Dissociative Identity Disorder: Differences in DID Symptoms
A diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (DID) can be overwhelming and confusing and part of the reason can be the differences in DID symptoms. In order for a DID diagnosis to be made, a person has to fit certain criteria. After diagnosis, people may seek out further information in order to learn more about their symptoms and what their diagnosis means (What Is DID?). They may also seek support by finding others who also have DID. But what happens when that information doesn't exactly fit the mold of one's own DID experiences and the people they meet don't share the exact same DID symptoms?
DID Diagnoses Leave Room For Differences: Differences in DID Symptoms
According to the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM-5 (the encyclopedia of mental disorders), a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder requires five criteria to be met. The first is the presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states, more commonly referred to as DID alters, each with their own ways of thinking and relating to the world. The second is amnesia -- gaps in memory -- of personal information, or ordinary or traumatic events. These symptoms must cause clinically significant impairment in one or more major areas of functioning and must not caused by substance use or another medical condition. Lastly, the disturbance caused by DID is not accepted as part of normal cultural or religious practices.
DID Symptoms Involving Alters Are Different, Too
While the criteria for DID are specific, the manifestations of symptoms are unlimited. A person with DID may have anywhere from two alters or over 100 alters. There are a variety of alter types, from protectors, to introjects, to helpers. Alters can be any age or gender, regardless of the age and gender of the host, and may even be non-human. They each have their own name, behaviors, beliefs, and personality.
No matter how many alters or different types of alters you have, it is unreasonable to compare your alters to another person's alters. Your alters are unique to you and each of your alters is unique to each other. Even though your alters may be fewer in number compared to others with DID, that doesn't make your diagnosis any less valid.
Memory Disturbances Manifest as Different DID Symptoms
Every person with DID has experienced some type of memory disturbance. The severity of these memory disturbances, or amnesia, varies from person to person. One person with DID may have amnesia for entire years of his or her childhood (localized amnesia), while another person may have amnesia for shorter periods of time, such as days or even just hours.
The quantity and quality of memories also varies from person to person. One person with DID can have many memories that are vivid and clear, while another person with DID can have few memories which are "foggy" or incomplete. The severity of amnesia and the amount of memories one has does not affect the DID diagnosis. As long as amnesia has occurred, it does not matter how bad or how long it is; the diagnosis is still valid.
DID Symptoms Are Different: No Two Cases Are The Same
Every person with DID experiences it differently. Some of us are able to work, while others are unable to work. Some of us can live on our own, while others need further assistance (Housing For The Mentally Ill: Where To Find It). Some of us hear voices, while others do not. Co-consciousness between alters or the host and alters is common in DID, but not everyone experiences it; co-consciousness can develop over time, or not at all. Each person's traumas are also different.
I've come across numerous people with DID that believe their diagnosis is wrong or invalid because their symptoms don't seem as bad as another person's, or they don't quite match the textbook explanation of DID. This can lead to a person not getting treatment for DID, not acknowledging their symptoms, and/or denying the DID. The reality is that you will likely never meet or read about a person with DID that is exactly like you. Your traumas, your alters, your memories, your thoughts - they are all unique to you. Don't let your differences invalidate you or your diagnosis.
Matulewicz, C. (2015, November 19). Dissociative Identity Disorder: Differences in DID Symptoms, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, March 28 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/dissociativeliving/2015/11/dissociative-identity-disorder-no-two-cases-are-the-same
Author: Crystalie Matulewicz
Thank you so much for writing this article. As I continue on this DID journey, and as I try to resist being in denial about the diagnosis, seeing the discrepancies between my symptoms and others symptoms really make me lean towards denial. About 3 or 4 months ago I read an autobiography about someone who has DID. After reading the book (in two days) I throughly convinced myself I did not have DID and....well, mentally I started to go downhill pretty quickly. I am co-conscience, do not hear voices, and didn't understand about amnesia because I didn't think I had any since I am co-conscience. Because you gave definitions that my little mind could grasp (thank you!) I can definitely see myself in each one. I don't have memories from my childhood but I never labeled that as amnesia....but now I do! As of right now, I only have two other alters (besides myself) and I don't hear their voices but I know their thoughts. Thank you for making things clear to me. I look forward to reading more of your blogs!