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Information on Dissocative Identity Disorder

Note: The links and information here comes from both people with the disorder as well as medical websites. I try to provide correct information, but if I make a mistake please let me know! I'm only human, after all. I am also not a medical professional, therefore I cannot diagnose you. If you suspect that you have this condition, please seek a trauma informed therapist.

What exactly is dissociative identity disorder?

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), is a disorder characterized by the presence of two or more distinct personality states (known as alters). People with this condition may also experience dissociative amnesia (memory loss that's more severe than normal forgetfulness, or cannot be explained by another medical condition), and typically have large gaps in their memory.

What is dissociation anyways?

Dissociation refers to a disconnect from thoughts, feelings, sense of identity, and/or one's surroundings. Everyone experiences normal amounts of dissociation from time to time. A common example of this is when someone is driving, arrives at their destination, and does not remember the events during the duration of their trip. When a person has a dissociative disorder, this dissociation is much more severe. It develops as a coping mechanism in response to trauma to make the person not remember the awful things that happened to them. This can range from amnesia to alternate identities, in the case of Dissociative Identity Disorder.

How many alters do people typically have?

Short Answer: As long as there is two different alters, there can be as many as the brain thinks will help/is able to split off within a lifetime.

Long Answer: Systems come in all sorts of sizes; the average differentiates, but multiple sources state it being between 12 (twelve) and 15 (fifteen). The highest number we've seen was a system in Australia with 2,500 alters. Amount of alters does not determine if someone is faking the condition; so long as someone has two or more different alters, that fits one of the criteria for DID. Polyfragmentation and sub-systems can further complicate this.

What do you mean 'sub-system'?

Sub-Systems are systems that exist within systems. To put it simply, think of it as like Russian nesting dolls: the body being the outer doll, an alter being the next doll within, and that alter's system the next doll within. Sub-systems may also refer to groups of alters within a system. Amnesic barriers can make it difficult to find and communicate with these groups, but it's a legitimate thing that happens.

What kind of jobs do alters serve?

Alter jobs are usually called 'roles', and every alter serves a purpose in the system whether they have a label for that job or not. Common roles you'll see in systems are the following:

What's an introject? I see them a lot.

An introject is an alter that is based around an outside source. They take the appearance of an external thing (such as another person, a character from a piece of media, a song, or other things that are external to the system) and may or may not have traits that coincide with that external source. Two common introject types you'll see are fictional introjects and factional introjects.

Why do some people have alters that aren't human? Like robots, ghosts, animals, or other creatures?

This could be due to trauma that the system faced. For example, if the system as a child felt like they were treated like a dog they might form a dog alter to cope with the treatment they endured. If they felt like no one could see them or hear them, they might form a ghost alter (since they felt like a ghost). Another common way people develop ghost alters is if they have a near death experience, or if they felt like they actually died or a part of them died in some way. In the case for those with other disorders like Autism and ADHD (or even LGTBQ+ people), they may have felt like their experiences and behavior were unordinary and formed an alter such as an alien or a robot.

How is this disorder formed?

From what we currently understand, DID is developed as a reaction to trauma that the brain cannot handle. Most often, DID is formed from repeated and/or extreme childhood trauma. Alters are, in essence, a coping mechanism in order to keep traumatic memories away from the forefront of the mind, keep the body safe, or do something in order to cope with the trauma happening around them.

How many people have this disorder?

Numbers are all over the place depending on what papers you look at. Those from the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s will state anywhere from .01% (800,000, or eight hundred thousand) to 1% (80,000,000, or eighty million) to the biggest percentage I've seen being 1.5% (120,000,000, or one hundred twenty million) of the global population. One paper suggests that .5 to 1% of all patients in a psychiatric setting have DID (Maldonado et al., 2002). Newer studies typically use the .5% to 1% numbers, which is about 40,000,000 (forty million) to 80,000,000 (eighty million) people worldwide. This is also about the same number of people who have schizophrenia.

Speaking of, how do you get diagnosed?

Like you would with other disorders, just with extra steps. People with DID are likely to get misdiagnosed, and it can take a few years to a decade to finally get diagnosed with DID. A psychiatrist and psychologist would need your medical history and would need to do multiple assessments to get an official diagnosis.

How is this disorder treated?

Since there's no medicine that can magically stop alters from forming/fronting/etc, treatment includes extensive talk therapy, medicines for symptoms (such as depression), and one of two options: integration or final fusion. Integration (also called healthy multiplicity) is where the alters remain, but everyone works together to function in daily life. This can look like better communication, record keeping, and front scheduling. Final fusion involves every single alter coming together to form one distinct identity.

What if I can't see a medical professional due to finances?

I would highly encourage you to seek professional help, but I know everyone's situation is different. Fortunately with the internet, resources are widely available - especially from others with the disorder. Try journaling to better understand the alters, have a method of record keeping to see when you lose time, meditate and see if you can communicate with the alters that way, learn other ways of coping with stress, and remember to not be hard on yourself. You're doing the best you can.

What disorders are comorbid/common alongside DID?

From medical research, the two most common comorbid disorders with DID are Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which makes sense. Others include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other conditions that can occur (such as developmental disorders like ADHD and Autism, or schizophrenia).

DID isn't real/This person is obviously faking it

DID is a very real condition that affects a lot of people. Due to the disorder looking different per person, it can be hard to tell when someone is intentionally being facetious; 'intentionally' being our keyword here. The person is fully aware that they are faking, and faking DID would be incredibly time consuming and mentally draining. Plus, if they were faking, it would mean they would have an underlying issue that needed to be addressed anyways.

Why are so many people that have DID part of the LGBTQ+ community?

First, and most obvious, not everyone who is under the LGBTQ+ spectrum is going to have DID. Approximately 3.5% of the US population identifies as lesbian, gay, and/or bisexual, and transgenders in the US make up less than 1% of the population. In physical numbers, that's 11,698,185 (eleven million six hundred nintey-eight thousand one hundred eighty-five) people in the US that identify as lesbian/gay/bisexual, and 1,002,702 (one million two thousand seven hundred two) people that identify as transgender. Still a lot of people, but keep in mind that our DID numbers from earlier are worldwide. Secondly, since alters have their own personalities and interests, they can fall under the LGBTQ+ spectrum just like everyone else. A system may be just beginning to explore their gender and sexuality, while another may have it all figured out. These things take time, especially when you have multiple opinions in your head!

Why do systems have alters that are introjects from recent media?

Fiction is a common way that people cope with the world around them, and fictional introjects are more common than other people might expect. This could be from a variety of reasons, including the following:

Just because you don't understand how a system functions does not make them fake. Alters can form at any time, under any circumstances, and serve any purpose for the system. The presence of introjects from recent media (and more systems with more introjects in general) may be a reflection of change in culutre, generational differences between original studies, and parenting styles shifting over the past few decades.

I'm done reading. Can I have some links now?

Sure you can!