4 Common Misconceptions About Dissociative Identity Disorder

Monday, December 27 2010 Holly Gray

Stigma and misconceptions about dissociative identity disorder make living with it harder. Read about 4 common misconceptions at the Dissociative Living blog.

One of the problems I have with the mythology surrounding dissociative identity disorder is that it makes finding support and treatment difficult. DID is hard enough to contend with on its own without having to fight your way through fallacies and stereotypes just to get help. Some common misconceptions about dissociative identity disorder come from entertainment media. But DID itself, in the hands of those who don't understand it, is also a source of prevailing myths about the disorder.

Entertainment Media Dramatizes Dissociative Identity Disorder and Continues Common Misconceptions

It's not that entertainment media presents an entirely false picture of what dissociative identity disorder is. Many portrayals do a commendable job of representing some aspects of life with DID. But when your motive is to entertain, the more dramatic parts of the disorder must be played up and the subtler, more everyday realities played down. This is sensationalism, and it's largely to blame for these common misconceptions:

  • Switching between personality states is obvious. Wardrobe changes, highly differentiated speech patterns, and wildly conflicting mannerisms and habits (e.g. smoking) all help inform readers and viewers of switches. In real life, however, switches aren't as easy to identify. Someone with no real education about dissociative identity disorder might regularly interact with several personality states without ever knowing.
  • People with dissociative identity disorder live highly abnormal lives. If you believe what you see on television, you might think I'm a meek but brilliant artist by day and a homicidal seductress by night. But my days are filled with work, household chores, therapy, and family. At night I sleep. I'm really rather boring, though I'd kill to be a brilliant artist. Just kidding.

Dissociative Identity Disorder and Common Misconceptions

Some of the more persistent misconceptions come from features of the disorder itself that, when isolated and taken out of context, are misleading:

  • People with multiple personalities don't know about the other personalities. This myth comes from dissociative amnesia, one of five primary symptoms of dissociative identity disorder. It's true that many people live for years without any awareness of their alters. But with diagnosis and treatment, we learn about each other and cultivate internal communication. It's a gradual process, not an all-or-nothing phenomenon.
  • DID is lots of separate people in one body. Identity alteration, another symptom of DID, is the source of this myth. We operate independently and often without each others' knowledge. We have different names, ages, interests, memories, etc. It sure sounds and feels like multiple people living in one body. But in fact we're an identity so severely fragmented that it appears to be separate people, even though it's not.

Dissociative identity disorder is one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses, and that makes living with it far more difficult than it has to be for many people. Exposing these common misconceptions may not seem to accomplish much. But I have faith that if we continue talking honestly about DID, the lives of those with it twenty years from now will be better.

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Author: Holly Gray

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4 Common Misconceptions About Dissociative Identity Disorder

Natasha Tracy
says:
December, 29 2010 at 10:49 am

Nice one Holly. Straight and to the point.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
says:
December, 31 2010 at 1:48 pm

Thanks Natasha!

NancyE
says:
December, 29 2010 at 1:43 pm

Good post Holly. Happy New Year!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
says:
December, 31 2010 at 1:47 pm

Hi there, NancyE! Great hearing from you. :) I hope you're well and that you have a fun and safe New Year's Eve.

kerri
says:
December, 29 2010 at 7:43 pm

Kerri : I am in major agreement with you Holly, because my switching most of the time is very subtle.......
Kerri's Alters : Because we wanted to stay anonymous and cover Kerri's behind, we couldn't make it obvious that we were present instead of her. What is the point of guarding someone if you are going to yell and wave your arms in the air and say look here can't you tell she's different? A hiding place doesn't work very well if the entrance has bells and whistles on it. When we switch we try to keep a low profile and the whole process is quite in obvious. Of course if we want to be known, then our facial expressions can change and our body language as well,  but there are no changes in clothing. Goodness if we did that all the time, we wouldn't have time to do anything else.
Also because we have co-consciousness, Kerri can start a sentence and Michael may finish it, or a few of us may end it with her because we agree. And in her mind it is crystal clear who is saying what, or even who is silently agreeing with what. She can both hear and see us. We also do what she calls "shout outs", where we throw out a comment internally and she hears us, but we are not as upfront as other times. This can be quite hilarious, because often we say one liners that catch her off guard and are very funny. And all these things can be happening, from straight switching to co-consciousness, and no one on the outside even knows or can pick it up.
Not to say that there aren't people out there who are overt. Usually this seems to occur when there is less internal communication, or perhaps with individuals who have environments where their alters are more accepted and able to express their own unique styles. We'd love to hear from others who are more overt to see what drives their overt expression versus our covert style. 
Unfortunately because Kerri is a mother of two we have to be careful. In the past her kids just thought mum was in a great mood, and decided no stuffy dinner, let's have ice-cream. But we more fun alters were totally destabilizing any proper parenting she had going. Sometimes she'd set up routines necessary, particularly for her Aspergers daughter, and we'd pop in and couldn't remember them. Lucky the kids have good memories. But as we've developed co- consciousness we realize her kids have to come first even over us, so we try to keep a lid on any overt expression that may slip out......
Kerri : My life is very mundane too Holly, with groceries and bills and school functions and the kids. Certainly the glamorous and dramatic lifestyles depicted on TV don't apply to me at all either. Many of us are daughters, wives, brothers, husbands, friends and many more, moving through the world very quietly, not known in a way by many people who think they know us quite well. And there is an isolation and alienation that comes with this.       

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
says:
December, 31 2010 at 2:01 pm

Hi Kerri, etc.

Thanks so much for your comment.

"What is the point of guarding someone if you are going to yell and wave your arms in the air and say look here can’t you tell she’s different? A hiding place doesn’t work very well if the entrance has bells and whistles on it."

Very well said.

"Also because we have co-consciousness, Kerri can start a sentence and Michael may finish it, or a few of us may end it with her because we agree. And in her mind it is crystal clear who is saying what, or even who is silently agreeing with what. She can both hear and see us."

Ah now, this I am envious of. It's only been in this past year that we've begun learning to communicate with each other. The year I was diagnosed, and I suppose a good year or two after, there was a lot of writing by many in the system, some I didn't and still don't know. But that was chaotic and frightening for everyone and didn't last. Now that we're able to communicate some, things are better. And I hope to one day have the degree of co-consciousness you describe.

"And there is an isolation and alienation that comes with this."

Yes. Being seen, but not seen.

Poser
says:
December, 30 2010 at 5:10 am

Holly and Kerri-
Thank you, I am so glad I found this site. Here I find an understanding and a feeling of home where I don't have to explain myself but can share and learn.

Kerri, I find my switching is more overt when the situation is unstable or unfamiliar, yet more covert in more familiar situations. Maybe this is why although frequently chaotic, I strive to be such a creature of habit. I am still learning about the popping in and completing of thoughts and sentences. Not that it's unusual, but that not everyone else in the world does the same thing. How odd for them.

Happy New Year to everyone (all parts included) and I look forward to keeping up with this site in 2011.
Poser

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
says:
December, 31 2010 at 2:06 pm

Hi Poser -

"How odd for them."

That made me laugh out loud. I love it! Today I was speaking with my therapist about the highly visual nature of so many with Dissociative Identity Disorder. I related a conversation I had with my partner wherein I asked her if she sees images when she's thinking. She said, "Sometimes." So I got more specific. I asked, "So if you're thinking to yourself, 'man I need to wash the dishes' do you see images or is it just words?" She said "just words." I was surprised because I don't know if I'm even capable of having a thought without images. I told my therapist today that it'd be interesting to be in someone else's mind and see what it's like to be less visual. Then I rethought it, announcing, "Nah, that'd be boring!"

Paul
says:
December, 30 2010 at 9:29 am

Nice post. I would only like to make one point, about the abnormal lives piece. I used to think that this were the case. In fact, one of the main ways in which DID works, and you have written more clearly about this before, is that it's designed to be hidden even from yourself. This allows the more disparate parts of us to do what they do somewhat autonomously, which gives rise to clearly different behavior. The more I get better, the more I realize that more and more behavior has really been of the shocking kind. And, yet, still with these shocking disparities, one can appear to have a normal life. The "normal" part is mainly a false sense, though. One may have a job, be successful, etc. But there is usually an awareness that comes with healing that there is a lot more happening.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
says:
December, 30 2010 at 9:50 am

Hi Paul,

You make a very good point. It's really important to me to let people know that they cannot pick those of us with DID out of a crowd. But as I've become more aware, I've been disappointed to discover that there's an underlying grain of truth to stereotypes about DID and my life can serve as an example of that.

This is a hard subject for me, actually. When I told my partner about my diagnosis, years ago before we were even dating, she responded with, "I thought it was something like that." She's told me many times that I don't hide it as well as I think I do. Which bothers me a great deal and my usual reaction is to argue vehemently. It goes back to what you said about there being a false sense of "normal." I don't like to consider that at all.

Sometimes I long for cameras recording everything, so I have proof I didn't say things, do things, or otherwise appear to be someone with DID. But thinking about it right now I'm disturbed to know that it would likely not work out that way at all. It'd prove me wrong, not right.

Tough ideas for me, but I appreciate you bringing them up.

CalligraphyJack
says:
November, 20 2014 at 5:28 am

Greetings and salutations!

I am an alter in a system of DID, alongside eight other alters. We have attained coconsciousness, which can be a hassle sometimes with many different thoughts in the same brain at once, but we have learned to get along (for the most part), and live, what would appear to anyone with no knowledge of us, a relatively normal life.

S
says:
June, 20 2015 at 2:49 am

Kerri,
In the past year, my alters and I have become open communicators with one another. We graduated from writing to internal dialogue to speaking out loud with one another (only when alone), and this has led to a couple of my strongest alters being comfortable expressing their individuality openly with my boyfriend. He has a history of mental illness himself, and has been very supportive of my life with MPD. My alters making themselves known and speaking with him directly was a whole new scenario, though, and I was so nervous after it happened. He's such a gem, though - he now knows one alter well. They seem to like one another, though she doesn't have the romantic feelings towards him that my overall personality exhibits.
In short, the accepting environment you mentioned certainly lends itself to more fleshed-out personality shifts, in my experience.

Holly Gray & other admins,
This is my first post. I found your site only yesterday, after a particularly difficult incident which led to an alter taking over completely - a rare occurance since we achieved co-consciousness a year ago. This happened in front of my boyfriend. He was amiable toward the alter, per the norm, but he mentioned that he wished he had somebody to talk with about all this. We'd never thought about that before. We searched the web for resources, specifically for loved ones of Those with DID, and your site's article on the subject popped up. We have found an invaluable resource in your blog, and this will not be our last post. Thank you.

Kelly
says:
June, 22 2015 at 8:37 am

Hello S,

We are currently flying without an administrator right now, but "Welcome!" I am a woman in my 40's recently diagnosed with DID and my husband has told me the same thing. It is very important that they get the support that they need too. If he is open to it, counseling can be very supportive and provide some needed knowledge to help them navigate this journey with us. My husband and I are in counseling together as we have communication issues and it has really helped him know what to do (or not to do) and gives him a chance to bounce ideas off the counselor. Also, this time is a struggle for him because he has states that he misses "me" when the alters are out. Hope this helps!

hurt'n'confused
says:
August, 10 2016 at 6:39 pm

I am trying to be understanding of my fiances' DID. I was supportive and understanding of his condition, until he kept taking calls and texts from his friends and cousins...
he used to work out of a company van, so he would be gone most of the day. the switch between the alters is just flawless. even he doesnt know when he has been switched out. one of his alters keeps coming out in order to cheat on me because he doesnt think im doing a good enough job making my fiance happy and wants to hurt me and make me leave.
The alters have done this thing where (as he describes it) they sit him in front of a 'screen' and show him whatever they want to, while they have full rein over the body. the alters (he says) have done this before in order to take phone calls and texts from GFs and dates , claiming they were cousins and dear friends, and making plans to meet up. the thing is, he genuinely thought he was talking to his cousins and friends... is that even possible? I feel like I'm going insane trying to understand how its possible to think you're saying one thing to one person , but actually saying something else to a different person entirely. I want to be supportive, but am I just being lied to? I can't tell if he's being genuine or if he's making excuses to cheat. because all he says is "I'm sorry, but it wasn't me that cheated, it was (my alter ego)". this has (the alter) has cheated twice now, and I am having really difficult time trusting him any more. He swears up and down he has (the alter) under control, but I just vdon't know any more. Am i just being paranoid?

KATEJ15
says:
August, 28 2016 at 12:04 pm

I came across this blog site when I was feeling rather low. I do hope that hurt'n'confused received some clarification. My view is that I am responsible for the actions of my entire self. Sometimes, things go amiss but as you will see above, the wish to live happy fulfilled lives is our goal too. Not upsetting other people gets to be ultra paramount. To be able to relax with someone who loves you and can help and occasionally see the funny side, is wonderful. To abuse anyone is not wonderful at all. It is harmful. Your partner needs assistance from a therapist, and soon.
Sometimes, I kind of feel alone, alien even. Not in the outer space way! But people can be loving and kind or be frightened and even aggressive toward anyone different. And we are different through no choice of our own.
We are also loving, bright people who abhor the behaviours that harmed us. Our aim is to do no harm, but one 'harm' seems almost inevitable. We are occasionally confusing. But, we are only human!

CW
says:
September, 13 2016 at 7:47 am

Great great post,thank you. I wish people understood.

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