Me, We, What?

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Shirley J. Davis

People are perplexed when they try to gain an understanding of what it must be like to live life with their personality splintered. Even therapists are often jumbled when it comes to conceiving of how it must be to constantly live in a world where one is never truly alone because of ego states existing in a different form than their own. However, it isn’t just the public and therapists who can be confused. I have lived with Dissociative Identity Disorder all my life (56 years), yet I sometimes forget that these parts that exist inside my mind aren’t other people, they are parts of my personality who have been separated in early childhood. Part of the public confusion stems from the name the diagnosis was once known as, Multiple Personality Disorder, and the way that Hollywood and other media have depicted folks like myself.

All humans have one personality and develop different ego states to handle the differing life situations we find ourselves experiencing in life. For instance, a person acts differently with a group of friends at a party than they would at work. Also, one might act widely differently with parents than out on a hot date. In most people, these different ego states can communicate and thus a person has a running narrative of what they have been doing and with whom.

In a dissociated individual, these ego states have become disconnected. They have been separated by amnesiac barriers that we began to construct in early childhood because of severe and repetitive traumatic events. This was an ingenious way for us to stay sane in an insane situation.  Our worlds, as children, was hazardous and we lacked the support and nurturance that helps small minds to form cohesive personalities. Abuse is only one form of trauma that can cause this splintering, yet is, unfortunately, the most common.

I have had therapists who have gotten confused when speaking to me about my alters. They have spoken of them as though they were other people living in my head. Indeed, sometimes it is tough for me to remember sometimes that the alters I have come to know and love are not separate entities but parts of myself. I am guilty of speak to and of myself in the plural pronoun “we”.  This confusion is only made worse because all of my alters have their own ideas of how the world works, their own desires, their own thoughts on how we should address, and so on. I must constantly remind myself that they are me and I am them. Sometimes the noise in here is incredible.

There is no reason for anyone to fear a person like myself who has alters. We aren’t strange or weird people at all. We are ordinary humans who have found a rather spectacular way to mitigate the effects of severe trauma when we were too young to understand what was happening.  I hope people will read articles like this one and stop thinking of folks like myself as side shows, and start doing the research to help us live happy and productive lives.