I am a survivor of severe and repeated childhood trauma that I endured beginning when I was a newborn and lasting until I was 15 years old. The trauma caused me to form a condition known as dissociative identity disorder (DID), what was once known as multiple personality disorder.
DID typically develops as a coping mechanism to deal with severe trauma. Its main feature is a disconnection between thoughts, identity, consciousness and memory. For me, it led to the formation and solidification of alternate egos (alters).
The abuse I endured left my mind unable to form a cohesive “I,” and instead, remained fragmented. No, I am not weird or strange like in the movies. I am one person like everyone else, only my “self” didn’t combine into a whole personality.
People who develop this condition during childhood, as I did, often don’t know that their experiences with reality are different than those of “typical” people who have only one cohesive personality. So, when diagnosed they may go into a deep denial because DID is their norm. Realizing that something is wrong can be very frightening.
Denial is a big part of my story of healing and moving forward. I was first diagnosed in 1990 and went through cycles of denial repeatedly until I finally accepted that my DID is not going away. It is a part of me, but only one part, not the whole.
How Triggers Work
To better understand DID, one must understand how memory works. When most people encounter a situation similar to one they’ve experienced before, it activates memories to life by relating the new situation to the old one. This happens whether it was yesterday or many decades before.
To explain, I often give the following example:
On Christmas Day, you arrive at your friend’s home. She greets you at the door leading you into the house where the scent of home baked bread fills your senses. You have a marvelous time that day.
Ten years later, you are walking down the sidewalk and pass a bakery. You enter and are immediately greeted with the smell of home baked bread. The smell sends you back in time to that wonderful Christmas Day a decade ago. For a moment, you are lost in that memory smiling and enjoying the day all over again.
That is how most people store and recover memories.
My ego states were kept separated at the developmental stage where they should have come together due to childhood trauma disrupting this important milestone. So, when a sight, smell or sound reminds me of the trauma from decades past, an ego state or alter may surface. Unfortunately, some triggers flash me back to unpleasant memories, and that can lead to a dissociative episode.
Dissociation is another typical human behavior, like road rage or losing time while watching a movie. However, in my case, dissociation means I lose time and memories for events in a way that disrupts the continuity of my existence. While no one remembers everything they did in a day, I may not remember the day at all. To make matters worse, sometimes my alters will take over and do or say things I do not remember either. It is the ultimate loss of control.
One thing I need to point out is that I am not violent, nor have I ever felt I had superpowers.. I am an ordinary human being who found an extraordinary way to survive trauma that would have killed me had I not done so.
Where I Am Going from Here
It has taken me more than 29 years of arduous work in therapy to overcome the chaos that was once my life. Although there are still many parts of me, and always will be, I have accepted that I am living with a serious mental health issue. Today, I rarely have dissociative episodes where an alter is triggered to life and takes over. For the first time in my life, I am sleeping well at night and enjoying my time on planet earth.
Now I spend my time working with others in the DID community and writing to spread truthful information about dissociative identity disorder. I also write grants for non-profit organizations and author articles for the CPTSD Foundation and my own blogsite.
My life’s goal is simple. I want to help others who are struggling to live calm and fulfilling lives. I feel if I can help one person to successfully navigate down their own healing path, I have fulfilled my life’s purpose.
Shirley J. Davis is a published author specializing in writing about Dissociative Identity Disorder. She also owns and operates the internationally known and award winning blog Dissociative Identity Disorder in a Nutshell available at www.learnaboutdid.com