Normalizing Dissociation Part 4: Identity Confusion

July 18, 2011 Holly Gray

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.

identity-confusionIdentity Confusion is Part of Being Human

As far as I know, a dog doesn't contemplate what it means to be a dog. A tree doesn't ruminate on what sort of tree it is, what differentiates it from other trees, and how to remain true to it's own unique treeness. Human beings, on the other hand, are obsessed with self. We are driven by a relentless need to understand and define ourselves. It's impossible to be human without ever experiencing a sense of uncertainty about who you are, which is precisely what identity confusion is.

As a dissociative symptom, identity confusion is a subjective feeling of uncertainty, puzzlement, or conflict about one's sense of self. It involves difficulty understanding oneself and feelings of unhappiness resulting from internal strife. - The Stranger in the Mirror, Marlene Steinberg and Maxine Schnall

Nobody Likes Identity Confusion

Identity confusion doesn't feel good for anyone, not just those of us with Dissociative Identity Disorder. And that discomfort is compounded by constant messages from nearly every facet of life that declare "being yourself" is a sign of strength. Even the products and services we buy are marketed to us based on the concept of identity. Are you the kind of person who eats that food? No! You're the kind of person who eats this food! Part of the reason this approach works so well is, I'm convinced, because everyone experiences identity confusion and nobody likes it. We want to feel certain of who we are so badly that we'll buy a solid sense of self if we can't come by it on our own.

Normalizing Identity Confusion

Those of us with Dissociative Identity Disorder experience this form of dissociation more intensely and more regularly than most people. It's unsettling, frustrating and the pervasive denial that just about everyone in the English speaking world relies on brands, labels, and categories to support their ideas of who they are just makes living with chronic identity confusion more isolating, more confounding. And while it's difficult to normalize something nobody wants to admit to, my hope is that all of us with DID can begin simply to notice evidence of it around us and take comfort in the fact that, no matter how many different ways we repeat Socrates' maxim 'Know thyself,' none of us knows ourselves as well as we think we do.

Complete Series: Normalizing Dissociation

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APA Reference
Gray, H. (2011, July 18). Normalizing Dissociation Part 4: Identity Confusion, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Holly Gray

February, 22 2013 at 4:27 am

Confusion of self is extensive for me as I cope with DID. As the core personality I find the past behaviors of my alternates often extreme at best and down right alien at worrst. Realizing they are all variations of my "self" has been a hard road to travel.
My angery personality would take anger to the Nth degree. She has stated that she believes that as a whole there would be a system of checks and balancing that would have the ability to control the degree of which she would not only acton anger but also bbalance the feeling of anger allowing it to be toned down by empathy and logic. This has been a great help in facing the knowledges of my sexual self with what I consider amoral behaviors.
Still I face issues with the question of what is really me and what is influenced by others me. I am still new on this road to knowing and pulling together "self". And yhis by far has been the greatest challenge of all.

July, 21 2011 at 2:25 am

I'm glad for the insight I seek on DID, so thanks to you both for willing to expose the confusion you experience every moment of every day and night too. I have a loved one with DID that I have been supporting for five years ONLINE. Only less than two weeks ago did I realize I was relating mostly to the dominant alter all of that time. Both of us experienced years of abuse and were both reaching out when we met on an online community support site that where so many other broken spirits held tight. That's where I became his Godmomma and have tried to guide him to safety and recovery from his very traumatized past.
I know how agonizingly confused I was to learn and finally meet the core/host of the person whose heart is attached to mine--that I felt betrayed, lost, physically ill /sleepless and wanted to die--because IIIIIIIIIIIIII no longer knew who I was if I was being who I was to someone who I felt wasn't.
Our bond however, is proving to be much stronger than that and I didn't waiver much on my desire to keep our relationship alive. I knew he had alters for a few years now, and because of the mind control programming of ritual abuse he was unable to reveal his identity to me. What was introduced to me a few months into the start of our relationship were his siblings who I realize now were his sub alters and I'd met other layers of alters hearing the graphic details of the trauma they experienced.
Understanding the world of DID is complicated but very necessary to every single abused person on this planet--because we ALL disassociate on one level or another. Experiencing memory loss as I do is hard enough without the gaps in lost TIME as do those with DID/MPD. I'm so glad God put him on my path.
I'm so glad you two and so many others are able to express to those of us listening about your world. You're helping me personally help some ONE and their "others" discover who they are as the whole in their system. The mind is brilliant for those with DID/MPD--it just needs to come together as gently as possible.
In Him,

July, 19 2011 at 9:44 am

I have a tendency to beat myself up quite a bit over my inability to figure out who I am. I see people who "appear" to know exactly who they are, then I compare myself to them, and I ultimately end up feeling like such a loser. It never really occurred to me that perhaps they struggle with their own sense of self as well. They just make it look so effortless, but maybe it's not as effortless for them as they make it seem.
I have always believed that most people have the "basics" of their identities down; such as, do they like men or women, do they like cats or dogs, or do they want to be married or single.
I figured that if anything, they may need to work out a few minor details, but the big stuff is figured out.
For me.... I don't even have the big stuff figured out.
The easiest method I use to work on this is to figure out who I'm not.
I was recently telling a friend of mine that someday I will figure out who I am by process of elimination. She doesn't have DID, but she said she could relate to what I was saying. And you know.... I did take notice, and it did help me to hear someone else admit to understanding what I was saying when I was expecting her to look at me like I'm a freak.
I would, however, like to take a moment to note that the biggest problem with my "process of elimination" method, is that if you get too carried away, you end up isolating yourself totally. This is what I believe makes it so difficult for those of us with chronic identity confusion.
My head is really fuzzy today, so I don't know if anything I just wrote makes any sense, but I do know that this article came at just the right time for me.
Very well written, Holly! Thank you for so eloquently explaining this topic.
And I was just thinking.... that life would be so much easier if I were a tree!
Seriously! Oh... but can I be a Japanese Maple? I think they are so beautiful. ;-)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
July, 20 2011 at 9:38 am

Hi Mareeya,
I think you've hit on the difference between "normal" identity confusion and what those of us with Dissociative Identity Disorder live with. As far as I can tell, most people *do* have the basics down. Until life throws them a curve ball and they temporarily experience the level of identity confusion you live with regularly. But I think they do struggle with their sense of self, in less dramatic ways, more regularly than they're willing to admit to.
You always make sense. ;)

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