Happy DID Awareness Day!
This is a brief explanation of how the pandemic affected my mental health and is a simplified explanation of what DID really is.
Early in the pandemic, we spent a lot of time by ourself. We had just moved into our dad’s full-time, he worked all day and our brother was still living with our mom. For the first time in nearly 20 years, we were alone. And we were safe. We could sing at the top of our lungs all day and blast our music as loud as we wanted. We didn’t have to tiptoe around, predicting whatever our mom was going to blow up about when she got home. We felt free. What we didn’t realize at the time, was that safety and freedom came with the ability to rest. To just breathe. We didn’t have to hide who we were anymore. Many autistics and systems alike can understand just how exhausting masking can be. So when we finally felt safe, we allowed the mask to slip. We had no idea what would come after.
Being safe and no longer in an environment of constant abuse caused our mental walls, known as dissociative barriers, to become a little thinner. Initially, I figured what we were experiencing was just part of my gender exploration and c-PTSD. I dismissed the presence and voices I began to notice as “just my subconscious”. I figured the rapid swings in preference and presentation were because we were genderfluid. But I soon started experiencing debilitating dissociation, or a disconnect from my sense of self and/or the world around me. We began to have more extensive and more frequent gaps in memory. I often didn’t recognize my reflection, it seemed like we were entirely different people. There was something going on, but none of my doctors or therapists could figure it out. A few years (and a handful of therapists) later, I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, abbreviated as DID.
For those that don’t know, DID is a trauma-based dissociative disorder characterized by the existence of 2 or more distinct identity states accompanied by changes in behavior, memory, and thinking. In previous editions of the DSM and ICM, it is known as Multiple Personality Disorder. DID occurs in response to recurrent overwhelming, traumatic events and/or chronic abuse suffered throughout early childhood. It is a disorder that uses dissociation to “wall off” traumatic memories. The diffusion of traumatic memories is often what creates these alternate identity states. The best way we can describe our experience as a DID system is that throughout our childhood, our brain reached points where it could no longer accept and process what was happening to and around us. Our brain would “wall off” these memories and assign them to specific “sysmates”, also known as identity states, alters, parts, people, etc. (terms like these are often personal and use varies by preference or structure of one’s system). This compartmentalization aims to retain some level of functioning while experiencing ongoing trauma and it’s after effects. This delegation and restriction of memories changed the course for who I, or rather we, would be. Access to memories and other sysmates’ lived experiences affect each of us differently. Over time we developed our own likes, dislikes, beliefs, and views. Often consistent with each sysmate’s access to information, as well as our unique relationships with friends and family. So each time the brain reached that ‘trauma threshold’ and built a new dissociative barrier, an alter would ‘split’. They’d start creating their own memories and having their own experiences separate from and often unaware of the existence of the others. The specifics of who remembers what, who “fronts” (has physical control of the body) when and where, and how everything meshes varies significantly from system to system. So don’t assume or expect to know what every person with DID goes through just because you read this post. Like every other minority group, we are not a monolith.
Despite what some people on social media platforms might portray, DID is no picnic. And unlike most on-screen portrayals, we aren’t super-powered serial killers who can climb walls. Time loss, amnesia, forgetting important dates and events because you weren’t fronting or co-conscious when the plans were made. Don’t even get me started on relationships or the fact that alters can go dormant (if not needed for daily functioning or for emotional/physical protection), alters can become inactive for periods of time. Life with DID can be pretty complicated and exhausting. You have your bad days like with any other mental illness. But you also have your good days. And we always try to make the most out of those.