Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder

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This article first appeared in the October, 2009 edition of The INsider newsletter. 

I was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID) in May of 2005. Dissociative identity disorder is a complex disorder that is caused by repeated, prolonged abuse. The kinds of abuse that cause DID can be physical or sexual but often are a combination of physical, sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse.

Many people who develop DID do so as a result of abuse that begins early in childhood. In my case, the abuse began in vitro, with violence done by and to my mother. So though I wasn’t diagnosed with DID until I was forty-six, I’ve had this disorder all my life. 

The extreme abuse that causes DID creates a disorder that affects a person on all levels. For example, my nervous system has been damaged by decades of living in fear and by the physical violence I suffered. The combined forms of abuse also damaged my emotional state and my spiritual being to the point where I needed therapy to relearn the idea that I really am human and that I deserve to exist. 

Movies like Sybil and The Three Faces of Eve, created when DID was called Multiple Personality Disorder, show how difficult it is for an adult living with DID to function in society. As the names of this disorder suggest, more than one personality exists inside a person with DID. The DSM-IV says that at least two distinct personalities need to be present for a diagnosis of DID. I had several dozen by the time I was five, and remember at that time deciding that I wouldn’t have more than 207 because that was the number of 

bones known to be in the human body at that time. From my childlike perspective, if I had more inner personalities than bones, I wouldn’t know where to put them. 

One of the things about DID that I haven’t heard talked about is how, why and when the inner personalities, or inner ones, are created. In writing Sky Eyes, a fictionalized memoir about my life growing up with DID, I thought through the catalysts that prompted the development of each personality and my logic in creating them. 

Marla, for example, was created when I was about two. Marla is good at finding food. She learned to find leftovers in the paper sack beside the sink when I wasn’t allowed to eat. She was also good at hiding things so was able to create stashes of food. I created her when I was so desperate for food yet so terrified of taking food from my parents that I needed a separate part of me to do that for me. 

As a child, I didn’t have what is called “co-consciousness.” Co-consciousness is an awareness of other Inner Ones. Sometimes I would see myself doing something yet feel like I was watching someone else on television. Often as a child I would just blank out when an inner one came to the surface. I should also note that though I am female, I have male personalities as well as animal and inanimate object personalities like radios. 

Examples of some of the functions of the inner ones: 

George: Developed when I was four, to take beatings. 

Radio: Developed when I was six or seven, to play music to drown out my parents’ arguments. 

Sunny: Developed when I was three or four, to be bright and happy no matter what happened. DID is a disorder that demands constant adjustment.

Since each inner one was created for a specific job, as an adult I would be able to do a part of a job, say weeding a garden, using George’s strength. I didn’t know at that time that I was George but would feel masculine and strong. Then I’d stub my toe and two year-old “Suzette” would come out and throw a tantrum. When I sang, “Julia” would use my vocal chords while another inner ine memorized words. As you can see, sometimes, as in the garden example, the inner ones worked separately, and sometimes as in the music example, several parts worked together. 

The biggest challenge of having DID is showing a consistent personality to the world. Because DID is largely an invisible disorder that is often misdiagnosed as posttraumatic stress disorder, ADHD, panic disorder, depression, or other things, I was often judged as being immature or inconsistent and received very little understanding. The most helpful counseling I received taught me to develop inner communication and to develop a sense of safety that has allowed many of my inner ones to integrate with my main personality. 

Though I’m still struggling to heal my nervous system and am still unable to maintain a work schedule, I do freelance writing and artwork and sing original songs in local coffee shops and outdoor fairs. I do excellent work but have a very hard time promoting myself. I’m fortunate to have been married to my husband for almost twenty-three years now. He has provided me a stable life, a nice home and a wonderful yard where I can commune with nature. 


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