Everything You Know About Dissociative Identity Disorder Is Wrong

As many of you have been waiting for, I am honored to present the Burble’s first guest post by Holly Gray, author of Don’t Call Me Cybil. If you haven’t already done so, check out Is Multiple Personality Disorder Real, and then enjoy!

My name is Holly Gray. I have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. When I was diagnosed with this mental illness in 2005, all I thought I knew about DID was born of misconceptions and stereotypes. I’d never met anyone with DID. I’d never read any books or articles other than sensationalistic material that pops up in a search engine query. I couldn’t have cited an educated source for any of my supposed knowledge. A movie perhaps, a television crime drama, or a friend of a cousin’s boyfriend’s friend.

In other words, I had no legitimate knowledge of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Like any other mental illness, if your education comes from anecdotal evidence and entertainment media you’re not just uninformed, you’re misinformed.

Myths About Mental Illness: Dissociative Identity Disorder

Some common perceptions of DID are that it’s:

  • Multiple people living in one body. Not literally, no. Does that mean alters aren’t real? Far from it. They’re just as real as the various aspects of your identity. You may crassly joke about something with friends that you’d never discuss at work. Your kids, nephews or nieces may know you as composed while your lovers experience a wilder side. These different sides of your personality are all authentic. You have a multi-faceted identity. DID is an extreme manifestation of that same thing. In other words, what is multi-faceted identity for you is severely fragmented identity for those of us with DID. We feel like we’re different people in one body. But in fact, we’re an identity that is so severely fragmented that we experience ourselves and operate separately.
  • Dramatic. Dissociative Identity Disorder is designed to go undetected. Its purpose is to hide – hide information, aspects of self, experiences, feelings. Regularly flamboyant switches in personality states would undermine that purpose. Extreme stress can provoke such dramatic presentation, but even then DID doesn’t look to the causal observer like multiple personalities. To others, people with DID often appear moody or even erratic at times, but rarely as blatantly multiple.
  • Created by therapists. True DID cannot be formed in a non-dissociative person by a therapist. DID develops in early childhood when identity is highly malleable. If you’ve made it to adulthood without a dissociative disorder, you’re not going to suddenly develop DID. However, this myth wasn’t born in a vacuum. Misdiagnosis does occur. And it’s possible for a deeply confused and suggestible person, particularly one who is already severely dissociative, to begin not only to exhibit but experience many of the symptoms of DID. Are there shady therapists purposefully creating an army of multiples? No. Are there naïve or unskilled clinicians inadvertently misdiagnosing patients who then adopt the symptoms of a disorder they never really had? Sometimes, yes.

Dissociate Identity Disorder Is a Mental Illness, Not a TV Show Plot

Like most mental illnesses, Dissociative Identity Disorder is complex and many-layered. Still, full-scale research isn’t necessary to achieve a basic understanding of it. [pull]Would you let a doctor who wasn’t drained in depression treat your depression? You need a DID specialist.[/pull]

It is necessary, however, to treat information about DID the same way you would about anything else. That is to say, consider the source. Your doctor may be a competent and skilled physician. But have they ever studied DID? Have they had clinical experience treating it? Let me ask you this: if you had Bipolar Disorder, would you trust information about it from a doctor who’d never treated it or been trained to treat it? What about information from hearsay? Entertainment media? If all I knew about your mental illness was what I’ve heard on tv or from undereducated sources, would I understand it well enough to form an opinion?

Holly Gray is also the author of Dissociative Living, at HealthyPlace.com.

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