What’s It Like to Live with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)
Living with dissociative identity disorder (DID) can create confusing and distressing times. People with DID experience amnesia and "waking up" in one personality only to find that another personality has previously done something he or she would consider completely out of character. These situations are very difficult to understand and successfully coping with dissociative identity disorder requires significant treatment. (Dissociative Identity Disorder Treatment Challenging)
Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder Before Diagnosis
Before diagnosis, people living with dissociative identity disorder often have no idea what is happening to them. B.J., a woman with DID explains:
"I convinced myself that the things that happened to me, that were completely baffling and unexplainable, happened to everyone. Didn't everyone lose track of time, belongings, people? Didn't everyone find things in their possession they couldn't recall buying, or money spent they couldn't recall spending? Didn't everyone have such drastic extremes in desire and goals? Didn't everyone regularly run into people whose names and faces couldn't be placed?"
Others living with dissociative identity disorder experience nightmares, hallucinations and other symptoms but still do their best to fit in with everyone else:
"I started having nightmares most nights. I would wake up and the sheets would be wet and I'd be really hot, even though it was a cold night. In the day, I kept seeing things that I knew weren't really there ... The shoes belonged to someone who was constantly causing me problems, even treating me as if I wasn't even human at times. I couldn't even acknowledge that it was abusive behavior. I was so sure that I was going "crazy" and that nothing could be done about it, so I might as well pretend to be normal."
"In the end, I just couldn't carry on anymore and spent almost a year either in bed or on the sofa. I was suicidal for a time. My heart was racing and I kept having panic attacks. Even simple things like food shopping were awful and I kept avoiding people I knew and places linked with the trauma. Anytime someone got close to me in a shop, I'd be terrified. Nothing made sense."
The effects of the deep and severe trauma that causes dissociative identity disorder in most do not disappear, no matter how much a person with DID pretends to fit in. It tends to eventually lead to depression, crises, hospitalizations and even suicide attempts. What's more is that people with DID tend to be misdiagnosed for years before they discover they have been living with dissociative identity disorder all along.
Living with DID After Diagnosis
While living with DID can be confusing and not make sense, being diagnosed can feel "crazy" too and people often blame themselves for their DID symptoms. One person with dissociative identity disorder says,
"When I was first told I had it, I just didn't want to believe it. It was really frightening: my symptoms didn't sense, I thought I was "crazy", I felt out of control and I worried the other identities might hurt people. Now that I know it's just a psychological defense to trauma and most of my identities are young children ... The identities are all a part of "me", even if it doesn't feel that way."
Coping with Dissociative Identity Disorder
Coping with dissociative identity disorder takes many forms but the goal is to lessen symptoms and the pain of living with DID. One person with DID says:
"What I notice the most is regularly dissociating or disconnecting from the outside world and from emotions, which happens when another identity takes over. I don't notice time passing. This amnesia can last for minutes or days at a time. It's no longer frightening; managing my stress levels and having plenty of free time rather than over-committing to things helps a lot. I still lose time but it's in short chunks and doesn't interfere with life, like losing days did. I have many ways of keeping organized to help with the gaps in memory and the other identities do too. We write things down a lot and have several alarm clocks to make sure we get to appointments and work (I keep checking which day it is too)."
"The time loss doesn't seem so bad now. Sometimes I can remember afterwards what another identity did although it's hazy, a bit like recalling parts of a drunken night out, but other times I know what is happening at the time. I can't stop them doing harmful things to me and there have been some scary moments but now we are all co-operating and I've learnt I can trust them. If they do anything scary, there is always a good reason for it, and usually they let me know when there is a problem so we can work on it before they "act out". I used to try and stay in charge and fight or criticize them, but that just made them feel worse."
Another survivor with dissociative identity disorder says:
"I saw a counselor through a local charity and steadily got better, and medication reduced the symptoms too. I started writing a journal and drawing the flashbacks ... Things aren't perfect but now I have my life back. I understand the abuse was not my fault."
What's important to remember is that people do recover from dissociative identity disorder and coping with DID is possible.
Last Updated: 16 October 2018
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD