DID, Identity Alteration, and The Lonely Illusion of Intimacy

September 2, 2010 Holly Gray

Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder is, among other things, lonely. I often feel like I'm watching my life as it's lived by braver or more competent others. A situation presents itself and, without conscious choice, the deck that is my system of alters begins to shuffle. Some force outside my control determines, almost instantaneously, the card best suited for the circumstances; and the card plays until the shuffling begins again. On one hand, this identity alteration is precisely what has allowed me to find employment, make friends, and parent a child. On the other, it's what separates me from the world and makes intimacy an illusion that only rarely becomes my reality.

[caption id="attachment_279" align="alignleft" width="323" caption="By Alex Buirds"]By Alex Buirds[/caption]

Adults with DID are very skilled at assessing their surroundings and becoming whatever they believe is expected of them, which creates the illusion of being close to others. -Deborah Haddock, The Dissociative Identity Disorder Sourcebook

Identity Alteration: Asset & Liability

The ability to produce the identity that best serves the situation at hand truly is a skill, a life-saving one at times. But it's also a crutch that limits the capacity for intimacy. Here are two illustrations of identity alteration in action, one that attests to its value, and one that attests to the lonely illusion it creates:

  • Asset. As a teenager one day, I found myself witness to a violent, abusive scene. This wasn't a new experience, but its familiarity made it no less terrifying. I called 911 for help; but because I was trembling from head to toe with fear, my words came out garbled and impossible to understand. Eventually, the dispatcher hung up on me. I felt desperate. I had to get help but couldn't stop shaking long enough to communicate effectively. Though I don't remember it, I can tell you that we dialed 911 again and successfully explained the situation and all the pertinent details. Officers were sent to the scene and no one was seriously injured. Thanks to identity alteration, someone less frightened than I made that second call and got the help we needed.
  • Liability. I don't spend much time with my friends. Because of identity alteration, most of my friends know someone better suited to social situations, someone affable, funny, and extroverted. When a close friend mentioned last week that she'd read my blog post, Love and DID: Sometimes More is Less, her affable, gregarious companion - my presenting alter - was stumped. Not knowing the content of the post, the presenting alter made a pretense of understanding the reference and moved on. I don't remember their conversation but I saw bits of it later, like a film, and recognized the illusion of intimacy their dialogue created. They had a good time together. But I felt lonely for my friend, and the genuine connection identity alteration makes it difficult to create.

How are alter identities a blessing? How does having them feel like a curse? Recognizing the paradox of identity alteration helps me understand and live with DID.

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APA Reference
Gray, H. (2010, September 2). DID, Identity Alteration, and The Lonely Illusion of Intimacy, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Author: Holly Gray

October, 14 2016 at 2:14 pm

Hanna, what you described sounds very similar to my experience. I don't know if I have DID or any mental health issues (I can tell something is off, but I'm not sure what and therapy is expensive). I don't have any attention problems, but aside from that pretty much everything you mentioned is similar to what I've been through. I did see it mentioned in the comments of another post on this blog that emotional neglect can be a factor in developing dissociative problems. In my case, I am pretty certain that while I was fairly well cared for, my emotions were often ignored, I even felt at some points that I wasn't allowed to express them. I'm not sure what's caused my issues, but I know that because emotional neglect is an absence of action instead of an attack like abuse, it tends to go unnoticed. After all, how do you notice if something wasn't there or if something didn't happen? It may explain what went wrong in cases where there wasn't an obvious trauma. Also, if it's something that's prolonged, it doesn't take as severe a trauma to cause problems as a single event type of trauma. In my case, there was a hoarding issue from a fairly young age, so while it's not one terrible event, I have had to cope with anxieties caused by unsanitary living conditions long term. (That's also the source of a powerful insect phobia I've struggled with.)

July, 5 2016 at 2:48 pm

I have experience a form of DiD for as long as I can remember. I didn't understand it for years until one of my stronger personalities got involved with a very bad man which then lead that personality to drink alcohol and text this man horrible things. He called the cops on me and my alter talked rude to the cop, hung up on the cop and 24 hrs later I was arrested in front of my husband and daughter. I was so ashamed of what my alter did that I tried to hang myself in jail. I was bailed out by a good friend. My parents and my friend saw what I did to myself and I was admitted to a psych ward for a week. I was never diagnosed with anything because I acted as normal as possible to get out of there. I Stayed with my family for a few months and moved back in with my husband. I am seeing a shrink but it's hard to explain that sometimes other personalities take over and I can't control them and then sometimes I can control or at least limit their access to my motor skills. They still come out for bits at a time and react horrible to friends on social media networks. But I stay away from alcohol, pot, or anything that can alter myself because then these personalities really come alive. It's like I'm watching myself from above like a movie and I can't get back in my body and control it. For years I could function under the radar and control them so I seemed normal. Now it seems like one personality that gets around my brother becomes quite the little bitch and a total slut with men. I'm confused as to why it took so long before they become so destructive. I paid my dues and the case was dropped but my reputation as an adulterous in my marriage has ruined us. My husband excepts that I have a mental illness but where does he draw the line. Will one of them act out again and force me to lose everything...?

March, 16 2016 at 4:23 am

I've also regularly experienced fleeting moments of derealization for as long as I can remember, back into my early child. I've been diagnosed with a bunch of anxiety, and I have Sensory Processing Disorder and ADHD with a slow processing speed. Just more details about me. I've never posted anything on a mental health help website like this or anything! Maybe I'm just a really pathetic character, I'm not sure... Thanks for your time.

March, 16 2016 at 4:14 am

I also very much relate to what holly pointed out, "what amazes me...don't REALLY know me at all," as well as the "they know bits of me in specific ways..." And practically everything else on this insightful website. I don't know what disorder I have, if any, or really what is wrong me me; I, unlike most accounts I have been reading about, do not experience a regular rotation of a distinct set of "alters," it is more of a chameleon effect based off of any person I am with. I was not abused in any way as a child; I cannot see where or how my attachment style could have gone wrong, except for bullying in elementary and middle school from some peers. I do have memories from when I was a child of another person seeming to completely take over my body and mind and saying rude, bold comments to adults or creating false stories for a totally unknown reason and being mortified by what I had done later, but not being able to control it in the moment. However, I rarely experience memory fog beyond a minor level, nothif quite like what many of the people here describe. I have been very scared for the past several years, because I am certainly living my life without really living it, going through the motions by slipping into someone else with each new given moment and circumstance, and faking my "super close" intimate relationships and friendships with people, only to live in fear of my fakeness being discovered. But I do not have distinct alters with titles or names and for the most part I can remember everything that happens to me and I don't know if I even have a problem. Do you think that I could simply be experiencing a very minor form of DID or somethings similar? I know it is normal for people to go through life mirroring people to an extent as well as playing different roles in different areas of their life, but I also know that I am living in a numbness that is causing me pain that I don't know how to escape. I would love and appreciate any feedback or help to end this pain.

December, 11 2014 at 7:17 am

Hi, I've recently started to come to terms with my DID and the letter about people knowing me and feeling close to me rang so true. It drives my husband crazy because I have had a huge social network of people that he doesn't know and are not relationship approved. It is my fear of loneliness that causes me to befriend so many people and yet I have little to no emotional attachment to them at all. I feel like I use people to assure myself I'm OK or worthy of love. It has been a problem for my marriage because they are not all good choices for me or us as a couple but I seem to not be able to stop myself from talking to complete strangers and letting them in closer than they should be. I have some very confident Alters who are drawn to Group settings and who are perceived as very gregarious but I've always seen myself as shy and timid. My challenge is to not talk too intimately and keep things surfacy which is very difficult at times. I'll make plans with people and my Husband is hurt and feels left out and I'm not even aware of his feelings or the fact that I've excluded him. I need people and it's a hard balance to keep.

July, 15 2011 at 4:56 am

I/we are struggling with loneliness for sure right now. The desire to be truly known is palpable and very painful. I'm married and it's still there... though I know that's true for lots of married people/partners/relationships.
One thing that amazes me is how many people think they are close to me! They feel all close and connected to me, yet those same people feel miles away to me... that they don't REALLY know me at all. Unless people know of my DID and have interacted with several alters, I don't feel known by them at all.
So far it seems that God is the only one who can put up with knowing me fully. I'm praying desperately that I could hear Him better all the time (instead of just here and there), so that my lonely gap can be filled. Dear Lord may my hearing be attuned so I can hear and experience You more... so desperate....
I think the truth is that most people don't feel truly known, not just DID people. It might be that we feel it even more so though..... and OUCH!! It just really hurts right now.... thanks for letting me share. And it helps to just read what others wrote too - helps me feel less alone. Thank-you.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
July, 20 2011 at 7:36 am

I can totally relate to this, chariots:
"One thing that amazes me is how many people think they are close to me! They feel all close and connected to me, yet those same people feel miles away to me… that they don’t REALLY know me at all."
And yes, I think to some extent that's just part of the human condition. But Dissociative Identity Disorder certainly exacerbates feeling unknown.
I hope the loneliness is easing for you. Like you, I find it helpful to hear from people who understand. By sharing, you're helping others feel less alone too. :)

Jan Veal
March, 7 2011 at 10:01 pm

Hi iwas diagnosed 18yrs ago with DID, and yes intimacy is hard,as I have a couple of altars who dont like men and one that is bi sexual so it can be very complicated Under duress or too much stress my stystem splinters,even though I have built up strong coping skills over the years

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
March, 10 2011 at 3:45 pm

Hi Jan,
Thanks for your comment.
Sexual identity can be a troublesome spot for people with Dissociative Identity Disorder. My experience is also that it can be very complicated, as you mention. It's a challenging disorder to live with, that's for sure.

September, 5 2010 at 2:30 pm

Intimacy is often so complicated and riddled with self doubt that anxiety runs at a constantly higher level. God bless the confident ones.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
September, 8 2010 at 2:46 pm

Hi Mark,
I suppose confidence probably does help foster intimacy. But even the healthiest self-esteem cannot overcome the loneliness of knowing that no one really knows you. It's one of the more painful realities of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Even so, like you said, intimacy is complicated DID or not. It's helpful to remember that. Thanks for the reminder.

September, 2 2010 at 9:12 am

Holly- I really feel the need to point out that as one learns to share information between parts and even share awareness with one another that changes to some degree or another. Like right now I am actively writing this later on if there is a reference made to it, whomever is forward may not remember writing it but they will most likely remember that it was written and what is says. That is commonly the way things work for the more "fronting" part of my system.
I can still understand that the lack of total awareness does leave things in a lonely sort of space. For me, one of the most lonely things is feeling like nobody really knows me. They know bits of me in specific circumstances and even then often that doesn't feel like me but more like an us that I am not sure the other party would understand at all.
It is complicated and as you stated a blessing and a curse, swirled together to make what we call survival.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
September, 2 2010 at 11:01 am

Dana -
"They know bits of me in specific circumstances and even then often that doesn’t feel like me but more like an us that I am not sure the other party would understand at all."
Yes! That's an excellent way of putting it.
It makes sense to me that increased awareness and communication might alleviate some of that loneliness and help make identity alteration feel less like a barrier to intimacy. I know that those moments when I'm able to communicate directly with parts of my system, I feel more whole. I can see how, over time and with practice, that might translate into feeling more whole in my relationships as well. I hope so.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Dana. I appreciate hearing others' experiences. You've given me a lot to think about.

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