Regardless of whether you’re also part of a system of alters or not, you’re in for a few facts, mixed with stories, and some reminiscing on the evolving viewpoint of the order, or reorder of this disorder.
If you give us a listen and you want to find out more, you can find us over at thebagsystem.com
(Melissa) I have alternate personalities.
(Skittle) It’s really funny!
(Melissa) But, what if none of this is real?
(Imitation of therapist) How do you feel?
(SpitFire) Can she just get out of my face?
(Melissa) What if I’m not real?
Dissociative identity disorder or DID is what used to be known as multiple personalities, but many of you listening already knew that. Stay tuned, though. There may be something less textbook mingling in this monologue. For those less aware, I’m sprinkling around a few basics. A misleading thought related to the old term, “Multiple personalities” was that it made DID seem like the equivalent of a personality disorder, such as Borderline Personality Disorder. When in fact they are distinct conditions in different categories in the DSM, which is a reference to the diagnostic criteria for psychiatric disorders. Borderline Personality Disorder is classed as a personality disorder. Whereas Dissociative Identity Disorder is classified as one of the dissociative disorders. Dissociation in itself is not a disorder. Like all things that come in moderation, it can even be healthy. If you start imagining your next vacation, then you’re daydreaming, which is essentially what dissociation can be in many contexts. The mind dissociates or disconnects from the present, or from reality through this means. A lot of creative thinkers or visionaries would be considered to have active imaginations, or an ability to play out their concepts in a daydream realm.
Dissociation could be considered as the basic forgetting of where you put your keys. Nearly everyone does this from time to time. It doesn’t have to be a sign that anything is wrong at all. It’s simply how the mind works. But what if we take the same “Wait? Where’d I put my keys?” concept and go down that dissociative road to receiving a package in the mail that is in your name, charged to your own credit card, but you have no memory of buying it. Or, you can’t recognize a person that you’ve apparently met before. “Do I know you? How do you know me? What did you just call me?” Those examples are higher up on the dissociative spectrum. If someone has enough characteristics and severity to their dissociative symptoms, it may be what is considered disordered.
Disordered doesn’t mean crazy. In fact, crazy is just a stigmatizing accusation and sometimes just a mean weapon.
The word disordered simply means that something is out of place or out of the order that it should be. Out of place doesn’t mean lost either, because those keys can be found. Maybe not found when we want to, or not found how we want to, in the way we want, but they simply aren’t what they would have been or how other people’s keys might look. Some question how alternate personalities are considered a disorder when everyone has a variance in their personalities.
Hmm. Good question. Because yeah, sometimes we might go through phases of chocolate cravings with social media posts, full of selfies of ourselves, holding out that latest morsel, then move on to pizza, pizza, and more pizza. We might be in certain moods that are distinctly different from one day, one moment, to the next. We might go to a foreign country like Australia and pick up that spoken Ozzie accent, but not quite pull it off.
We might even pick up their sayings, mate. These are normal. So, the more precise consideration in wording might be alternate identity rather than alternate personality.
But then what would cause multiple identities? According to the current theory of structural dissociation, nobody is born with an integrated identity. Rather, while an infant, a child would have several ego states that care for its different needs. These ego states will have different roles, like ensuring they’re cared for, or being adventurous. By the age of between six to nine, depending on the child, their ego states naturally integrate into one coherent personality. So, if everyone comes into the world in many states, what keeps some of them from integrating like most do? While merging into a singular personality comes naturally, traumas prior to that merge can disrupt the process. Some criticize the diagnosis’ existence in saying that DID is sourced from influencible patients who believed the hypnotic suggestions of their therapists in saying that they have all altars. While this theory isn’t uncommon, it hasn’t really been supported by evidence.
Part of that belief in therapy induced malingering is due to a few famous cases that are now widely considered to be false. Conclusions were drawn that multiple personalities, as it was known, was a modern day phenomena following movie releases on the topic.
If that theory were true, there wouldn’t be accounts going back to the late 1500’s where Jeanne Feery recounted the details of her own story, which surrounded an exorcism performed due to her describe symptoms that perfectly match what we know as DID. Centuries later, in a book about Jeanne Ferry’s life, Bourneville referred to her state as “Dédoublement de la Personalité.” Double means double, whereas dédoublement would mean dual, as a reference to dual personalities.
I’ve been told that multiple personalities is no longer in the DSM and that nobody believes in that anymore. The only part of that statement that holds true is that the name for it is no longer the same, but dissociative identity disorder and multiple personality disorder are one in the same.
The psychiatric association recognizes the validity of DID to the point of developing its criteria within even the current diagnostic manual. The confusion and disbelief among even some of those in the medical field regarding Dissociative Identity Disorder is often in that it sounds far-fetched, and considered that only gullible individuals will believe that there can be multiple people in one mind or one body. Is that really what did is though? If we look at an alter as an identity that was added to coexist with another identity, where both were previously separate, then that would be more like what some see as demon possession, which is ruled out as a factor in the diagnostic for the DID. Regardless of anyone’s cultural beliefs on possession DID is an entirely different concept, which leans more toward run-of-the-mill psychology in explanation.
Rather than sort of tossing exterior identities into a salad of other identities, it’s really more that this salad was a salad from the start.
Naturally, we would wean off the need to be in multiple states, like we move on from most aspects of childhood. If that’s prevented, then present states remain with their original roles in protecting the whole. When our minds often take on difficulty or trauma, a naturally dissociative mind be more prone to remaining, separate and unique. While we are all meant to be one whole, some remain in separate states. So, it’s not so strange or unrealistic, or for that matter, gullible, to consider that what was never merged or connected cannot be a whole. Rather they are each their own whole in their own right. We could say they are pieces of one whole, but we cannot say they are one whole.
So let’s look at what some consider the next question, “Which of these pieces or alters or the real one? How can I determine?” Well, to be truthful on one side, I can see where someone is coming from in wondering this, as I did once about myself as well. On the other side, I sense the rejected feelings that this classification places on my Headmates. Though, while one might want to feel there is a distinction, what if there is no specific and singular ‘real one?’ What if we are all real and all parts of a whole? Wouldn’t it make sense, and wouldn’t it also be in kindness to give value to all parts?
Look at it this way. I’m Melissa. Those in my system are my alters, but for them, I am their alter. This means we are all alters to each other; all valuable and all deserving of consideration.
If Maggie speaks, she might not like being called “Melissa.” Not because she dislikes me, but because that’s not her name. If Maggie is asked to leave and for me to come back, how is that any different than doing the same to anyone else who has one identity? In thinking of someone that has alters, or of ourselves as having alters, we may tend to view this with an eye of tragedy and inner feud. While the source of what initiates this dissociation may be tragic, the state of having alters doesn’t have to be.
Some might portray that such conflict with a system of alters is commonplace, and that there can be only chaos. Assumptions are made that an alter is dangerous. Movies most commonly bring this stigma to the cinema where a character with DID is murderous. Is that actually the case? The most famous real-life DID stories to hit the news have sadly been those of pleading innocence to murder, because blame is passed to an alter.
The aspect of this that hurts to think is that when those informing the public about DID, they actually mainly refer to stories involving murder cases, which furthers the dominance of that type of stigma. While a few cases hit the news of murder and sociopathy, is that really what most of this community consists of?
While Dissociative Identity Disorder is traumatized into us, when we come forward with our diagnosis, we are the ones labeled as sociopaths and psychopaths. Those subjected to distressing events are turned around to be synonymous with their own perpetrators, which is isolating and discouraging.
When I first found out that I had alters, I was frightened, and in part… angry, and sort of righteous in seeing them in parasitical nature to my existence, rather than in coexistence. Nothing actually made me first, and them, second, and none of my Headmates are of lesser value for any reason. We all had a role to play in how we faced and overcame our issues.
A lesson that sunk with a bit of painned realization was that in that, while I was hating them for something out of their control, they were not monstrous sprouts of the mind to be removed or dismissed. They could feel hurt and rejection, even from me. Please note, the key word in the last phrase is “feel.” They can feel, because they too are within a mind capable of feeling. The only way or sense to consider that they didn’t have value was not in that they weren’t valuable, but in that, I, myself, did not consider them to be so. Fortunately, what has value remains valuable. I couldn’t take their value, but they could use theirs to prove me wrong.
If I could say anything to them of real value, it would be, “I wish I’d seen your sooner.”
I spoke in the first episode about how I used to feel hate for only two people; one of them, me, and the other, the four year old girl in the mirror who I spoke to in saying that her soul was dirty. I remember thinking that she was only in the mirror, and not part of me.
After being indicated that I had alters, I thought, there might be one or two, other than me. One, I considered was somewhat manic and that they were what I at the time, unfortunately referred to as obnoxious. The other, as an alter with a higher IQ than mine. So, including myself, could there have been three of us? Upon proper reflection, there were more defining differences between them, and more of us than I wanted to believe.
Thinking back, I remembered instances of child-like behavior in myself that baffled me at the time, and baffled me for the better part of my life.
Picture seven-year-old, Melissa, on the playground, acting and feeling like seven-year-old, Melissa. And I’ll tell you, seven-year-old Melissa was shy and withdrawn; didn’t talk unless spoken to. I was kind of a wallflower. I went unnoticed, but then some ordinary thing happened on that playground. My big brother was in the passenger seat of the van driving by the school yard. Ordinary, right? In looking back, I can almost feel the “switch” again. A sudden hazy weirdness rushed in my head, then absolute and undiluted joy took the place of the haze. My big brother! The body I was in went twirling in a literal spin, while the seeds from the make-shift bird feeder carton gripped the end of the string in my hand, spilt to the ground in circlets, spun out to the pavement.
There were a few quite stunning things about that moment, and I’m not referring to the expression on big brothers, confused face, as the van drove out of view. First, my brother’s reaction startled me, followed by realizing that the other seven-year-olds on that school playground were standing still, arms dropped, faces confused… and then this child-like joy left; replaced momentarily with the feeling of hurt. Then another haze swept my mind, and I was left following suit of my schoolmates… at a standstill, wondering what just happened, and baffled.
With the insight of now knowing there were others, and with the hindsight, I came to recall very similar instances throughout my life that left me wondering, “What was that?” At the recall of acting like a four-year-old child, and in connecting that the girl in the mirror was a four-year-old, the crushing realization was, she wasn’t just in the mirror. I didn’t consider her being capable of being an altar, much less a happy one, because quite shamefully, I gave her no credit at all.
If you paid attention to the intro reel at the beginning of each episode of the series, you’ll hear genuine recordings of Skittle, laughing, and saying things like, “That’s so funny!” There’s not much to hate about her. In fact, she is one to be admired. I was never that happy. It’s incredible that she can be.
While I’ve used terms like disorder, does that mean I see myself, or see having DID as someone being broken? Not if those pieces fit together. They don’t have to necessarily fit together in the sense of merging into one identity, but they can fit in a form of unity and communication with each other that is functional and conducive to living as multiple.
If you’ve ever felt that an alter could be a burden or evil or some kind of parasite to rip from your mind. If you’ve ever asked someone, “Which of you is the real one?” then I’d like to share my closing thought with you about the night before Skittle got her nickname. This, just in case, it reorders anything out of order, you may feel about this disorder.
In that red-eyed night of redemption, I bent my head down near the mirror where I used to speak to her; looked away with eyes closed, but spilling wet regret, and with words to her, that hushed sobs. Rather than unfounded accusations of a dirty soul, I spoke with a new mantra. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. Thank you for being my soul.”