Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a mental illness that, despite prevalence rates similar to Bulimia and OCD, is traditionally misdiagnosed and misunderstood by both the public and mental health providers. March 5th is observed as Dissociative Identity Disorder Awareness Day in efforts to increase awareness of and education about DID.
Until the mid 1990’s, Dissociative Identity Disorder was referred to as Multiple Personality Disorder. It was renamed in order to more accurately describe the symptomology experienced. It is estimated that DID affects approximately 2% of the general population and is predominately caused by severe childhood trauma combined with a disorganized attachment style. During development, children typically complete the process of personality integration around age 9. When long-term child abuse occurs before this process has completed, combined with a disorganized attachment system that prevents the child from reliably being able to soothe and seek comfort from caregivers, the personality system is unable to fully integrate into a single sense of self.
Those with DID have two or more distinct and separate identities, each with their own pattern of relating to their environment and to others. They experience significant memory loss of time, people, and events in their lives due to these dissociated Selves. Having different parts of Self holding specific memories or events that the other parts of self are unaware of becomes the child’s main coping mechanism in order to function and survive within the abuse. This may allow a child to go to school during the day without having to recall the horrors they may experience later on after school.
Although it started as a coping mechanism designed to manage the unmanageable, those with Dissociative Identity Disorder may begin to struggle with quality-of-life interfering symptoms. In addition to the amnesia, these may include depersonalization (feeling detached from their actions, emotions, thoughts or sensations as if watching a movie of one’s life rather than experiencing it first-hand), derealization (the feeling that things around them do not feel real), flashbacks of memory (often described as awake nightmares) and eating disorders or addictions that are used as a way to manage mood issues such as depression, anxiety, and/or suicidal ideation.
As those of us working with Dissociative Identity Disorder know, DID is often misdiagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia, or Rapid-Cycling Bi-Polar Disorder. It may take years to receive an accurate diagnosis and therefore receive proper treatment. Sometimes when clients come to a dissociation-aware therapist, they may have been misdiagnosed many times, and have spent many years in therapy not being correctly treated. This is traumatic for both survivors and their families. Additionally, there is a social stigma associated with DID that has been perpetuated by misunderstanding of the disorder. This has been exacerbated by popular culture, television and film inaccurately portraying those with DID as dangerous.
The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD) seeks to advance clinical, scientific, and societal understanding about the prevalence and consequences of chronic trauma and dissociation. Therefore, we welcome an opportunity like DID Awareness Day to raise awareness in the mental health world about DID and other dissociative disorders while empowering those with DID to share their stories and learn to accept themselves in a world where this disorder is misunderstood.
Please help ISSTD with this mission by joining us on March 4, 2021 at 6:00 pm EST as we offer a special webinar for the public. You will hear from experts from a number of organizations focused on providing resources and support to individuals with dissociative disorders for a conversation about DID, how to support friends and loved ones, and more. This webinar is jointly presented by ISSTD, An Infinite Mind, Beauty After Bruises, and Blue Knot Foundation. You can register for this event here. Please note that registration for this webinar closes at 5:00pm on Thursday, March 4, 2021.
This month we are also featuring articles in ISSTD News from a couple of ISSTD Members who have lived experience of DID. They share their experience and their hopes for DID Awareness Day.
Other ways you can participate is by sharing an article or fact sheet from ISSTD News, or from the ISSTD website on social media using the hashtag #didawarenessday or #dissociativeidentitydisorderawarenessday.