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The Reality of Memory Loss With Dissociative Identity Disorder

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“Isn’t that ‘multiple personalities?’”

“Isn’t that schizophrenia?”

“Are you dangerous?”

“So. do you hear voices and stuff?”

“I can’t even tell you have it.” Or, “I haven’t seen you switch.”

“You must never get lonely having a bunch of personalities in your head with you.”

No, dissociative identity disorder (DID) is no longer called “multiple personality disorder.” No, it isn’t the same thing as schizophrenia. Yes, there are voices, but they’re all internal and they’re all part of me. And just because you haven’t noticed us switch, it doesn’t mean we haven’t in front of you. It’s subtle and a disorder that’s designed to stay hidden, so no, you most likely won’t notice.

And the reality is that, for the most part, DID is a very lonely, debilitating disorder — for us, anyway.

Dissociative identity disorder is generally caused by ongoing, repetitive childhood trauma and as a defense mechanism, the child doesn’t properly integrate with a full sense of self. It can come with comorbid disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, chronic pain, substance abuse, somatic body experiences, bipolar disorder and so forth.

The memory loss associated with DID isn’t recognized a lot by those around us, and is something to which neurotypical people try to compare — but they can’t. It’s waking up and seeing you’ve spent $500 with no recollection of it, and nothing to show for it. It’s sitting with your childhood best friend as she talks of memories from school and memories from the previous week and no matter how hard you fight to remember them, you can’t. It’s not remembering your sister’s wedding, your previous love or what you did five minutes ago. It’s reading your journal about what you did yesterday and not being able to believe it. It’s not remembering your childhood, your adolescence and everything up until this current moment in time and living in the unknown of whether you’ll remember this tomorrow or not. It’s a fight to remain present, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to keep up.

It’s not knowing which part of you will be “out” at any given time. Having different likes and dislikes when it comes to food, clothing, people, places and things. It’s having brain zaps, headaches and body pain when a different part of you fronts. It’s loving one thing one minute and hating it the next. It’s going from talking to going mute, from walking in the shopping center to fainting from an intrusive memory that a part isn’t aware of yet. It’s changing conversations rapidly with somebody and not being able to notice until later. It’s a back and forth battle of not knowing whether or not you trust an external person, because some parts of you do, and some parts of you don’t.

It’s not knowing where you fit into this world and always feeling disconnected and detached from yourself, the world and from those around you. It’s not knowing who you are, what your purpose is or having a sense of self. It’s sitting in your therapist’s office as he says to you, “they’re all you,” and struggling to accept it because each part is entirely different to the next; they each hold their own separate memories, their own worlds, their own friends, voices, hobbies, interests and ways they carry themselves and deal with things.

It’s denying you have DID because if you accept the diagnosis, it means accepting that the trauma you faced as a child really did happen to you and not somebody else.

But with acceptance comes gratitude and recognition, for all of us being here, for all of them protecting us our entire lives. It’s acknowledgment for each part, for all they continue to do and for all of us slowly working together, day by day, despite the stigma, despite the shame and despite the underlying truth that hides underneath the cause of our DID.

Photo by Samuel Schwendener on Unsplash

Originally published: January 11, 2019
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