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Complex PTSD Comorbid with Dissociative Identity Disorder

It seems most people with Dissociative Identity Disorder also have PTSD. But it's a form of PTSD called Complex PTSD. Read more at the Dissociative Living Blog.

Like so many others with dissociative identity disorder (DID), I have comorbid posttraumatic stress disorder. But it isn’t the temporary response to short-lived trauma that most people think of as PTSD. It’s a deeper, more pervasive, and chronic response to life in general. This form of PTSD is called complex PTSD. And it occurs so often in conjunction with dissociative identity disorder, that I sometimes wonder if there’s anyone with DID who doesn’t live with this monster.

Complex PTSD Is PTSD from Repeated Trauma

Assuming I didn’t already have it, if I survived a serious, terrifying car accident I might very well develop PTSD. Let’s say I was just driving to work on a normal, inconspicuous day when suddenly a car swerved into my lane and sent me careening into oncoming traffic. In a matter of seconds, I traveled from every-day-okay to death’s door. If I began having flashbacks of the accident, and experiencing extreme anxiety and panic whenever I was in a car, I might be diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder.

cptsd and ptsdBut let’s imagine instead for a moment that I survived a car accident exactly like that once a week, on average, for the first 10 years of my life. Changes things significantly, yes? That is akin to what childhood trauma feels like for many people with dissociative identity disorder and it represents the essential difference between PTSD and Complex PTSD.

Living with Complex PTSD

When an event like a serious car accident teaches you that the world is unsafe, you may become fearful not just of cars and driving, but all kinds of things. A man who barely lived through a car accident might find himself afraid of fires too, afraid of drowning, afraid of being attacked on the street. He has learned not just that cars are unsafe, but that life is unsafe (Why PTSD Symptoms Flare Up in Unlikely Places). The difference between PTSD and the Complex PTSD that so many of us with dissociative identity disorder have is that we may never have experienced the world in any other way. We learned early on that:

  • Horrible things happen all the time.
  • There’s no way to prevent those horrible things from happening.
  • At any moment, we may be annihilated by one of those horrible things.
  • If we survive, it will only be to wait for the next horrible thing which will inevitably occur.

I don’t walk around consciously thinking those particular things. But those beliefs color my perceptions of the world, other people, myself, everything.

DID Helps Me Live with Complex PTSD

Complex PTSD is traumatic in and of itself. You can never escape the traumas that ended long ago because this disorder is always there to make sure they come to life again and again in everyday, benign circumstances. As I see it, I developed dissociative identity disorder to cope with overwhelming stress as a child. And as an adult, I have DID to cope with Complex PTSD.

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40 thoughts on “Complex PTSD Comorbid with Dissociative Identity Disorder”

  1. I have Cptsd and just been diagnosed with Dissociative issues from childhood traumas. Ive only recognized 6 alters..Im ok with them except for the one that holds the emotions…dont want anything to do with her…How do you work through that? I know I need to ….but everything in me doesnt want anything to do with the emotional parts.

  2. I’m so happy I came across this blog, it has been very helpful to read. No one (therapists) could explain why I have DID because I didn’t meet all the criteria to make it possible, like I was too old when the trauma happened to qualify for DID to be possible. But when my trauma therapist figured out that I am on the autism spectrum everything made much more sense to her. I have been traumatized since I was very young because of lack of connection (attachment issues) from the autism and sensory processing disorder which constantly tells me I’m not safe in the world and this of course was from an early age. Also interesting is that I was on a sensory processing support group page reading and noted how many of those people also have the diagnosis of DID. It made me wonder if there is a correlation between SPD and DID. Living with sensory issues makes a person feel as if they are never safe and is always an assault on the body in a very physical way. I really appreciate this post and everyone who shared. Thanks.

  3. I am convinced PTSD is a Dissociative Disorder. Every time I have treated it as such over the last 22 years, the client has gotten better. This argument has been going on since 1889. The reason PTSD has had such poor treatment outcomes is due to therapists not recognizing and treating it as a Dissociative Disorder. Dissociative disorders are 100% curable. When treated as a Dissociative Disorder, PTSD can be cured.

  4. Hi all, my therapist just gave me a diagnosis of PTSD and a dissociative disorder. She said my other therapist gave me a diagnosis of DID… she has not seen me switching yet. I’m not sure how I feel about it. Maybe a little angry, scared and I have no idea what else.

    1. I went through all that. Trust your feelings. Everyone’s system is different. My therapist says you can’t go by the text books. What u went through was unique to your life. My switching isn’t obvious I had a diagnosis with a Dr who took his time. I have DID AND PTSD.Many therapists don’t believe in it that is the world. So you must have a therapist you trust. Don’t take crap from many in mental health. Believe u can get well. You are worth it

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