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Dissociative Identity Disorder

Dissociative Identity Disorder

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, is a dissociative disorder in which a person develops alternating identities. These identities may have unique mannerisms, names, characteristics and voices (i.e.: accents, wearing glasses, differing ages).

According the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), people who have DID may feel as though multiple voices are trying to take over at once. Many people experience gaps in their memory, including memories of trauma, personal information and daily events.

Video courtesy of The Labyrinth System. Read below for the Q&A.

Terms to know (scroll)

Alter
Typically short for alternate personality, alter ego, alternate, alternative identity, or most commonly, a system member.

Big
A resident of the shared body that usually denotes those that are not children, or littles.

Fragment
Lesser developed alters who have one sole purpose and less of a full personhood compared with fully developed system members. These alters may or may not have names or other personified traits. (Also referred to as splinters.)

Fronting
The act of being the alter that is aware of and in control of the body’s physical actions and presence.

Inner World
The world which exists inside a plural’s head and where system members may go when not fronting. (Also referred to as headspace.)

Insider
A system member, or resident of a shared body.

Little
A child system member when the inner world contains two or more alters. Littles are often between the ages of 8 and 12. Most systems also have a form of protectiveness for littles.

Switching
The act of one system member leaving the front and another system member beginning to front.

System
The group of system members within a body can be referred to collectively as a system. (Also referred to as a group, collective, house, or some other title given.)

For a more comprehensive list, please visit adviceformultiples.tumblr.com and astraeasweb.net.

Approximately 2 percent of people have Dissociative Identity Disorder. Women are more likely to be diagnosed while men are more likely to deny symptoms and trauma history. Men are also more likely to exhibit violent behavior* rather than amnesia.

*Note: People with DID are not commonly violent, and if they do exhibit violent behavior, they are more likely to harm themselves than others. Moreover, they are often the victim of violence rather than the person committing the act. This is a misconception that leads to an inaccurate representation of dissociative disorders and people with DID in popular media.

Dissociative disorders usually appear as a way to deal with past trauma. Some alternate identities, called “alters,” have designated jobs, such as acting as a “keeper” for trauma memories or as a protector from verbal or physical attacks.

Diagnosis & Treatment

To diagnose DID, doctors can use a series of tests to rule out chances that physical conditions might be causing memory loss.

Once physical conditions are ruled out, mental health professionals are consulted for an evaluation. They look for the main indicators of DID (alters with unique characteristics).

There is no one cure-all for dissociative disorders, and people with DID look for ways to live with it rather than cure it.

Treatment to assist in adjusting to DID include:

Psychotherapy:
⚬ Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – therapy that challenges negative thoughts a person has about themself or the world in order change unwanted behaviors
⚬ Dialectical Behavioral Therapy – a cognitive therapy that was originally developed to treat people who were chronically suicidal and were diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing – used to alleviate distress associated with trauma.

Medication:
⚬ Antidepressants to treat related conditions, including PTSD, Borderline Personality Disorder, substance abuse, depression and anxiety.

DID in Media

Video courtesy of Universal Pictures.

In a quick Google search, you’ll find lists of movies—on IMDB, Ranker and Den of Geek, to name a few—that rank “the best” movies about multiple personalities. And if you look closely to what those movies are about, you’ll find many of them fall into the Horror, Thriller, Suspence, Drama and Action genres. Some of these titles include “Fight Club,” “Psycho,” “Secret Window,” and “Split,” which was released in January 2017.

Courtesy of IMDB.


One of the most common stories we hear as children is about “Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde,” which even made an appearance in the 1994 children’s film, “The Pagemaster.” People are introduced to the concept of one body hosting alternate identities from a young age, and rarely (aside from movies such as documentary “The Woman with 7 Personalities” and 1976’s “Sybil”*) do these stories and movies discuss DID as a realistic mental health issue.

*Note: “Sybil” is a book and film based on real-life Sybil, Shirley Mason. Later in life, Mason wrote to her psychiatrist, Connie Wilbur, admitting she had faked her symptoms. These events are explained in Debbie Nathan’s “Sybil Exposed.”

The Labyrinth System, a system of 12 alters, use their YouTube channel to educate on and spread awareness of DID. In this interview, we discuss living with DID, representation in media and what advice they would give to others who have recently been diagnosed. Scroll for more.

Mental Health Monday: When did you find out you had DID? How did you feel?
The Labyrinth System: I was diagnosed at 15. It was a mix of feeling relieved and scared. Relieved to know what was going on but scared to be diagnosed with this disorder I had only seen portrayed as scary before.

MHM: One main symptom of DID is a difficulty remembering things, whether it’s for gaps of time or not knowing how you got somewhere. Was this a symptom you experienced? How did Dissociative Identity Disorder affect you growing up?
TLS: I do experience what I call losing time. When I was in grade school, I would have assignments due I didn’t remember being assigned and would think it was earlier in the week than it actually was a lot.

MHM: According to your YouTube channel, you have 12 alters. Could you talk a little about them and how your system works?
TLS: Yes I have 12 alters ranging in age from 4-24. Most of us are female but we have four guys in our system. Aliya is our main trauma holder but many others in our system also hold trauma. We also have protectors who keep us safe, caregivers who take care of the kids and a few others. [Learn more about The Labyrinth System’s alters here.]

MHM: Does anyone else exist in the system who hasn’t or doesn’t often come forward? Are they also considered alters?
TLS: Yes quite a few in our system don’t come out much but as long as they still come out we consider them alters. We also have people who don’t come out at all and they are considered insiders.

MHM: Do alters develop over time, or are they present from the start?
TLS: Some of my alters have been here as long as I can remember so they formed in early childhood which I don’t remember much about but some did come later such as May who came when I was in a treatment facility.

MHM: Was there ever a time when there was conflict or disagreement among alters? How was it resolved? How do you come together to motivate and build each other up?
TLS: We do have small disagreements quite a bit. We usually vote on them or let John decide. We do bicker, but like a family—because we are one. We support each other in things that are good for us and encourage everyone to do things that bring them joy.

MHM: There is a huge stigma concerning DID, and it’s partly due to a poor portrayal in popular media. Thinking of movies like “Split,” “Sybil,” and “Fight Club,” what do they get right and what do they get wrong? What could be done differently?
TLS: Speaking on “Split” specifically because it’s most fresh in my mind. I don’t mind that they make a work of fiction but I think it’s important and clear that it’s far from accurate. Split three little bits of truth in very closely with the fiction and I think if they had added a disclaimer or did some work outside of the movie to educate on DID that would have made a big difference.

MHM: What inspired you to create a YouTube channel?
TLS: I was tired of the stigma and misunderstanding we constantly experienced and wanted to work to change the perception of DID.

MHM: What advice would you give to a young person who has been diagnosed with DID?
TLS: I would say go slow. Go slow in telling people, go slow in therapy and just take your time working to figure it all out. You have time. I would also tell them they are not alone and it may be scary right now but they will be ok.

MHM: What three things do you want people to know about DID and mental health?
TLS: That we are much more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than to commit one. That DID is not as rare as people think, it’s found in 1-3 percent of the population. (Naturally red hair is found in 2 percent just for a reference.) That we really just want to live our lives best we can like everyone else.

This is just a mere scraping of the surface on bipolar disorder. What else would you like to know?

For help finding a therapist, visit:
National Alliance on Mental Health
Psychology Today
Good Therapy

Marissa Barnhart is an Amazon Affiliate.
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2 responses

  1. Pingback: 5 Movies About Mental Health That Got It (Mostly) Right

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