Shirley J. Davis
One of the seldom discussed phenomenon which often accompanies Dissociative Identity Disorder is the presence of visual hallucinations. These hallucinations can take the form of seeing an alter in the mirror who looks completely different from the body of the person living with DID.
Let me further explain using one of my own experiences.
In 2016, I had a relapse. I had been doing very well, with my dissociative symptoms well-controlled and my life was manageable. Then the stress in my life increased to the point where I could no longer remain stable and I switched to an alternate persona for a ten month stretch of time. When I came to myself, I was totally disoriented as to time, place with everything in my environment looking radically different than it had ten months previous. One interesting symptom I experienced during my adjustment to my life after losing so much time was looking in the mirror and seeing someone else. I recognized the image as an alter known in my system by the name of Bianca. Bianca is eighteen-years old and has long dark hair with blue eyes. Her face is long and oval shaped. I am fifty-six years old with a round face. I have brown hair streaked with gray, and green eyes. At first I was upset and I was afraid to say anything about this troubling phenomenon for fear my family would subject me to inpatient psychiatric treatment. After a week or so, the image in the mirror reverted to my own.
I brought up the subject of seeing another alter in the mirror with the support group members I belong to which focuses on Dissociative Identity Disorder to see if any of them have experienced this type of visual hallucination. The overwhelming answer was yes.
I then performed an internet research on the subject. What I found was fascinating. While this affect is on some lists of symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder, it intrigued me that it was not on all. After some consideration, I decided that this may be because people living with DID may not report this unusual experience is for the same reason I didn’t, fear. It is important to remember that the diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder, although gaining acceptance, is controversial. If people living with DID approached some mental health professionals and reported they saw a different face in the mirror, they might find themselves being treated for the wrong disorder. Also, people with this disorder may be like I was, afraid to report this symptom to their family for fear they would deem them insane and have them hospitalized.
My overwhelming conclusion has been that it is time to open dialogue about visual hallucinations as a typical experience of many people living with Dissociative Identity Disorder. It is only with open and honest discussion that this and other symptoms of this disorder can be brought out of the shadows. This is Mental Health Awareness Month, what better time than now to start talking about DID and to begin planning for research to help people who live with this condition and those who will be diagnosed in the future.