What Is Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Tiara performed in front of two hundred people. There were accolades everywhere. She is a trained classical dancer and no one can beat her steps. She even got the first prize.

Jeena hit a man right in the middle of road. He was eating at a roadside eatery where Jeena too wanted to grab something for lunch. The fact that the man was served before Jeena did not go down well with her. She failed to realize that she had ordered masala dosa and that man was eating idli which had already been prepared in the morning. When she hit him, the man tried to fight her off but he couldn’t. With her immense strength, she knocked him down.

Things were bad for Violet when she was in school. Though she studied in an all-girls convent, she failed to adjust herself with her peers. It got worse in college and she dropped out.

I have narrated experiences from the lives of three women. But do you know they are all one person? One single person who had three personalities. Do I need to give her a name? Does that matter anymore? No need. Perhaps you’ve already guessed—I am talking about Dissociative Identity Disorder, or DID.

Previously known as Multiple Personality Disorders, this is also a psychiatric problem where an individual has multiple personalities; two, three, four, even more.  Sometimes the afflicted person may have a ‘main’ personality but that may be dormant, controlled or depressed. The alternative personalities take turns being in control and are often exhibited depending on moods, age, and gender. The fatal part is when one personality takes control, and it completely overpowers the others. Like in the case of Violet, where the individual cannot relate one incident with the other.

Studies have revealed that DID stems in early childhood where the child had been a victim to emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Even a neglected child can develop the disorder. It worsens as the child grows up, and if not treated, it can be fatal.

Some of the symptoms include:

  • Confusion,
  • Forgetfulness,
  • Depression
  • Mood Swings
  • Obsessive Compulsive rituals
  • Insomnia
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Psychotic symptoms like hallucinations.

According to WebMd other symptoms include headache, amnesia, losing sense of time, trances, and “out of body experiences”. Some people with dissociative disorders have a tendency toward self-victimization, self-sabotage, and even violence (both self-inflicted and outwardly directed). As an example, a persons with DID may find themselves doing things they wouldn’t normally do—such as speeding, reckless driving, or stealing money from their employer or friend—yet they feel compelled to do it. Some describe this feeling as being a ‘passenger’ in their body rather than the driver. In other words, they truly believe they have no choice.

Childhood abuse is the root cause of this disorder. This is the grim truth. According to research by a Washington-based group, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. Hence the sad fact remain that females are more prone to this disorder. Thus, when a female child grows up with this disorder, she is also at the receiving end of Intimate Partner Violence. And our misogynistic society has no business but to increase the trauma of a woman by blaming her instead of treating her with empathy and also providing medical intervention.

A still from the movie “Sybil”, starring Sally Fields as a young woman with DID, and 17 distinct personalities. Based on a real story, the portrayal of Sybil Dorsett brought DID into public view for the first time.

Though there is no specific medication to treat this ailment, psychotherapy (talking process) can help make the person aware of their condition. The aim of this treatment is not to eliminate all the personalities in one shot but to stop the increase in the number of personalities.

Now, let’s go back the real life case I began with. It was found that the girl, during her growing years, suffered tremendous physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Having lost her mother at birth, she was under the care of her rich alcoholic father who sexually abused her, making her emotionally vulnerable. As a child she was also neglected. Initially, she suffered from depression and struggled through college. She was treated by a local psychiatrist who sent her home after diagnosing her with clinical depression. Over the next several years, she suffered her extremes when she reported hearing several voices in her head urging her to self harm. She even tried committing suicide but managed to pull through. Being trained in classical dance she almost managed to get a job in the local music college but could not make it because of the voices in her head. They would each turn into a personality which she couldn’t control. It was the cops who ultimately saved her after a failed suicide attempt when they took her to the hospital therapist. She has been under treatment for two decades and it was found she had developed 35 different personalities.

The good news is that she responded to therapy under her counselor, and is still under counseling. She understands that she suffers from DID. Today, she is a strong advocate of this disorder. Being a classical dancer she has opened her own dance school and also provides help to people suffering from this disorder.

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