What Is It Like Having Dissociative Identity Disorder?

April 25, 2018 | No Comments » | Topics: Life Experiences

(art: Paulo Sérgio Zerbato)

My ex-husband, a Scientist (Tim Cornwell), asked me to answer the question as to what it’s like to have DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder). I’ve been thinking about how to answer this for several days. It’s both a tough question and an easy one.

My DID had become more difficult because we were in the middle of selling our home in Australia and moving to the UK. Stress exacerbates my condition. I had been feeling panicky and I think I was losing bits of time. Losing time just means that someone else in my internal system is taking over for me. That is basically what DID is all about. During a child’s most creative years (3-6 years mostly), and if there is horrible abuse/trauma to that child, the child creates different “alters” to take over and protect the main “self” from having to deal with the trauma. It also sets the person up for victimization in later life.

For example, I was gang raped in a University fraternity house. I know something happened, but it wasn’t until years later that the true horror of the memory came through by abreaction (abreaction /ab·re·ac·tion/ (ab″re-ak´shun) the reliving of an experience in such a way that previously repressed emotions associated with it are released.). I don’t know for sure if “I” experienced that rape or if it was a more willing alter (some children are trained to take part in sexual episodes with perpetrators, so they might feel that inappropriate sexual activity is OK).

I didn’t actually get diagnosed until my early forties. I was having periods of depression and “body memories” as well as uncomfortable dreams. I was working more than full-time, studying for a Masters degree in Counseling, and volunteering for the United Way (determining allocation for trauma non-profits such as a rape crisis center). All of this was stressful and triggering.

One night, I went home from work, wrote a suicide note saying “Judi go bye bye” and took an overdose of antidepressants washing those down with wine. During this time, I remember looking down from the ceiling at the young person who was trying to die. Fortunately, there was an older “alter” around who called our Psychiatrist who called an ambulance. I spent the next month in a psychiatric hospital. Although I was diagnosed DID, I wasn’t really treated for it. I did, however, learn that making collages was a brilliant way of allowing my alters to speak.

I lost my job soon after the hospital stay and I actually dissociated my diagnosis of DID….meaning I forgot all about it until several years later. I met my husband, we married, and that is when my alters started to emerge big time. I think they (my alters) felt comfortable enough with Tim to come out and talk about their abuse.

I found a specialist therapist who dealt mainly with trauma and dissociation. The first alter that came out in therapy (while Tim was with me in that office), was little 3 year old Amy. Amy was adorable, and apparently the other alters “push” out the cute little ones to gain acceptance.

At this point, I unfortunately had to quit my job and go on disability. I was devastated.

The following couple of years many alters emerged – female, male, partial, fully “formed”, angry, man hater, charming, mean, suicidal, etc. Each alter had to be dealt with and their specific issues expressed. I went through many abreactions of sexual abuse as a child, and various rapes experienced as an adult. One abreaction occurred while watching a movie, and the child alter went into the bathroom turning around and screaming (just one of many similar occurrences). This was not a fun time for either me or my patient husband (who had issues of his own to deal with). It’s a surprise that we made it through that time.

I was hospitalized twice after this. The first, was at a Colin Ross hospital ward in Dallas, Texas. (You don’t want me to get started on that experience!) And in 2010, I was hospitalized in Australia because I was having difficulty coming off of the antidepressant, Effexor. I had two alters that “came out” in the Sydney hospital. One was a 15 year old girl who wanted to do a runner from the hospital (they moved me to a more secure room), and the other was a 4 year old who went into the nurses station and lay on the floor talking like a child. The poor male night nurse had no idea what to do with me, so he had me follow him while he did his rounds. I eventually came back to “me”.

I don’t know if I have answered the question as to what it’s like to be DID. One way I express it is that it is like being in a bubble and that looking out is like looking at a postcard. I think most people with DID experience it differently. For example, I am mostly co-conscious. I can usually tell that someone has taken over my body/mind and I can watch what is happening. I can’t always do anything about it though. It took me a while to believe that I was DID (and what had happened to make me so), but I will say now that there is no question that DID exists. I hope that the medical community accepts DID as real and learns how to treat it; otherwise it is a disservice to those people who have already been so badly hurt.

I would be glad to answer any questions about what I have posted here. I’m sure I have left out some important events or information.

Update: While living in England, my husband had an affair with a much younger woman. That event along with feeling betrayed and extremely isolated, made me suicidal. I (an alter) attempted suicide seven times by taking overdoses of medication. Several of those times I was transported to hospital on an emergency basis. I obviously survived.

My biggest ongoing problem is with body memories. They are intense sexual feelings that make me want to hit my head against the wall. They are exacerbated by stress. I do a craft I love, and that is an excellent distraction. Medication also helps.

I am happy to say that we divorced and I now live on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, USA. I met a wonderful man (online) who accepts my DID and we are happily living together.

I guess this is where I will say there is love and fulfilling life after devastation.

J. Lowell