As small children, we would hide in our small corner and talk as if we were someone else, playing the role of our mothers, fathers or our favorite cartoon characters. That was normal. Clinically, it was also normal for children to portray someone else after being scolded or reprimanded by their parents in order to forget their emotions of hurt, anger, or physical pain. They use this as a form of defense mechanism so the hurt would go away, as if in their heads, the situation never occurred. They have successfully ‘dissociated.’
As adults, we too experience a normal type of dissociation in the form of daydreaming. In daydreaming, we try to picture ourselves in that skimpy suit or that luxury car we’ve always wanted to buy, or in a situation where we were always happy and had everything we wished for. We think of ourselves as someone else who was happier, especially when we are in a gloomy relationship or marriage or a tough family situation. Dissociative identity disorder occurs possibly when an individual has suffered from recurring traumatic events during his childhood, such as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. What makes it worse is, if left untreated, the person would turn to drugs and alcohol, further needing help with addiction, aside from the original problem.
So what really is DID and how do we know when someone has it? Clinically, dissociative identity disorder is classified as a mental disorder wherein a person possesses two or more specific personalities — each having distinct patterns of behavior in their corresponding environments. It is interchangeably called multiple personality disorder, as it is characterized by having multiple splits, called alters. These alters, or other personalities of the individual, later develop in adulthood as a defense for the real person and express themselves in different moods and behaviors to help pacify the real person. This is a way of coping with anxiety, depression or stress.
Living with DID
Most movies that we’ve seen portray people with multiple personality disorders as the villain. Perhaps, this may be due to frequent venting of their anger or crying wildly while the actors struggle to find an escape from the prison cell from which the villain has placed them. Actually, they do have bouts of venting and crying in some of their moments. Most often they reportedly forget they did, because they’ve dissociated.
The life of a person with dissociative identity disorder cannot be described as simple or routine – it is never routine. One day he wakes up early and says he has to go to work. The next day he’s still in his pajamas at 4 PM. He might be driving to school to pick up his kid but never gets there because his mind was ‘in another place in time.’ In worst instances, the main person fights with his suicidal alter just to survive!
Individuals who are diagnosed with DID usually have a gamut of mental disorders like anxiety, depressive disorder, schizophrenia, and seizures. They are advised to seek treatment to address these psychological issues that are affecting them. They usually respond to talk therapy, psychotherapy, and hypnotherapy. These types of treatments pacify their manic alter and enable the main person to be in control of himself.
No matter what kind of treatment is utilized, the goal should always be to guide these individuals in learning how to process their past hurts and cultivate new coping skills in order to improve themselves and their relationships.