Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a trauma disorder usually caused by childhood abuse, but we don’t often talk about the age factor in the development of DID. I struggled for a number of reasons to accept my DID diagnosis, not the least of which is the hyperfocus on trauma (to the near total exclusion of all other developmental causes of DID) in popular understanding of DID. I couldn’t make sense of the fact that I knew people who survived truly horrific circumstances and didn’t have DID. Now I know that although trauma is the key ingredient, without which DID – it would seem – simply doesn’t manifest, it isn’t the only ingredient.
The Age Factor of DID Explains A Mystery
I have a friend who lived through some pretty nightmarish stuff. I’ve always been grateful that my life has been easier than his. When I was diagnosed with DID, I sought out information, anything that could help me understand what dissociative identity disorder is and how I came to have it. Those initial searches turned up a lot of talk about the severity of trauma, and not much talk of anything else.
In some circles, DID was the Purple Heart of trauma survivors; if you didn’t have DID, you hadn’t suffered as much. This attitude confused me, especially in light of what I knew about my friend’s trauma history. It also scared me into thinking that if I had DID, I must have repressed memories of unimaginable horrors hiding somewhere in my mind. Granted, this may very well be true; but it also might not. I realized this with relief when I took the time to consider the differences between my friend’s experience and mine. The key difference was The Age Factor in the development of DID. My friend had a remarkably stable early childhood and lived a fairly trauma- free life until the age of twelve.
The Age Factor of DID Expressed By Sidran
As many as 99% of people who develop Dissociative Disorders have documented histories of repetitive, overwhelming, and often life-threatening trauma at a sensitive developmental stage of childhood (usually before the age of nine).
In five plus years of research, I’ve only seen this before-the-age-of-nine specification challenged by those who believe nine is too old. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are exceptions, but as a general rule, DID doesn’t develop in adults or older children. DID develops in early childhood.
When you think about it, that makes good sense. Identity is highly malleable in early childhood. My friend had time to develop a unified sense of self; one that was still flexible, but loosely defined. At the ripe old age of twelve, when his nightmare began, he wasn’t able to compartmentalize his experience to the degree that those of us with DID were. He has post-traumatic stress disorder, but not DID.
Understanding The Age Factor helped me better understand both DID itself and why I have it.
Complete Series: From Trauma to DID
- Part 1: The Sensitivity Factor
- Part 2: The Denial Factor
- Part 3: The Age Factor
- Part 4: The Comfort Factor
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Image by Jeremy Tarling