What is DID?

Three weeks ago I hadn’t even heard of dissociation. It sounds hard to believe that in a decade of being diagnosed with BPD and a decade of extensive reading to be in control of my own treatment, along with a year so far into a psychology degree, I never once came to hear of dissociative disorders. It wasn’t until half way through a counselling training course for my own professional development that bam, the reality of my existence finally fell into place.

I mean sure, I’d heard of multiple personality disorder, but I was pretty sure I was just the one person, so I never really looked it up on the DSM-V. Yet I was walking around living the life of a grade A dissociative survivor. I mean come on, I’ve legally changed my name! I claim(ed) the person who was abused was dead and buried and that only successful, look-to-the-future me was alive and worth focusing on! How textbook dissociative can you get? I have no memories of my childhood and very sketchy memories of anything since the end of the abuse. I lose time constantly. I don’t feel “real”, or that I have a fixed identity. I don’t feel feelings other than when big, bad ones bubble up and take over and rage at whoever is my closest friend at the time. And then I have no memory of how I behaved in that emotional state. But dissociation? Not a word for these experiences I’d ever come across, or if I had I clearly never understood it.

In therapy, through drawing, we came to see there are two cognitive individuals in my head who are often at war. Self-improvement is a right bitch and she always wants us to be doing something, being productive, making ourself good enough or worthy of love or attention or even just existing. She’s a massive motivational driving force but alone she runs me into the ground, tires me out, and we have circles of high productivity and then burnout. Self-preservation is a quieter voice who tries to regulate self-improvement. She has simple requests like for goodness sake can we please stop to eat, have a drink, and actually… sleep?! Can we have a chocolate bar instead of treating my body like a thing to be punished or denied? Can we just do a colouring or watch a film or take a mental health day? Not forever, not to be lazy, but for gods sake just so we survive… maybe even thrive!

So there we go, I got two dolls, Ragdoll for self-preservation and Matilda for self-improvement, and the dialogue started. I was able to listen to them both in a measured way, reaping the benefits from them both. I don’t always get it right even now, but these two cognitive voices are so much more integrated now I’m aware of them. Now when these two became named I certainly started to feel like I was walking down the multiple personality path, but dissociation? Naa, still not a thing I knew about.

Then me and my best friend had a rough few weeks. I was becoming this other me, the emotional ragey shouty angry one, very very often. I would try my hardest to control or stop it but I couldn’t. And afterwards I never remembered how I’d been, not more than a slight flash and a sense of total shame and guilt. I was hurting the person I cared for most… but somehow he knew even though I didn’t that the emotion wasn’t directed at him. It was something surfacing that had been surpressed. Dissociated from. If only I’d known what that meant.

So when I had my training evening on dissociation amid this plethora of emotional outbursts that WEREN’T ME, and yet the reality was I knew it was me, it didn’t take long to realise that dissociation was an accurate description for what I was experiencing. So, I named the part of me that was responsible for these outbursts. I played along with the possibility of DID, to see if it fitted. And I realised this part was 5 years old and it’s trigger was a fear of abandonment. Which meant there was one more “alter” as they are apparently called. The dead one, the abused one. And so I named her and she told me she was 13. And I promised her I wouldn’t pretend she was dead or dissociate from her any longer.

And so there were five. And here I am. With DID and finally an understanding of the two interval voices that constantly chatter, argue and self-depreciate and the two emotional selves who carry so much surpressed pain. I talk to them, I welcome them, I sit with their pain. They long so much just to be heard. And I will give them that. Because they are me.

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