Last week, I wrote about the horrible invalidation that comes with claims that dissociation is not real. But there is another belief about dissociation (and particularly ) which leads to an underestimation of its prevalence. That belief is supported by movies and programs like Split (horrible) and United States of Tara (not as bad).
That belief suggests Dissociative Identity Disorder (D.I.D.) manifests in extreme ways. Of course, most of us know what is wrong with Split. It portrays those with D.I.D. as criminals. But even with United States of Tara, there are extreme behavior changes when switches happen. Does that happen in reality? Absolutely. But it is important to understand D.I.D. and its purpose so we can fully understand how it works.
D.I.D. (and any form of dissociation) is not about attention seeking. It is about coping. It is meant to go undetected. Most of the parts are trying to fit in, to gain acceptance. They are trying to behave in a way that will keep others from questioning them. There are exceptions. The freedom fighters are less interested in fitting in. And the defenders will do bold things to ensure safety. But most of the time, a switch is undetectable unless you are looking for it or know the person very well. What does this mean for us? It means that D.I.D. is far more common than we think. There are many people walking around with parts who have no idea they are switching. And nobody else around them knows either.
Now you may be asking yourself how you know if D.I.D. is a part of your life. So I will take this opportunity to explore what D.I.D. looks like. Outside of Hollywood, what are the real life scenarios for those of us who deal with severe dissociation? I will give you some examples from my own life. These aren’t the most embarrassing stories. I save those for my clients. They get to hear the worst of it. But these stories will help you understand what really happens.
Quitting My Job. After college, I landed a nice job in a corporate environment. I eventually moved up to an I.T. project manager role. I was happy in this job and I was good at it. For a while, I thought I had found a home. But like trauma does, it followed me. Someone from my childhood started working at the same company. They were not an abuser, but they were someone I needed to forget to avoid my trauma memories. Seeing them every day was making me switch every day. I was losing time and I didn’t even know it. My parts would hide in my office with the door shut or call out sick, anything they could do to avoid the trigger. When he showed up at a work outing and starting picking on me for pretending not to know him, my mean kid took over and quit my job. I showed up for work the next day like nothing had happened. My coworkers were shocked. Did anyone know I had D.I.D? No. They just judged me instead.
Pulling the Fire Alarm. In my late twenties, my roommate was getting married to a man I worked with in that same job. Her fiancé’s close friend was the same man who triggered me in the first story. On her wedding day, he was significantly involved in the wedding. I was in the wedding. It was a day of constant switching and avoiding. Eventually, my parts got desperate. My karma kid took over and pulled the fire alarm at the hotel. Were they sure I did it? No (until now). Did anyone know I had D.I.D.? No. They just judged me instead.
Cheating on a Test. When I was in college, I had to take these horrible 7 hour finance exams. At one point, I panicked. I worked myself into a frenzy and could not calm down. I knew I was going to fail this test. I could not wrap my head around the problem and everything went fuzzy. We were allowed to use any resources, but we were not allowed to talk to other classmates. A freedom fighter took over and started a conversation with a classmate in the library. Another classmate was watching and turned us in. Somehow we were not thrown out of the school, but I did have to retake the horrible test. Did anyone know I had D.I.D.? No. They just judged me instead.
Chasing the Man. I went to an event in my twenties with a man I didn’t really like. He was always bragging about himself and talking down to me. My adult self wanted nothing to do with him. But at some point, my love seeker took over and begged him to go out with me. Not only did he say no, but he did it in a very condescending and shaming way. He did not understand why I was being so needy as a grown adult. Did he know I had D.I.D.? No. He just judged me instead.
Pissing Off the British. In high school, I lived in England for a while. In the last summer, I attended an Independence Day party in the town of Ipswich. The reason for the party was hush-hush considering where we were. The British aren’t super fond of that story (or could care less at this point). We came down to leave the party and discovered we were on lockdown. All the doors were locked and there were police guarding the door. We were shocked. Apparently, a football riot (that’s soccer for the Americans) had started and violence was erupting everywhere. My parts freaked out and my Prima Donna took over. She happily announced the story of American independence to all the British people in the room and explained how she was better than them. Did they know I had D.I.D.? No. They just judged me instead.
These stories bother me. They even make me cringe. My list of people I never want to see again is fairly long. But none of my stories made the news. There will be no movies about them. Nobody knew what was happening. I appeared to be a messed up, emotional person who needed to address her issues with the right therapist. But would anyone have guessed I switched. Nope. So don’t believe the hype about D.I.D. And look for the subtle yet odd behavior around you. You will see it more than you think.
Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW