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Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) – Does it really exist?

This is a subject that is widely debated and hugely controversial. It continues to baffle the so called “experts” as they ponder whether it really exists or is largely made up.

I don’t want you to get bogged down with all the scientific research around this (mainly because I don’t truly understand it) but fairly recent research by neuroscientists has concluded that there are large differences in the brain between people with DID and those without. It is not possible to fool these findings by pretending to have DID.

As a therapist who frequently works with clients who experience dissociation on an almost daily basis, I can assure you that it is very real indeed.

To a degree we all dissociate; how many of us have been driving to work, something we do day in and day out, got to a roundabout and thought how did I get here – I don’t remember passing the petrol station? This is dissociation – a normal response to something we do automatically when we don’t need to consciously process the route. Maybe you ‘switch off’ when a friend is telling us something for the 110th time – again this is dissociation.

Dissociation is a natural process and is not a bad or abnormal thing.

It is:

  • natural

  • automatic

  • it is what animals do

  • it reduces the effect the trauma has left

  • it protects us from things that are too awful to deal with.

I love the following description given by a speaker at a workshop I recently attended where she says,

“DID is a sane response to very insane things that happened to her throughout her childhood.”

DID is developed as a coping mechanism when there is nothing else you can do to escape the trauma.

However, there are downsides to having DID, as those who are experiencing will already be aware of. What starts off as a coping mechanism can very quickly become habitual and will impact on practically any signs of stress in everyday life, not just in response to trauma, making dissociation more and more frequent.

DID is almost exclusively brought about by prolonged and repeated abuse as a child.

DID is not rare – it affects over 1 million people in the UK alone. The actual figure could be much higher as most people try to hide it and feel shame. It is sometimes possible to ‘wear a mask’ to hide the symptoms and carry on in normal roles on a day to day basis.

DID is a disruption of ‘normal’ personality where two or more distinct parts (alters) appear causing lapses in memory, alterations in behaviour, perception and cognition to name a few. The different parts are still part of you and your personality, but can manifest themselves as different ages, different sexes and different personalities. Sometimes you will have absolutely no knowledge or memory of switching from one personality to another.

DID only develops in childhood and it is common for DID not to show for many years after the abuse has finished and many survivors will be in high powered jobs and in stable relationships when it does make an appearance. When DID does appear, it changes everything that you have known as a ‘normal life’ forever making it extremely difficult for friends and family to understand and deal with. Sometimes they can’t and will walk away.

The good news is that there is real hope and a real chance of recovery. As Janina Fisher writes “As human beings we are pre-wired for survival”.

Suzette Boon writes that “the therapeutic relationship is the most important vehicle in the treatment for clients with complex dissociative disorders. They will heal from their early interpersonal trauma in a safe therapeutic relationship that respects healthy boundaries.”

For further information, one to one therapy or advice please feel free to contact me in absolute confidence or contact PODS (Positive Outcomes for Dissociative Survivors) at www.pods-online.org.uk

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