eve” shows a head drop each time her personality changes. When Tara (“United States of Tara”) changes personalities, she also changes clothes, attitudes and experiences. Each personality has its own life. These examples are vastly different than the slight shift I feel when my personalities change. For me, it can be a blankness, a complete whiteout that happens in my brain or it can be a defined shift of emotion. Heavy fear, insignificance, insecurity all characterize some part of my personality.
For me (though not for everyone), my personalities don’t have names or dramatic shifts that are obvious to an outside, unpracticed eye. They are all well-hidden beneath a thick exterior that is adept at hiding the shifts.
Frankly, I am reticent to post this part of my mental health diagnosis because I know it sounds surreal and made-up. I worry about judgment from others. However, what’s most important to me is that I know my own experiences. I also trust the many psychiatrists and therapists who have worked on my case. I hope my life and writing can bring some light to this misunderstood, mischaracterized and misinterpreted disorder.
Photo by Crystal Jo on Unsplash