Today I have a guest blog from Sarah-Jayne about living with Dissociative Identity Disorder, this is a mental health condition we don’t hear an awful lot about and this post is quite eye opening in terms of what living with this condition can be like.
Like most mental health diagnoses Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a very individual experience. Rather than seeing DID in terms of symptoms to be cured it can be more helpful to see DID as a coping mechanism in response to trauma. Previously referred to as Multiple Personality Disorder, DID should not be confused with schizophrenia, nor is it a personality disorder.
DID is not easily attributed to any cause, but research into the condition has shown that various conditions are often met in order for DID to develop. Trauma alone does not account for it, people have experienced trauma and not gone on to develop dissociative disorders. Trauma that can result in DID is chronic and severe in nature and often happens before the age of 5. The child usually has an enhanced natural ability to dissociate and there is no reliable adult to mediate the effects of trauma or provide comfort. If a child does not have a secure relationship with a caregiver and they experience prolonged trauma at a young age they have a much higher chance of going on to develop a complex dissociative disorder.
DID will often come about when someone encounters experiences that are too overwhelming and distressing to cope with. When this happens the body’s natural defence mechanisms kick in. If the threat can be ran away from or fought then the outcomes are different to threat that cannot be avoided, if you can’t leave physically where do you go? People with DID have learnt to leave mentally, inside their heads. Dissociation is a disconnection between your body, the world around you and your subjective experience. Over time this disconnection can lead to feelings of un-reality, out of body experiences, amnesia and identity confusion to name a few. Most people “zone out” and dissociate occasionally, but when this is so severe that that the persons personality has been split into separate parts DID is the result.
Take this case study:
“When I experienced repeated sexual abuse as a young person I was spending more and more time dissociated from my body, I was “away” so often that someone else took my place. A part of my personality was fragmented and split off. She’s a sweet but stroppy 6 year old who will always be with me. We don’t always get on, but she took over when I was unable to cope anymore and for that I owe her kindness and respect.”
A key factor in the management and treatment of DID is the communication between insiders/others/alters. DID can respond very well to the right type of treatment, usually long term psychotherapy, a large part of this must involve increasing compassion, communication and a sense of “working together” inside. If no one is co-operating chaos can often ensue.
Some therapies will focus on integrating insiders, not to get rid of them but to make it so that they are not separate anymore. This may be a worthwhile, achievable and helpful aim for some people, but for others it is not wanted or needed and personalities find better ways of living alongside each other.
With the right help and support it is possible to have DID while at the same time being well and having a life worth living.