Tuesday, February 8, 2011

DID 103 - Dissociative Identity Disorder and Switching Personalities

**This is part 3 of an educational blog series I am writing about DID.  It is based on scientific research, my experience, and the experiences of others with DID. To view all posts in the series, click on the tag “educational” on the sidebar.**


One of the largest misunderstandings about DID are the symptoms.  Everyone has seen Hollywood movies like Sybil and TV shows like United States of Tara that hype up the disorder, seem to be real and ultimately cause a lot of confusion.  I urge you to wipe these preconceptions about the disorder out of your mind and act as if you know nothing of the symptoms of the disorder. 

DID is an extremely variable condition.  Everyone with DID has different numbers and types of alters, different experiences, levels of amnesia, and types of dissociation.  There is no mold to conform to, there is no right or wrong way to experience alters.  DID is vastly different for different people and that’s okay.  It’s a coping mechanism, a last resort, it’s not always going to look the same.  Sometimes it’s going to be confusing, disorganized, and chaotic.  

DID is a spectrum disorder and like any spectrum, there are people at both extremes as well as all the places in between.  If you or someone you know doesn’t fit where it seems like they should on the spectrum, don’t worry: there is no “normal” when it comes to DID. 

Do people with DID have no idea what their alters say or do when they come out? 

This is the most commonly represented symptom of DID in the media and unfortunately, it is extremely misleading.  There are some people with DID that always have full amnesia of what their alters do and say when they come out.  There are some people with DID who always remember what their alters do and say when they come out.  Most people with DID have a combination of both experiences as well as a more middle of the road experience where they are partially aware of their alters’ behavior without full memory or full amnesia.  This “middle ground” experience is the most common. 

Often, more than one part or alter is aware of what is going on and is influencing what is being said and done.  This can happen with or without the host personality or other alters’ awareness and is called co-consciousness. 

Just because an individual always knows some or all of what an alter said or did, does not mean they are faking or do not have DID.  This is a fairly common manifestation of the disorder. 

What is co-consciousness? 

Co-consciouness is when more than one part is aware of what is going on outside the body and is influencing the thoughts, actions, or emotions of the individual.  This experience can vary greatly from actually hearing the voices of the alter (internally or externally) or simply feeling their emotional presence as an “other”. 

Co-consciousness is the most common experience of alter personalities for many individuals with DID.  For others, achieving co-consciousness or more cooperative co-consciousness will be the goal of therapy.

Co-consciousness can feel like many other things.  Many individuals with DID live much of their lives without realizing the way they think and feel is not “normal”.  Sometimes it just feels like your emotions are not coming from you or when you speak your voice doesn’t sound like your voice.  Sometimes individuals with DID even feel like they cannot control their own bodies. 

How often do people with DID switch personalities? 

As with all aspects of DID, this depends greatly on the individual.  Some people with DID switch constantly.  Others switch very rarely.  It is not uncommon for individuals with DID as well as friends and family to be unaware of personality switches, especially if those switches are co-conscious and the host personality is present the majority of the time.   

Why do people with DID switch personalities? 

The most common reason someone with DID switches personalities is because of a trigger.  A trigger can be a word, phrase, emotion, situation, experience, or anything else that encourages a particular part to emerge.  Alters are usually created with a specific job in mind, which means that particular interactions are likely to cause particular alters to emerge.  For example, there may be an alter that deals with hostile interactions, an alter for school, or an alter for sex. 

A trigger may also be involuntary.  For example, a part that holds a trauma related to water may emerge every time an individual takes a shower. 

Alters may also come out against their will when they are forced out by other alters or when no other alters want to be on the outside.  It is also possible for alters to come out to do something they like to do or when they are around someone they like. 

Some alters never come out and exist only on the “inside”.  This does not invalidate them, they are still alters.  Some people have whole systems of alters that rarely or never “come out”, but that can still be felt as an internal presence. 

**Please leave a comment or email me (elliem.mail@gmail.com) with any questions or comments.** 

Monday, February 7, 2011

DID 102 - All About Alters

**This is part 2 of an educational blog series I am writing about DID.  It is based on scientific research, my experience, and the experiences of others with DID. To view all posts in the series, click on the tag “educational” on the sidebar.**

What are alters?

Alters are parts of an individual’s consciousness that have been set apart from other parts of a person’s consciousness.  The severity of this separation can vary between alters and across time.

Many people with DID and sometimes supporters of individuals with DID are concerned about the “original” personality and whether or not the presenting personality was the birth person.  While an individual with DID may be able to find a portion of their personality that seems to have been around the longest and tag that part as the “original”, it really doesn’t matter. 

Imagine a person with DID as a piece of glass.  If you snap off a piece of the glass, which part is the original?  Is it the biggest piece, the best shaped piece, or something else?  What happens when another piece breaks off and another and another?  Which piece is the original now? 

DID is not about having a “real” personalities and some other “fake” personalities.  DID is having one personality that was broken into pieces and compartmentalized so the person could keep functioning. 

How are alters created?

Alters are created when a piece of the child’s perception is isolated from the rest of his or her mind.  This can happen in several different ways, including organically and inorganically.  The way in which alters are developed depends upon the individuals intelligence, creativity, personality, circumstance, degree of abuse, type of abuse, the security of the environment, and many more factors. 

Organic Alter Creation

One way the mind can create an alter is to isolate the experiences of abuse.  An alternate personality is created and the memories of abuse are placed with that personality rather than the birth personality.  This allows the birth personality to live as if the abuse had never occurred and he or she may or may not have any conscious awareness of the past or present abuse. 

Another possibility is that an alter personality is created in the midst of a particularly traumatic or painful experience of abuse.  Sort of a “last straw” situation where the child can no longer deal with the abuse.  The child dissociates and disappears into his or her mind and another personality is created to take the abuse.  The difference between this creation and the one listed above is that the abusive experiences of the past were not isolated in an alternate personality and only future instances of abuse will be compartmentalized with this alter. 

Sometimes the original or birth personality goes entirely into hiding and may never come out again or may emerge at the very end of healing. 

Some people create different alters for every traumatic experience (this is usually referred to a polyfragmented DID), others have only one alter to take all the trauma, most people are somewhere in the middle.  Having different alters for different types of trauma seems to be fairly common: a sexual abuse alter, a physical abuse alter, etc. or even more specific: an alter for rape, an alter for oral rape, an alter for molestation, etc. 

Inorganic Alter Creation

Some people are surprised to find that alters can be created inorganically.  By inorganically I mean deliberately rather than naturally or accidentally.  This is commonly the case in ritual abuse.  I don’t want to get too far into ritual abuse as it is a very complex subject and could fill a thousand blog posts, but I do want to cover the basics as this is a pretty common cause of DID. 

Perpetrators of ritual abuse use the creation of alter personalities for two main reasons.  The first is to hide what they are doing to their victims.  If you can compartmentalize abuse in a child’s mind so that it cannot be easily or deliberately recalled by the child, than pedophile and child prostitution rings can run much more smoothly.  

In addition to alters, these groups often create unbelievable scenarios to discredit child witnesses.  For example, they may wear masks, dress up as cartoon characters, stage satanic rituals, or use special effects to trick a child into believing they witnessed or participated in a murder.  When the child finally comes forward and tries to get help, no one believes their outrageous stories and the very real abuse goes unpunished. 

The second motivation to create DID is to test the limits of the human brain for research into torture techniques and mind control.  This was done in the 70’s (there are many official government papers available online that document this) and this form of abuse may or may not be going on today.   

Many different techniques are used in the actual creation of the alter, but the most common techniques seem to be pairings of extreme fear, pain, and a disorienting drug.  The child is abused, tortured, and disoriented until he or she can no longer take the pain and dissociates, then the perpetrator(s) use suggestions and threats to form the characteristics of the new personality.  Often the perpetrators have the ability to call out particular alters through trigger words, phrases, or sounds. 

How many alters do people with DID have? 

The number of alters present in people with DID range from one to hundreds.  The number of alters depends on the intelligence, creativity, circumstances, home life, and personality of the child, among other things.  There is no way to predict the number of alters an individual with DID has. 

The average number of alters has been estimated at around 10.  There is a subset of people with DID who have what is called poly-fragmented DID, these are individuals who have dozens to hundreds or even thousands of personalities.  This is usually caused by ritual abuse and most alters may hold only an emotion or a single memory.

Do alters dress up in different clothes or have different accents? 

Not really.  Some people have alters who prefer to dress differently, although the difference is usually subtle enough to go unnoticed and it is extremely rare for people to have alters that insist on changing clothes if they appear after the individual is dressed.  Differences between alters are usually subtle and can only be detected by those who are very familiar with DID and the individual’s alters or when the alter wants other people to be able to tell it’s them.

Alters have vocal patterns than can range from nearly identical to the presenting personality’s or radically different.  Most people are in between.  Child alters are usually the most detectable, because they move and speak like children.  

**Please leave a comment or email me (elliem.mail@gmail.com) with any questions or comments.** 

DID 101 - What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?

**This is part 1 of an educational blog series I am writing about DID.  It is based on scientific research, my experience, and the experiences of others with DID.  To view all posts in the series, click on the tag "educational" on the sidebar.**

What is DID?

Individuals with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) experience disruptions in their perception of self, memories, awareness, and senses.  DID is a dissociative disorder, not an identity disorder or a psychotic disorder as people sometimes believe.  It is caused by trauma. People with DID (or other dissociative disorders) are not “crazy”, dangerous, mentally ill, or disabled (despite what the media may lead you to believe). 

When does DID develop? 

DID is caused by repeated and severe early childhood trauma.  The exact age of onset is unknown, but research indicates the trauma and onset of DID must occur before the age of 4-8, usually on the lower end of the spectrum.  

Can Adults develop DID?

DID cannot develop during an individuals teenage or adult years, but awareness of DID may not occur until an individual is much older, leading some people to believe they developed the disorder out of adult experiences.  Adult traumatic experiences may trigger a resurgence of DID symptoms, but it is important to note that these traumas are not the cause of DID. 

What causes DID?

99% of individuals with DID have a history of repeated abuse or severe trauma.  Many cases of DID are caused by ritual abuse (deliberate, often systematic abuse by cults, religions, pedophile or prostitution rings, scientists, governments, and sometimes by individuals), medical or psychological experimentation, and torture (executed by individuals or organized groups).  Some people with DID were abused by only their parent(s), but arguably, their parents tortured them.  The level of abuse required to cause DID is frequently unimaginable and generally accepted as being quite severe. 

Can I or someone I know have DID without traumatic memories? 

Not remembering part or all of childhood trauma is not uncommon in individuals with DID.  After all, the whole point of DID is to allow the child to function as normally as possible, which usually means alters are the ones receiving the abuse, not the presenting or “host” personality.  Individuals with DID usually begin recovering memories after they accept and work with their alters.  Beginning to recover memories may take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years of working with alters.  Most people will continue to recover memories throughout their life as parts begin to either communicate or integrate (become one with) the host. 

How does DID help the child? 

DID is beneficial to an abused child because it allows them to escape their pain, suffering, and dread.  There comes a point when the child has to forget the abuse to function, because to live with constant knowledge of their mistreatment would leave them incapacitated.  DID is a last resort.  It’s the mind’s final option.  

Isn’t DID obvious?  Isn’t it like Sybil?  Don’t people with DID act crazy? 

No, no, and no.  One of the biggest mistakes people make about DID (with no thanks to sensationalized media!) is that DID is an obvious disorder.  Most people with DID do not realize they are different from other people until well into adulthood.  Most people who know someone with DID do not know it. 

DID is a disorder designed to be hidden.  It is created to keep the individual safe by allowing them to lay low, escape the abuse, and simply survive.  The vast majority of DID symptoms are subjective, which means they cannot be observed by those outside the body. 

Even when people interact with DID alters, they will most likely not know it even if they know the individual has DID.  The alters know how to present themselves as one cohesive person.  Unless the system starts to break down through healing work or therapy, the system will run smoothly and be virtually undetectable to everyone besides the individual with DID and perhaps his or her therapist and/or romantic partner. 

There is a small subset of people with DID that manifests as dramatically as Sybil’s, but that is the exception rather than the rule.  Most alters will not feel comfortable to come out so flamboyantly in front of others.  As alters become more comfortable with a therapist, partner, or close friend, they will be more likely to appear as significantly different from the host.  Alters have a tendency to mimmic the host so as not to attract attention.  This allows them to go to school, hold down a job, and maintain relationships.  They may shed this tendency with people they are very comfortable around, which means they may begin speaking in their own voice (accent, tone, intonation) and moving with their own mannerisms. 

Are people with DID able to function?  Hold down a job?  Go to school? 

Yes, people with DID are able to function at a level as high (and sometimes higher!) than individuals without DID.  There are some people with DID who require hospitalization or supervision, but this is very much the exception.  It’s important to note however, that although individuals with DID are physically and mentally able to function at a high level, they are still struggling on a deep emotional level.  Most people with DID suffer from flashbacks, nightmares, depression, anxiety, and many other difficult problems that they are generally very good at hiding. 

**Please leave a comment or email me (elliem.mail@gmail.com) with any questions or comments.**