In the Beginning – Dissociation and Me
Disclaimer: The personal account of Missing In Sight is subject to gaps in memory and distortions of time and events. But the happenings listed are true to the best of our knowledge.
When most people hear the name Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, they either run away in fear, judge, or associate the diagnosis with the extreme stories of Sybil, Truddi Chase, and the Three Faces of Eve. That is not how we are.
A simple explanation of Dissociative Disorders is that they run on a spectrum, from just trancing out to poly-fragmented D.I.D, which includes alternate personalities and parts.
Everyone dissociates. The most common example is when one is driving a car and they “zone out” and all of a sudden find themselves in a new place or arriving at their destination and not remembering how they got there. So, in and of itself, dissociation is not uncommon and normal.
But Dissociative Identity Disorder (D.I.D.) is a different animal. It occurs from years of physical and/or sexual abuse or neglect in childhood where the child has to split off to cope with the abuse. The child lives in another world in order to cope with the trauma she is experiencing, and she compartmentalizes her feelings which manifest themselves as parts or alters who take over when she is overwhelmed and unable to cope. We all have “parts” of ourself. Sometimes you will hear someone say, “Part of me just doesn’t know what to do.” With D.I.D., the “parts” carry feelings and thoughts they other parts of ourselves do not know.
Some of the symptoms of D.I.D. are losing time, sometimes minutes, sometimes hours, sometimes years. Major life events may have occurred such as weddings, deaths, graduations, and she has no recollection of them taking place. Time is a foreign concept for her. She may find items in her possession, such as clothes, books, music, that she has no recollection of buying. She may be encounter people with whom she is unfamiliar but who know her intimately. She may also hear voices, laughter, arguing inside her head (not to be confused with schizophrenia, who hear voices from the outside, whereas people with D.I.D. hear voices from the inside.) She may discover writing that she completed, but not recognize the handwriting because one of her parts finished it for her. She may feel unreal, scattered, fuzzy in the head, and like she is watching herself like a movie.
When I was first diagnosed with the disorder, it was called Multiple Personality Disorder (M.P.D.), which is much scarier than the benign diagnosis of D.I.D. To be diagnosed with M.P.D. meant the stigma of being crazy, abnormal, weird, and a freak. No one you would want to know.
I was diagnosed in the early 90s by Dr. C., my psychiatrist/therapist, who I had been seeing for about 3-5 years. I began seeing Dr. C, while being hospitalized in 1992. In those days, long hospital stays were the norm, and I was in the hospital, in some form, as an inpatient, in the half-way house, or in the Partial Program, for almost a year. During my stay in the hospital and in outpatient therapy, I was diagnosed with many different illnesses. It was thought that I had Clinical Depression, Bi-Polar depression (as it was called then), Anxiety Disorders, Borderline Personality Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Alcoholism, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and insanity in general. In my research, I would come to learn that many patients diagnosed with D.I.D. go through an average of seven years in the mental health system with the wrong diagnosis.
After seeing Dr. C for many years, he diagnosed me with M.P.D., but I wasn’t believing it. I knew why he gave me the diagnosis, but I wouldn’t believe it. To me, telling me I had M.P.D. was telling me I was abnormal, a freak, I was crazy. I just couldn’t believe that something so serious was wrong with me. So I left seeing him. But — somewhere deep, deep, deep down inside — there was a nagging feeling that there was some truth to his diagnosis.
But I found a new therapist, Tammy, had interned at the hospital I had previously been in, who was now a licensed counselor. I trusted that she wouldn’t deliver such an erroneous diagnosis to me and would help me with the issues of childhood trauma I knew with which I was dealing. But that was all the help I wanted. After seeing her for I can’t I remember how long, I told her incredulously the diagnosis Dr. C had given me, and she laughed at me and told me it was true. She agreed independently with his diagnosis. She said she had known it for a while; said she had recognized it in me.
So I ended up splitting ties with her. I knew there was something wrong with me, but I didn’t want to believe it was M.P.D. I knew I was losing time, hours, days. I was finding things in my closet and on my iPod I didn’t buy. I saw the handwriting shifts in my journal. I would hear voices. I would come across people whom I didn’t know but that knew me and treated me like a close friend. I would take tests at school, never missing a class, but have no idea what the answers were to the questions on the test. I would see notes in my school binders that were made by “me”, but that I would have no recollection of writing. I also engaged in alcohol abuse, eating disordered behavior, and self-mutilation, all symptoms of M.P.D. I knew the signs of M.P.D. were there, but I didn’t want to face them.
I decided to hang up therapy. I wasn’t ready to deal with the chaos in my life. I wasn’t ready to deal with the diagnosis twice given me. Interestingly, a part of me had actually partially accepted the diagnosis. Incidents would happen to me, I would miss time or find a strange blouse in my closet, and I would laugh it off and say, “Oh, that’s my M.P.D. again.” I knew on some level that it was true. Still, I pushed it behind me. You see, most people with D.I.D. (aka M.P.D.) don’t want the diagnosis because of it’s stigma.
Several years went by and, to make a long story short, I ended up in therapy again. I told this new therapist, Randy, about the prior diagnoses, and he asked me endless questions over a series of several sessions. I could tell he was trying to ascertain whether the diagnosis was correct. I was honest with him about my symptoms. They were interfering with my life, and I couldn’t hide them anymore.
In the end, he was the third therapist to make the same diagnosis. So, by three independent therapists, I had been diagnosed with D.I.D. (M.P.D.). The diagnosis was in my face, and I couldn’t run from it anymore. Although I didn’t embrace the idea of having a dissociative disorder, I couldn’t deny it completely.
My dissociation is a result of many years of child abuse. Sometimes my parts are quieter, sometimes they are more active. Each part has a need, and it’s hard to meet everybody’s need. Integration is not our goal, but cooperation among the system is a must. It is an idea that I still have trouble with, but on which I am working. Many, many times I just want to ignore them and wish they would go away, but that is absolutely not the way it works. They survived the abuse for me. It’s their turn to get their needs met. I’m learning how to do that without hating them for being in existence, which is one of the hardest things I have to deal with: not hating them.
Most people with D.I.D. go on to live very productive, fulfilling lives. Once they learn to manage their D.I.D., they become lawyers, doctors, therapists, and teachers.
Most people do not know I have D.I.D. It’s not a scarlet letter I wear on my chest. In fact, my own therapist rarely knows when I’m switching from one part to another. We make the transition so smoothly as to keep us safe and out of danger from uncomfortable situations.
When we told our biological family that we had D.I.D., the words they first uttered were, “That explains a lot.” Just recently, I was told by the birth mother, who is friends with a former friend of mine, that this former friend knows I have D.I.D. When my birth mother asked her how she knows, she said she lived with me long enough to know something wasn’t right. My parts had said some hurtful, unkind, mean things to this friend, who told birth mother that she knew there were at least three parts that acted out against her. It broke my heart to hear this.
Mostly these days I experience D.I.D. as extreme anxiety, fuzziness in my head, pressure behind my eyes, and an inability to think. It occurs mostly in situations in which I find anxiety provoking and things that are difficult to handle. My symptoms had subsided, but recently, for reasons unknown to me, I’ve had a resurgence in them.
For example, I recently started reading a book I borrowed from my “daughter”, only to realize the book was so familiar. Then I realized I had already read the book but have no knowledge of it. I’ve recently lost time, conversations, and therapy sessions. There have been blog postings I don’t remember writing, and I’ve found music that I don’t remember buying. This all tells me my system needs more attention, because if I don’t give it to them, they’ll take it anyway.
I am a work in progress. Just like everyone else, I have my good days and my bad days, times when I can handle life, and moments when it’s more of a challenge. Living with D.I.D. can be stressful and challenging, but it is not the insanity sentence I once thought it to be. It is not the one-way ticket on the crazy train as I feared. It doesn’t indict us as being sub-par and unworthy. It’s simply a different way of life, a special way of handling ourselves. We are normal, we just cope with life differently, and I’m slowly and painfully learning that that is okay.
We are okay and that’s good enough. We are much more than good enough.
This is just a small idea of what life is like for someone who deals with D.I.D. For a more inclusive explanation of dissociation, causes, and symptoms, please visit the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation.