Your Questions Answered About: Dissociative Identity Disorder

As a follow up to our interview with Makayla, we asked the HAIF community for their questions about DID.

How accurate is the movie Split compared to real life DID?
Like all movies and media where characters have DID – not very accurate.  However, there are some things that Split got right.  Like how different the presentation of alters can be and how dissociation can impact a person.  They also showed some tender moments with alters, although mostly only to humanize “The Beast.”  It’s far better than Sybil, not as accurate as United States of Tara and all of them are harmful to society’s perception of these child abuse survivors.

How does it differ from PTSD-related dissociation?
According to research and our conversations with our PTSD friends, not by much actually.  The structural dissociation model says that the difference between PTSD and DID is mostly about number and types of parts.  With PTSD, patients separate into two parts only – the part that goes on with life as normal and the part that had the traumatic experience. In DID, patients most commonly have more than one “going on with normal life part” and more than one “had a traumatic experience” part.

Unlike DID, PTSD can occur after the ego states merge in childhood and as a result of a single trauma. We believe that this is the reason the parts in those with PTSD are not as developed or divided as in those with DID, C-PTSD or BPD.  While the diagnostic criteria would say that a major difference between the two is that DID patients also experience dissociative amnesia – many PTSD patients also describe not knowing what happened when they were triggered but answer “No” when asked about dissociative amnesia, so we aren’t sure that’s a true difference but it is worth a mention.
The most distinct difference would be the separation and distinction between parts.  From what we know, with PTSD – there is often a knowledge of what the trauma related part is doing but no control over their actions can be obtained.  Those out of body experiences happen in DID patients as well but sometimes there is also no knowledge of what is happening when one of the trauma related parts is triggered and fronting. In our opinion, the main difference between the two is that PTSD parts are mostly overwhelming feelings, and a trauma response to triggers. DID parts are fully fleshed out personalities with their own identities, personalities, preferences and triggers.

What does DID look like in an undiagnosed person? 
In an undiagnosed system it’s common that they look like a “normal” person.  Most systems are extremely covert and don’t want to be discovered so it is often hard to tell a switch has even happened.  Many alters pretend to be the normal life self when they are out.  Often systems without a diagnosis don’t even know they have DID and many don’t remember trauma.  So a system that is undiagnosed would look like any other person in the world.

Is there a treatment for DID?
No.  There isn’t a cure and there isn’t a way to prevent future splitting of the identity during stress or trauma. There isn’t a standard treatment and most medical professionals that do treat it are using outdated methods.  We found that using a combination of coping skills and grounding techniques learned in therapy while applying the parts approach from Janina Fisher was the key to our treatment success.

How did you tell your friends and family about your condition? And how did they react?
Truthfully, we isolated ourselves quite a bit and didn’t really have that many people close enough to tell.  It went in a variety of ways.  People who knew us well were able to automatically identify parts in our behavior over the years. Our grandmother said, “well yea – that makes sense, who’s the one that gets so mad?” Our mother denied the abuse and told us she protected us and the trauma never happened. And most people who didn’t know well us asked, “None of you are going to kill me, right?”

How do you deal with it at the workplace?
Currently, we control our own income and work from home operating businesses we own so we are fortunate to not have this worry now.  However, earlier in life it was a different story.  We spent a lot of time in the bathroom trying to “get it together” but that often resulted in a switch.  Most often to Lydia who would then take an extended to lunch to meet a guy on Tinder, masturbate in the bathroom and/or have sex with co-worker. Lydia got us written up several times for yelling and challenging customers.  Often she would just quit a job abruptly or stop showing up entirely.  We were only aware of what she did at work back then, we have owned our business and worked for ourself for a few years.

How does it feel in normal day to day situations?
For us, it feels not real and we’ve accepted that will be how our life is.  Currently we are working on blending in and out with each other instead of fully switching when we can control it. We can’t control what happens when triggered but we can control who helps out with certain tasks.
Our system switches about 5 to 7 times a day on our best days.  On our average days we have about 20 switches.  It’s disorienting and confusing but we have notes and reminders everywhere to help everyone the get through the day.

How can you support a friend who was newly diagnosed with DID?
Treat each of their alters like they are your friend.  Don’t pick favorites or react negatively to switches.  Keep checking in on them – even if they say they are fine and it isn’t a big deal.  Ask if they need you to repeat what you said if you think they were dissociated.  Try to make them feel like them dissociating is a normal part of being their friend.  Ask before offering advice or a solution to a problem they list.  Don’t question their diagnosis or inconsistencies in parts or their system.

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