There is a lot of confusion in the minds of people living with Dissociative Identity Disorder, mental health clinicians, and the general public about what the different parts involved in DID actually are and how they are formed. I would like to try to shed some light on this important subject. Although I am not a mental health professional myself, I have a lifetime of lived experience and have read thousands of papers and other documents on the subject. Hang onto your hats as I try to explain just what are these alters that inhabit the minds of people with dissociative identity disorder.
All humans have differing ego states formed to handle the different situations we encounter in our lives. We begin forming them at birth (some argue even before) and we continue to do so until we die. An example might be as follows:
You are a young child and you encounter a dog for the first time. Your immediate reaction may be fascination possibly followed by fear. You form a new part who is learning about what the animal is and what actions are appropriate. When you see another dog in the future this ego state will become activated or energized to deal with the new situation with a different dog drawing on your memory of what happened in your first encounter.
Everyone has different ego states to handle differing situations. You have a part who handles the work environment while another part behaves quite differently after work with your buddies in a bar. Most people behave radically differently when visiting their parents than they do with their best friend. There’s nothing abnormal or unreal about this at all. All humans are the sum of their parts.
Where the difference happens is communication. In a person who has not lived through severe and early childhood trauma, these ego states or parts can communicate almost seamlessly. There is a running narrative of thought and behavior that runs between them so while no one remembers everything they do in a day, life is experienced as a flow of time and experiences.
When a child is exposed to the severe and repeated trauma they are unable to understand let alone cope with what is happening to them. Like everyone else, they form new ego states to handle each situation as it occurs, however there is an amazing difference. Barriers are thrown up between the parts to help the child survive and remain sane and so communication between the person’s ego states are disrupted. Because of the barriers between the parts, life is experienced quite differently than people without them. On an average day, because of the lack of communication, a person like myself living with DID will experience life in jumps and starts having different ego states become activated (triggered) and because of the amnesiac barriers, not experiencing a flow in the passing of time.
I know this piece is very short, but the intent was to begin a dialogue. The message I’m trying to convey anyone who will read my stuff or listen to my speeches is this; people who live with Dissociative Identity Disorder are not weird or strange, we are just like everyone else only our minds have had to do some pretty neat tricks to remain sane. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me through this blog. Like I’ve stated, I am not professional but I have tons of lived experience.