**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.
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