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Normalizing Dissociation Part 5: Identity Alteration

Normalizing Dissociation Part 5: Identity Alteration

The two dissociative symptoms that, once described clearly, are the easiest for people to relate to and understand are also the ones that have earned Dissociative Identity Disorder its undeserved reputation as a bizarre aberration. Identity alteration (experiencing the self as multiple) and dissociative amnesia (gaps in memory) are the two manifestations of dissociation that are mythologized the most. But it’s not because they’re too foreign for most people to grasp. On the contrary, in their mildest forms they’re downright normal.

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Normalizing Dissociation Part 4: Identity Confusion

Normalizing Dissociation Part 4: Identity Confusion

One of the things that makes Dissociative Identity Disorder so difficult to recognize is that, contrary to popular belief, DID symptoms are not the stuff of science fiction. They are, in fact, severe amplifications of normal human experiences. I can think of nothing more normal, nothing more intrinsically human than identity confusion. Of the five primary manifestations of dissociation, I believe identity confusion is easily the most common. But it’s also the one few people will acknowledge in any meaningful way. People are pretty dedicated to the idea that we should know who we are without question, and we fervently admire those who appear most convincingly to do exactly that. But despite appearances, no one gets to live a human life without struggling with their sense of self.

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Normalizing Dissociation Part 3: Derealization

Normalizing Dissociation Part 3: Derealization

On Friday I went to the pharmacy to pick up some medication. It was a long wait, and I wasn’t feeling well. Around me I heard people talking, phones ringing, and the various noises of the grocery store that houses the pharmacy. The sounds seemed to come from a distance, and I felt profoundly disconnected from everyone and everything around me, as if I was an observer in a dream that wasn’t mine. It wasn’t a particularly comfortable experience but it certainly wasn’t an unusual one. I have Dissociative Identity Disorder, and I’ve lived with chronic, severe dissociation nearly all my life. The episode I described illustrates the combined forces of depersonalization and derealization, two forms of dissociation that often appear together. And despite the fact that I have DID and my dissociative experiences, taken as a whole, are decidedly abnormal, dissociation itself is something just about everyone experiences from time to time.

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Normalizing Dissociation Part 2: Depersonalization

Normalizing Dissociation Part 2: Depersonalization

Depersonalization is a way of experiencing the self. It’s a form of dissociation that manifests in a variety of ways that all boil down to a sense of detachment or separateness from one’s self. And though depersonalization is a chronic part of living with Dissociative Identity Disorder, it isn’t something only those of us with DID experience. For most people, episodes of depersonalization are transient, infrequent, and typically occur during periods of high stress.

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This Is Mental Clouding

This Is Mental Clouding

I’ve been trying for four days now to finish an article on depersonalization, one of five primary ways dissociation manifests. I wanted to address the milder episodes of depersonalization most people experience at one time or another. But I have Dissociative Identity Disorder, and severe depersonalization is part of living with DID. Ironically enough, it’s depersonalization itself – specifically, mental clouding – that’s preventing me from finishing that article. I’ve finally decided that if I’m going to continue to try to write in a highly depersonalized state, it makes sense to stop fighting it and simply do my best to describe what I’m experiencing. The article I intended to publish today will have to wait until I can think clearly again.

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Normalizing Dissociation Part 1: Dissociative Amnesia

Normalizing Dissociation Part 1: Dissociative Amnesia

Clarifying the distinction between relatively normal dissociation and relatively abnormal dissociation is important for a number of reasons, including: 1) understanding what Dissociative Identity Disorder is becomes easier when you can clearly identify what it is not, 2) describing symptoms like dissociative amnesia to others is less of a challenge when you start from a place they can relate to, and 3) those of us with DID could do with regular reminders that we aren’t aberrant life forms and, in fact, a good portion of our dissociative experiences aren’t as far-fetched to other people as we may believe.

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‘The Hunger Games’ Trilogy Brings DID and PTSD to Life

‘The Hunger Games’ Trilogy Brings DID and PTSD to Life

I just finished reading a young adult fiction series called The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It’s a dystopian tale, set in an oppressive, violent, and nearly hopeless future. I recommend it solely because it’s a gripping, invigorating read — but, as someone with both dissociative identity disorder (DID) and PTSD, there’s something special about The Hunger Games that impresses me: its remarkably deft portrayal of the immediate and long-term effects of trauma.

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My Dissociative Memory is a Problem

My Dissociative Memory is a Problem

Despite reminder tools and sheer determination, I keep forgetting to take my medication. I get up in the morning and think to myself, ‘Now don’t forget to take your medication!’ while heading to the bathroom where it’s waiting for me in a brightly colored container right there on the counter. And I repeatedly discover, much later in the day, those pills lying untouched in their little compartments. I have dissociative identity disorder and this is just one example of how my dissociative memory affects my everyday life. On its own it may not seem like a big deal. And if my memory problems were exclusive to forgetting medication or if they were irregular, here-and-there occurrences they probably wouldn’t be much of an issue. But what I just described is how my memory works all the time, with everything.

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Do I Have Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Do I Have Dissociative Identity Disorder?

We were talking about dissociation when a man I once knew told me he’d been entirely unaware of a hospital stay until he got the bill. I didn’t say it, but I immediately thought, ‘he obviously has Dissociative Identity Disorder.’ I now know how presumptuous that was. Though his experience was clearly indicative of something outside of everyday experience, it’s taking a lot for granted to assume that something is DID. And looking back, it’s absurd that I was so convinced. Not satisfied with a second opinion of my own diagnosis, I sought out four. One would think someone as hesitant to jump to conclusions as that would exercise a little more caution.

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What Is Dissociation? Part 5: Identity Alteration

What Is Dissociation? Part 5: Identity Alteration

If you’ve ever seen a television crime show featuring a suspect with Dissociative Identity Disorder, you’ve seen a theatrical depiction of identity alteration, the fifth of the five main dissociative symptoms. A bewildered man suspected of murder is brought in for questioning. Eventually his manner, style of speech, and affect change dramatically and he says something like, “Sam didn’t kill her. I did. I’m Joe.” That switch in personality states is identity alteration at it’s most extreme.

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