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Faking Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Recently a reader asked how to get over the feeling that her sister is faking Dissociative Identity Disorder. If you doubt your friend or family member’s diagnosis, I think it’s important to identify why you’re skeptical. What in particular has you questioning it? Write it down, and be specific. Now find out everything you can about each of those nagging suspicions. I’m willing to bet a healthy majority of them are based on common misconceptions about Dissociative Identity Disorder. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong. Sometimes people who say they have DID don’t have it at all. That could be because they’re pretending for some perceived gain, e.g. sympathy. But I believe the discrepancy is more likely due to misdiagnosis and genuine confusion.

Photo by Cesar Bojorquez
Photo by Cesar Bojorquez

Faking Dissociative Identity Disorder Online

A few years ago I was in a chat room frequented by people with Dissociative Identity Disorder when a regular visitor entered and made a dramatic announcement. She’d been driving a familiar route and arrived at her destination with no memory of the trip. She said she had DID, but was alarmed about highway hypnosis, a mild form of dissociative amnesia. Either she was newly diagnosed and still wrestling to understand herself and her life in this new context, or she didn’t have DID at all. Was she faking Dissociative Identity Disorder? I don’t know. I encountered her many times when I was visiting that chat room and got the overall impression that she – and some other regulars – didn’t really have DID. But purposeful manipulation isn’t necessarily the explanation. If she didn’t have DID, my guess is she genuinely believed she did.

Misdiagnosing Dissociative Identity Disorder

Therapists make mistakes. And unfortunately there are still clinicians who are fascinated with DID, but don’t recognize their own lack of necessary education or experience with it. Take someone with PTSD or some other dissociative disorder dsm-bookswho’s desperate for answers, send them to one of these overconfident therapists with little to no experience diagnosing and treating DID, and you might very well end up with someone who believes she has the disorder even though she doesn’t. That isn’t faking Dissociative Identity Disorder. That’s a misdiagnosis, plain and simple.

Don’t Assume Anyone Is Faking Dissociative Identity Disorder

Ask yourself how you know what you know about DID. If a movie, television show, or bestseller is one of your top three sources of information, you’re in no position to judge whether anyone has Dissociative Identity Disorder or not. Psychology Major, you say? No, you don’t know nearly enough about DID to determine the legitimacy of someone’s diagnosis. Ultimately no one but a skilled clinician with experience diagnosing and treating DID can make that call. If a friend or family member tells you they’ve been diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, give their doctor the benefit of the doubt. If you have reservations, that’s understandable. Ask questions and do your own research. But don’t just assume they’re faking Dissociative Identity Disorder. You’re more likely to be wrong, I think, than right.

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32 thoughts on “Faking Dissociative Identity Disorder?”

  1. Holly-
    One of the important pieces of information regarding DID is that it is a disorder designed to protect the system. Being “out” in public for all to see would be contrary to the diagnosis itself. Layman who know of DID think it’s like the blatant changes like Sybil or Tara of “US of Tara” whereas in reality the switches are more subtle and come across as moodiness rather than personality changes. I agree that it takes a skilled therapist to diagnose and treat DID, but It also takes a strong person to accept the diagnosis of DID. Dissociative Identity Disorder can be disruptive and difficult in the day to day challenge to exist. I, for one, am still struggling with acceptance much less being “out” even to my family.

    1. Hi Poser,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I agree that DID is an extremely difficult diagnosis to accept. I wrote an entire series, in fact, on the tumultuous experience of wrestling with a first-time diagnosis of DID. http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/dissociativeliving/category/impact-of-did-diagnosis/

      “Being “out” in public for all to see would be contrary to the diagnosis itself.”

      Yes. However, with treatment and a whole lot of hard work, it is possible to – for lack of a better phrase – shift the paradigm of DID. There are people who are out about their diagnosis and their life with Dissociative Identity Disorder. And thank goodness for that, or we’d all still be stuck not understanding the disorder at all. DID wants to hide and the system is designed to go undetected – but at a certain point, that can’t continue or the individual with DID will never even learn they have it let alone begin to recover.

      In my experience, the battle to accept my diagnosis was essentially – though I didn’t realize it at the time – a battle with my own pathology, between DID’s insistence that it remain under wraps and my own drive to understand my reality. It was incredibly painful for me but if I hadn’t trudged my way through I wouldn’t be able to write and speak publicly about DID today. Thought DID is, like you point out, designed to protect the system, people living with it can move beyond that. It’s hard, but it’s possible.

  2. I don’t have much experience with the faking part. I don’t know that’s at all common. I have read about it in “Rebuilding Shattered Lives”, a very good clinical book which addresses the therapeutic process, including faking (malingering) and misdiagnoses (which I consider to be an entirely separate issue; and again I’m not that experienced with it to say anything about it). The misdiagnosing, I think, has to be seen in the context of other dissociative disorders. There is sometimes a gray area as to whether a person should be diagnosed as DID versus DDNOS. I’m not clear on the statistics. I just know it’s a variable.

  3. Couple other points:

    I would say the worst faking is when criminals use it as a legal defense. It’s not that common, but it happens. And it usually happens without any previous diagnosis. It’s an attack on those of us with genuine DID and I find it unappealing to say the least.

    Faking is a tricky subject because so many of us think we are frauds because of the natural mechanisms of DID. We are always questioning ourselves (most of us at least). I have found that acceptance is the most difficult area of dealing with DID and that acceptance is constantly in flux. It’s generally not something you obtain and then you have it forever.

  4. Hi Holly,
    This is a very important post for people who have been diagnosed with DID, their supporters, as well as their doubters. I’m glad that you wrote about this.
    I agree that research, research, and more research is the key here….whether you are struggling with your own diagnosis, or you are someone struggling to accept another’s diagnosis.
    Hi Poser,
    My therapist is the only person I talk to about my DID other than coming here, but I wholeheartedly agree with Holly that with a lot of hard work, we can shift the paradigm of DID…..and we should so that we can overcome the myths that surround DID. It needs to be a collective effort, and I hope to be able to help with that one day.
    Hi Paul,
    “so many of us think we are frauds because of the natural mechanisms of DID. We are always questioning ourselves”
    How true that is. I have accused myself of being a fraud many times…mostly in my attempts escape this diagnosis. I still find myself wondering…what on earth did I say to my therapist to make her think that I have DID? I must have fed her a total line of crap! But then someone will tell me about something I said or did but don’t remember…..or I go back and read my journals, and then reality strikes again. So, like you said, acceptance is not something you obtain and then have it forever. We are constantly doubting ourselves….but I think a little self doubt can be a good thing. It actually forces me to do research and educate myself.

  5. I’m so glad to hear from all of you, Mareeya, Paul, Poser and Holly, about how difficult you have all found accepting your diagnosis. Because I go through this all the time. I feel like I ‘m a bit of a revolving door on the subject. Constantly swinging from disbelief to acceptance and then back to denial. I can’t count the times I ‘ve wanted to walk into my therapists office and say, this is all crap, I must be some desperate person who just wants attention or is self deluding. But I stop myself because I know deep down that it isn’t true. Funnily enough my alters usually jump in at these times and state catagorically that they are real and we all know deep down we are not faking or lying. Certainly what would be the gain. We don’t tell others about our diagnosis so we get no great sympathy or special treatment for it. The only person we talk to about it is our therapist. 
    As for people who don’t believe relatives and friends, I can understand, because I appeared so “normal” to others, apart from anxiety issues and what seemed to be moodiness. No one around me, including my immediate family had any idea I was being abused by my father. So their perception of my history and life was totally out of sinc with what was really happening right under their noses.
    I think people disbelieve for many different reasons, but one of them is because they don’t think it is possible for these things to happen to their children, siblings etc. Because they believe they would have known or noticed things if this was the case. But as we DID people know a whole universe of reality can co- exist right beneath the perceptions of others. I once told a therapist that I could be screaming inside my own head right in front of him and he wouldn’t know, because outside my face could be quite impassive or even smiling. And I could be having a cohesive conversation with him and be switching and appear to not even miss a beat.
    Maybe education needs to be not just about DID, but how people can live incredibly different lives from the ones they portray, and how common this actually is.   

    1. Hi kerri,

      “As for people who don’t believe relatives and friends, I can understand, because I appeared so “normal” to others, apart from anxiety issues and what seemed to be moodiness.”

      Yes! When I told my partner about my diagnosis – early in our friendship, before we started dating – she said, “I thought it was something like that.” It shocked me. All my life people had told me I was “different” or “unique” but that’s a far cry from having Dissociative Identity Disorder. Meanwhile those same people told me how smart, competent, and well-adjusted I was. I can easily understand why people who knew me for a very long time – unlike my partner when I told her – might doubt my diagnosis.

      “Maybe education needs to be not just about DID, but how people can live incredibly different lives from the ones they portray, and how common this actually is.”

      That’s a good point. I’m inclined to agree with you.

      Thanks, kerri.

  6. Hi kerri,
    I can totally relate to absolutely everything that you said. Once per month or more, I really do want to just walk into my therapists office and tell her that I’m done, but deep down I know I need to be there, and that I have barely scraped the surface of healing
    As far as my family, I have only revealed to them that I have anxiety, and they have done nothing but ridicule me, and make fun of me ever since. So there’s no way I can tell them about my DID. I don’t even want to imagine the humiliation they would put me through if they knew that.
    Most people whom I encounter day to day would only peg me as having a little anxiety. My day to day life appears very normal and functional.
    It really is so helpful for me to come here and read scenarios that are so similar to my own. It is validating, and it also keeps me comfortably grounded by helping me to learn that I really am quite the norm, rather than the exception that the myths out there might make one believe.

    1. Hi Mareeya –

      I’m so glad you said this:

      “It really is so helpful for me to come here and read scenarios that are so similar to my own. It is validating, and it also keeps me comfortably grounded by helping me to learn that I really am quite the norm, rather than the exception that the myths out there might make one believe.”

      Or rather, I’m so glad that’s been your experience. It’s amazing how much it helps to feel normal, at least within the context of Dissociative Identity Disorder.

      I’m very sorry you don’t have the support of your family and, in fact, feel ridiculed. Genuine validation is so important. I follow NAMI on Twitter, and they report often how important having support is in coping with mental illness. I hope that the validation you’re finding from others with DID helps to meet that need.

  7. As i sat here reading this entry and the comments following something very distinct came to mind. Prior to my diagnosis and even early on there was nobody in my life that would have noticed if I switched. It was all about secrecy and hiding. Today though things are different. We feel relatively safe and secure in who we are as a collective. There is nobody present in my life that doesn’t know I have DID. My switching is relatively normal. Sometimes people notice, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes whoever is out will identify themselves other times they will insist they are Dana. We rarely operate outside of some sort of co conscious awareness these days and we work well together. (Holly you probably remember this being the case at DA) I know that by the people in my life seeing who I really am and knowing parts individually I am doing my part to help remove the stigma of DID from the public view.

    My thoughts on people faking having DID is that whether or not someone really has DID, if they are pretending they do either consciously or unconsciously there is another problem they need to deal with. Life is not easy for anyone and I feel it is unnecessary for anyone to judge another persons struggle through life’s journey.

    Thank you Holly for broaching this tough topic.

    1. Hi Dana!

      “I know that by the people in my life seeing who I really am and knowing parts individually I am doing my part to help remove the stigma of DID from the public view.”

      I’m glad you know that, because it’s 100% true. You may not know this, but you helped me get to a place where I’m able to publicly write and speak about DID and do it comfortably, safely. When I met you, I met someone who had no shame about the fact that they have DID, whereas I was crippled with it. Honestly, I didn’t know any other way. Interacting with you showed me that it’s possible to live life as someone with DID without hiding in humiliation and fear. Thank you. You are absolutely doing your part.

      “Life is not easy for anyone and I feel it is unnecessary for anyone to judge another persons struggle through life’s journey.”

      I love that. Thank you for saying it.

  8. “I’m very sorry you don’t have the support of your family and, in fact, feel ridiculed. Genuine validation is so important. I follow NAMI on Twitter, and they report often how important having support is in coping with mental illness. I hope that the validation you’re finding from others with DID helps to meet that need.”

    Thank you, Holly. That means so much to me. I have also read how very important it is to have an external support system.
    Yes, absolutely…..the validation that I am finding from others who also have DID does help to meet that need.

    When I stumbled across your blog right around October / November, it was at a time when I thought I couldn’t possibly handle another day of ridicule and isolation. I believe it truly saved my life to know that I was not alone!

  9. i must be a skeptic although i do believe it did has its genuine cases.what exactly is did and what brings it to the surface can it be treated if so how iwas a very abused child as were my sisters but i cannot ever remembering anyone of us dissociating from the horrors of our abuse HELP thank you if you can help me to better understand why it happens

  10. Hi everyone I’m 15 and my name is Fianer. Or Fi. My story of my life is similar to others here. Outwardly, I’m just normal ADD/ADHD asburgers me. Nobody else in my life until very VERY VERY recently like a week ago, knew about secret things about me. I’m extremely anti social but about 2 weeks ago my soul mate/girlfriend was killed and I’ve been really really really depressed and messed up and I freak out on everyone and when I’m alone I cry and scream and I have memory blank points. I’ll loose a few minutes at a time and once in school I lost about 30 minutes and it was like a switch was flipped. Like how someone goes to sleep and then they wake up and it seems like it’s been like 1 second passed but time has passed alot. this is off the subject though. A week ago I told a kid I really trusted at school about all this and I told him that I hear voices in my head all the time and about the memory blanks. He told me that I change sometimes and that I’m not lovable me and I become crazy and just look like I’m going to kill someone! I was horrified when I heard that! I started looking up disassociative identity disorders and stuff and I can’t be sure (Can any of us be?) But I think that my alter personality has surfaced or been created or whatever to take care of ourself because what happened to Selena has messed us up badly. I can be like sitting in class and stuff and I’ll blank out but it’ll be different, like my body moves without me moving it and everything seems…muffled. I scream but nobody hears me and I can’t get back no matter how much I try! that’s happened to me three times and I don’t want it to continue it scares me so much! Someone said that I threatened to kill them at school and I got out of school suspension because of it but I don’t remember that at all!!!!! So now I’m stuck here at my house and I’ve been doing all this research about this stuff. Since Selena was killed everything went downhill in about a week. I’m at the middle of the third week and I don’t know what to do. I’m still on out of school suspension.

    1. Hi Fi,

      I want to reassure you that dissociation, even severe dissociation, is not unusual during/after a traumatic event like the one you describe. Similar to the way a fever may develop to fight off germs when you’re sick, moderate to severe dissociation may develop temporarily to fight off painful feelings when you’re exposed to traumatic stress. And just like the fever alerts you that your body is ill and needs care, severe dissociation alerts you that your mind is struggling and needs care. It’s important to tell your parents or a trusted adult about these experiences so you can get that care. In terms of Dissociative Identity Disorder, well that’s very difficult to diagnose. Clinicians with experience diagnosing and treating DID have diagnostic tools at their disposal to help discern if someone has a dissociative disorder, and/or specifically DID. I encourage you to start by talking to an adult – a school counselor perhaps – honestly about what you’re dealing with right now.

      I’m so sorry about your girlfriend. Know that the death of a loved one can be a kind of trauma. The fact that you’re struggling is 100% understandable.

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