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Dissociative Identity Disorder: I’m Not Multiple

When it comes to understanding Dissociative Identity Disorder, most people get too hung up on the concept of the alternate identity. Identity alteration is widely and mistakenly accepted as the essence of what DID is. And so the two most popular theories about the development of Dissociative Identity Disorder revolve around the existence of alters: the Broken Vase Theory, and the Multiple Vase Theory. Neither are satisfactory explanations for how DID develops and ultimately both theories’ inaccuracies stem from the same error: the assumption that early childhood identity is cohesive and intact when in fact it is anything but.

3370932541_14701f1758_zDissociative Identity Disorder: The Multiple Vase Theory

Of the two, this is the older, slightly less popular metaphor for the development of Dissociative Identity Disorder. In a nutshell, it states that a child faced repeatedly with situations that completely overwhelm his capacity to cope will create alters, entirely new identities, to help him survive. The Multiple Vase Theory presumes that this child, often referred to as “the core” or the “original” personality, already has an identity and his alters are additional identities. In other words, we’re assuming the one identity would have been enough precisely as it was. But conditions being what they were, the child needed more alternatives. Hence the label “alter”, or “alternate identity.”

Dissociative Identity Disorder isn’t Really Multiplicity

Let me say right off here that I’m not suggesting that alters aren’t real. They are absolutely real. When you think about it, it’s really the Multiple Vase Theory that implies alters aren’t real or are somehow second-best. Because despite how it feels to the individual with DID, an alternate identity is not really an entirely separate person. There is no core, no original personality. There never was. The development of Dissociative Identity Disorder is not forming one cohesive identity and then, in order to cope with traumatic circumstances and environments, forming several more cohesive identities. Those of us with DID failed to form a cohesive identity in the first place. Where most people developed a multi-faceted, relatively well-integrated identity, we formed a severely fragmented identity. The latter is an amplification of the former, not a multiplying of it.

The Development of Dissociative Identity Disorder is a Fragmentation, Not a Multiplication

When we apply the Multiple Vase Theory to the development of Dissociative Identity Disorder it looks, metaphorically speaking, like this:

  • Vase 1 – a child is born with a personality
  • Vase 2 – the child is subjected to overwhelming stress and creates an additional personality
  • Vase 3 – more trauma, another alternate identity, and so on

In fact, no child is born with a whole personality. (Temperament, yes. Cohesive identity, no.) The child who develops DID doesn’t create additional personalities; his personality develops in a compartmentalized way. The multiple facets of who he is become separated and, over time, begin operating as separate people altogether. So when I say I’m not multiple, I mean I’m no more multiple than anyone else. I am, however, far more fragmented than most people.

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15 thoughts on “Dissociative Identity Disorder: I’m Not Multiple”

  1. I have DID and I do not see myself as “multiples”, I see myself as fragmented. I had severe amnesia of my childhood from sexual abuse by my father and from abandonment by my mother at age 4. This was the age that my father began his cruel, sadistic assaults on me and it continued for years. The only reason I am saying this is because my trauma started at an early age before I had time to develop a solid identity. At age 4, I clearly recall splitting consciously from my body. Once I left her, her distressed cries stopped and she had amnesia for the incident. I see my body walk out of the closet without me. I do not have “multiple personalities” that I call by different names because all broken off parts are all me. Each part holds the traumatic memory and they are stuck in time. These parts are compartmentalized. Once I recall and process the traumatic event and work through it, this part eventually become integrated. OH, it’s not easy by any means. And, it does not make me happier either, it makes me sadder. I grieve for the loss of my childhood and for the lonely, traumatized little girl that I was. The process of recalling each assault is traumatic in itself and I disassoicate all over the place. I have terrible visual and auditory disturbances. When these parts of me are awakened they talk and behave different from who I am today BUT they are still all me, just at different ages. It baffles me that people can create personalities that they never were in life. How can a female have a male personality, or a stripper personality, if that person never was these things? I’m not saying it can’t happen but that it is so different than my own experience. My mother left us when I was 4. My father began molesting me very hatefully at 4, and almost every day. Plus, he was selling me and my little sister to other men, repeatedly. He murdered a little girl in front of us, he murdered a woman in our house and had me help carry her body to the trunk of the car wrapped in a rug. So. If anyone should have “multiples” I certainly would, but I don’t, I have split off parts of me with SEVERE childhood amnesia. I had no idea these things had happened to me! It was nowhere near my conscious mind until I had a nervous breakdown related to stress at work. After that, the walls I had built up around my assaults came crashing down and one by one the memories have been returning, and I have years and years of crap tucked away. And after 4 years it still isn’t over.

  2. I’m actually seeing a new therapist. At first she started talking to mt “parts”? I thought she was just doing some inner child work. Now she is saying I really dissociate she started reading from a book and I guess I do “feel” younger and have mood swings and zone out and feel fuzzy. I’m so confused right now. I read up on some of it and it’s all very vague.

  3. I wonder if I have something else, because it contrasts with my experiences so sharply. (I haven’t asked a doctor, anyhow. I’d prefer to try to work things out on my own or with trusted community members until it’s absolutely clear I’m in over my head.) I have good firsthand and secondhand eyewitness evidence that I had a well-developed personality before I was two years old–curious, confident, logical, articulate, acutely self-aware–and I can identify with fair certainty several approximate points at which the hosting ego-state broke off into two weaker states as the years and decades brought forth new trials. I feel (rightly or wrongly) as if my efforts to work through these issues are slowly turning me into an adult version of the person I remember being so long ago.

    Maybe different people develop dissociative disorders differently? Or maybe there are other adaptations that are mistakenly grouped under the label of dissociation by those of us without much expertise? The disconnected self-state complication I’ve been working through has not yet appeared to be a problem /in and of itself/, so perhaps it’s entirely discrete relative to everything that is a disorder. I’m sorry I’ve just posted all over your web site about DID before making sure I was speaking on the correct subject. :/

  4. I think this depends on the age at which the first split happens. I have met Multiples who split later (around 6?) and they had a very well developed core or original personality (although not healthy or solid enough to function well without integrating with other alters). I think some of us are traumatized before a true solid personality forms, but we can still have that original seed, or core person.

    I guess the mental image I get is string cheese. You can split off threads of it from the core piece, creating the broken shards of personality. But when you remove parts from the whole, you are left with a damages core/original. I don’t think the core personality is some fully developed unblemished untraumatized snapshot of who we once were or who we would have been if the trauma and DID hadn’t happened. It becomes, in essence, yet another alter, one not formed by a split, but rather formed by a division to survive.

    1. I’ve certainly heard that before, that age plays a role in whether someone develops what’s often referred to as a core. But part of the reason I don’t like the whole “core” thing is that it’s misleading. Even if someone has a relatively cohesive sense of self (for a 6 year old, mind) it isn’t wholly accurate to say there is a core personality … as dissociation fragments that sense of self. Granted, the DID system may experience that as a core and its alters, but that doesn’t make it accurate any more than a DID system experiencing itself as a group of people makes it accurate to say they actually *are* a group of people. In other words, yes, I believe there are people with DID who have created aspects of self they think of as “the core personality” … but I’m not inclined to believe that’s a reflection of the developmental process. I think it’s a reflection of how their psyche makes sense of their reality.

  5. I really need to speak with you if that is at all possible. I am about to start new therapy with a trauma therapist, but I’m not convinced that it is the best next thing to do…I have been dealing with just this that you are writing about for perhaps 7 years, at times unconscious of it…At this time, I am conscious of it and it is very painful and makes me feel like a freak and like I have no place in the world with healthy people. Or healthier people, I mean…I have been holding a lot of this in out of fear that most therapists don’t understand this, are skeptical about it, etc., and/or aren’t appropriately trained to help with recovery from this. I am probably wrong about at least some of that. But it has also taken time for me to acknowledge this. I have had doubts at times. Does it make sense that I do have a somewhat good and at least partial real life? I have relationships…I have worked jobs…Went to college…

    1. Hi Karen,

      Yes, it absolutely makes sense that you have relationships and other “normal life” things going on. That’s not unusual at all. Dissociation can help with that, as a matter of fact.

      I understand feeling like freak. For what it’s worth, Dissociative Identity Disorder is just an extreme manifestation of what everyone experiences. It’s not freakish or aberrant, though I know it can sometimes feel that way.

      Thanks for your comment, Karen. I’m glad you’re here. 🙂

  6. Hi Holly, growing up I never experienced a sense of myself as a unified person/ personality. And I have no memory of being “whole” and then “broken”. My Aspergers and GAD were already impacting me as a toddler, and I became an extremely reactive and stressed out child even before my abuse. With sensory issues bombarding me. How amidst this and then abuse I was ever meant to develope some strong and enduring unified personality I don’t know. Instead given how constantly reacitve I was it seems logical that a fragmented, compartmentalised personality would ensue. That’s why I find it odd when some therapists almost imply that integration is like gluing the vase back together. When really I don’t feel like I was ever a whole vase to start with. I do see that other people with DID don’t see integration in this way, but rather a furthering of communication and co-operation and that’s how I like to see it, and I also respect that other peoples experiences of the whole vase cenario may be quite different from mine. And that’s quite O.K. I mean some of us feel we have core personalities and others experience themselves as all alters. We are all so different, yet so alike.

  7. I just want to be better. I don’t have a therapist and cannot afford one. I also have no ‘medical’ coverage and none available. I finally had to give up working about two years ago, and am retired now at 44.
    Sorry, looks like I’m grumbling…everything gets so confusing. I get tired.
    Gonna shut up now. Liked this article/blog, though! Lots! 🙂 Makes more sense than the way they’ve tried to explain it before. Had a priest tell me there are no others, only one soul per body, he said. LOL
    k, shutting up…gonna read s’more stuffs. Hope everyone has a happy happy day full of blessings.

  8. I agree so much with you Holly,

    I might feel multiple, when I lose time for sure but I am not. My “alts” are my me’s. All part of one me we just don’t communicate well yet. I often say me’s not alts.

    It confuses some though and that is not my intention. Sometime ago I heard this when it came to newborns and there “personality”.

    “Newborns do not have personalities as much as they have personality bends. One may be more mellow or anxious” etc. Having been around so many babies I can say that is true imho. They are great mimics of there environment. Nature vs Nurture has been around a long time. But it explains why 2 children can go through similar things and react with no commonality. A bend would be nature the rest is nurture.

    One child may fail to form a cohesive identity because of very little over whelming situations and another my have been in constant over whelming situations. The latter child in the place of the first child may not even blink at the lesser trauma of the first but that means little. Cause for the first child it was enough.

    I get over whelmed at the countless amount of me’s that seem to be. But if I am looking logically at who I am and what caused issue and how I react then maybe I should be saying “wow only this many me’s”

    I am blessed with having a therapist who is not interested in the labels. She is trying to help me and using her knowledge to do that. Sometimes she is teaching me. But once in a while I am the teacher, cause it comes down to how I think, how I process information, stress, emotion and so on.

    It would be really cool if more people listened honestly without there notions plugging there ears.

    Take Care

    1. Hi Suede,

      “It confuses some though and that is not my intention.”

      The whole thing is confusing … until you have a solid grasp on what Dissociative Identity Disorder is and what it isn’t. I know I confuse people. I say one thing, do another. Explain that DID is not multiplicity per se, then refer to other members of my system in a way that suggests I’m referring to entirely separate people. I would feel bad about the confusion I know all that creates if there were anything I could do about it that I’m not already doing. As it is I can’t really worry too much about it. Still, I totally agree with you:

      “It would be really cool if more people listened honestly without there notions plugging there ears.”

  9. I am multiple and have a friend who has some kind of diagnosis and in several conversations with her I felt that she dissociated to a little girl, crying and talking about things that to me were clearly younger parts of her. The first time I didn’t say anything to her but the next few times I decided to mention my thoughts to her. She also said — “I’m not multiple!!!” and to me it was that she didn’t want a new label.

    She was already in therapy and where we live there are not a lot of therapists who know how to treat people who are DID. I told her about a psychiatrist who would just do an assessment so that she would know for sure if she was multiple or not and that possibly she was not multiple, but she was not open to pursuing it at all.

    It is VERY hard to admit that you are multiple and then to decide to go for therapy is another whole can of worms. I was afraid to go for therapy at first, being afraid of what I would have to deal with. It took a lot of years of therapy to realize that my parents (the abusers) were abusive. I thought all parents were like them.

    I talk about “younger parts of myself” because most of my parts are 4 years old and under, some babies and the odd older one. It can be embarrasing to talk to others about when you hardly understand it yourself. Finding a GOOD therapist you can trust is EXTREMELY important since trust is a major issue because of the abuse that caused the dissociation in the first place.

    I LOVE this website and the variety of articles here.

    1. Hi Diana,

      Thanks for reading and joining in the discussion.

      “It can be embarrasing to talk to others about when you hardly understand it yourself.”

      I’ve found that to be true for me as well. Conversely, talking about Dissociative Identity Disorder isn’t embarrassing for me anymore now that I have a much better understanding of it.

  10. Again…..these (theories) are more misconceptions that made it hard for me to accept my diagnosis.
    I’m a multiple? A multiple of what? That makes no sense to me what-so-ever. I don’t accept that. I’m not different people in one body!
    Do I dissociate? Yes, I do.
    I like how you explain it here:
    “Where most people developed a multi-faceted, relatively well-integrated identity, we formed a severely fragmented identity”
    This is actually how my therapist explained it to me. It’s validating, and helpful for me to hear someone else explain it the same way.

    1. Mareeya you and I are so similar in this way …

      “Again…..these (theories) are more misconceptions that made it hard for me to accept my diagnosis.”

      When things don’t make sense how can I accept them?!

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