Dissociative Identity Disorder: Altering views of Alters

Cinema and films can be wonderful in helping us discuss our mental health experiences. Recently, a TV series has helped shine a light on a lesser known and highly stigmatised condition.

Last year, Marvel’s Moon Knight portrayed a character who, like many superheroes, had a mental illness. Unlike The Hulk’s Intermittent Explosive Disorder or Iron Man’s PTSD, Moon Knight brought childhood trauma and a much misunderstood mental illness Dissociative Identity Disorder into the spotlight.

There were pros and cons to this effort. Some people praised the series for showing empathy and nuance to the character’s experience, while others criticised the various inaccuracies the show depicted of Dissociative Identity Disorder).

There are many types of dissociative disorder,  DID being just one. According to the Mayo Clinic dissociative disorders are mental disorders that involve experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity.

A common inaccuracy is misnaming Dissociative identity disorder (DID), as “multiple personality disorder”, a term not used clinically since 1994. While a person with DID does experience different states of being and often identifies these states as separate parts of themselves, separate identities or “alters” this does not equate to having “multiple personalities”.

One of MQ’s supporters reached out to tell us about their experience of DID. Given their experience of different identities, they go by different names when they identify as different identities. So although they initially reached out to us by their societal given name ‘Amber’ they also identify at different times as Mia or Jessica or sometimes a combination of two or more of these identities.

“I always knew something was wrong, something was ‘off’, my experience of life didn’t make sense and wasn’t like others’… I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for my whole life, at times I thought I had bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder, but neither felt ‘right’.”

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information in America, dissociative identity disorder) (DID) is often misdiagnosed and often requires multiple assessments for an accurate diagnosis. Patients often present with self-injurious behaviour and suicide attempts.

“I started therapy in my late thirties through a local charity, and for months I went every week and cried, with no idea why I was crying. It was a few months after starting therapy, that I remembered a significant trauma from when I was an infant – it was hard to believe, I remembered the physical sensation of abuse, I had a ‘knowing’ that it happened, somehow my brain even knew who the abuser was… and that I had to explore this further.”

It is widely agreed that dissociative disorders usually develop as a post-traumatic stress disorder or reaction to trauma and help keep difficult memories at bay. According to The British Journal of Psychiatry there is even neurobiological evidence that DID is a severe form of PTSD. Symptoms — ranging from amnesia to alternate identities — depend in part on the type of dissociative disorder you have. Times of stress can temporarily worsen symptoms, making them more obvious, as Amber’s experiences demonstrate.

“It was another year or so {after starting therapy} before I started getting answers, in October 2020 I realised I wasn’t alone in my head, I started communicating with a child/teen who chose the name Isabel, and I assumed that she was my inner child. After a few, very confused, months … working through an array of traumas spanning my whole life, more alters started to appear.”

Treatment for dissociative disorders may include talk therapy (psychotherapy) and medication. Although treating dissociative disorders can be difficult, many people learn new ways of coping and lead healthy, productive lives. So for Amber and her alters, there is hope.

We were lucky, we had support and found things that work for us to process our trauma alone, writing has been the best tool we’ve found, as we can write from the back-seat, almost bringing our subconscious to the conscious just by letting the words flow.”

There is still much researchers don’t know about the nuances of this condition and is ripe for more discovery. While research is currently being conducted to thoroughly understand this personality disorder, it is still relatively vague in the minds of researchers.

Statistics from HRF (healthresearchfunding.org) show that while approximately 1% of the general population has been diagnosed with dissociative personality disorder, over 7% have admitted to experiencing several symptoms of the disorder and 1/3 of people have had several out of body experiences in their lifetime. This could mean that far more than 1% of the general population have DID but have yet to be diagnosed.

Dissociative Identity Disorder is a condition that requires a lot more research to fully understand, diagnose and treat. Further study would help those living with DID like Amber and her alters.

“It’s a dark and lonely world once you start unboxing decades-old childhood trauma. A lot of people are unsupported and cannot get diagnosed, let alone access appropriate therapy. This is why we’re trying to raise awareness and increase understanding.”

MQ chatted in depth with Amber and her alters to agree upon a given name. All the alters agreed that for the purposes of a reader experience, they’d go by the name of Amber in this article. We at MQ would like to recognise and thank Mia and Jessica as well as Amber for agreeing together to this.


For more information on Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) – visit the UK charity Survivors Network


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