Multiple personality disorder is actually called dissociative identity disorder, or DID, these days. It’s considered a rather rare disorder, although experts disagree about just how rare it is. Some doctors and therapists don’t believe the disorder even exists, although it is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used to diagnose psychiatric disorders and is recognized as a real disorder by both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association. As the name of the condition suggests, it’s a condition in which a person has more than one personality state, each of which regularly takes control of the body, with its own way of thinking, speaking and behaving. Sometimes a person is aware of these personality states, often referred to as alters, and sometimes she is not, in which case she may have periods of amnesia.
I was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, or multiple personality disorder, about 12 years ago. Prior to that, I had been in treatment for depression and other psychological problems for a long time, but I’m told people with DID are frequently misdiagnosed, and consequently not given the proper treatment, for years before getting an accurate diagnosis. Since DID is a relatively rare disorder, many mental health care professionals do not know how to diagnose or treat it. Getting the correct diagnosis was a real turning point for me.
The Good Days
Like anyone else, I have good days and bad days. Good days for me are not that different than good days for most people. I work. I feed my cats. I cook dinner and wash dishes. I clean the house, do the laundry, go grocery shopping, enjoy a good book, visit with friends and spend time with my partner of nearly nine years.
The difference for me is that I don’t always do those things by myself. I have alters, other personalities, that are often along for the ride. When I feed my cats, my six-year-old alter pops out to pet them for a minute. When I take a break from my work, she might come out to color a picture or my 12-year-old alter might come out to read a chapter in a Nancy Drew book. When I go grocery shopping, my nine-year-old alter might pop out to express her opinion about what kind of breakfast cereal I should buy.
My close friends know I have DID, but it doesn’t always have much of an impact on our relationships. Sometimes my child alters draw pictures and give them to my partner; he delights the kids by hanging their artwork on the refrigerator. Sometimes a child alter pops out to moo when we drive by a pasture with cows in it; sometimes one pops out to ask for ice cream if we are shopping. I’m used to this; my close friends are used to it. It’s not a big deal.
The Bad Days
And then there are the bad days. The days when I can’t find my keys because an alter put them somewhere strange, or the days when I can’t find my car because an alter parked it and I don’t know where. The days when I get lost driving home from the grocery store, even though it’s a route I drive on a regular basis. The days when I forget my telephone number. The days when I go to the bank to withdraw some cash and the teller doesn’t want to accept my check because the signature doesn’t match the one on my driver’s license because an alter signed it. And these things are just the tip of the iceberg.
There are the days when I discover several hours have passed and I have no idea what took place during that time. There are the nights I wake up screaming from nightmares, and the nights when I can’t go to bed at all because a child alter is terrified and won’t stop crying. There are the days an alter engages in some self-harming behavior. There are the days I can’t even manage basic activities like taking a shower or making lunch because I’m too depressed to get out of bed or too confused or disoriented to figure out how to do even the most basic things.
When I’m lucky, the good days outnumber the bad. Unfortunately, sometimes the bad days outnumber the good for a while.
When people ask what it’s like to live with multiple personality disorder, I think what they usually want to know about is what it’s like having other personalities. It’s hard to explain, but for me, it’s sort of like having other people around all the time that frequently share their thoughts and feelings, even when I don’t really want to know what they’re thinking and feeling. They don’t just tell me what they feel, although they frequently do talk to me; often I can also feel their feelings, which is a strange sensation. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out which feelings are mine and which feelings belong to someone else. It’s a peculiar thing to watch another personality take control of my body, to be surprised by the words that come out of my mouth.
Living with multiple personalities requires a lot of compromise. If several personalities share the same body, they have to take turns doing things. It’s not like I can go to work while the nine-year-old colors and the six-year-old takes a nap, all at the same time. Different personalities have different preferences and even different needs at times. It can be a challenge to balance it all.
Behave Net. http://www.behavenet.com/dissociative-identity-disorder. Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Medscape. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/916186-overview. Child Abuse and Neglect, Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Alderman, Tracy and Karen Marshall. Amongst Ourselves: A Self-Help Guide to Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder. 1998.