Your personality is a complex thing that is totally unique to you. Despite its complexity, most of us have one personality – singular.
But a few people encounter love, life and loss through the lens of one identity which, usually through a history of abuse, gets fragmented into anything up to 30 distinct personalities.
These fragments of identity have their own memories and behaviour patterns that all exist in one individual. Most of us may only encounter this mental disorder through the realms of fiction, in fantastical narratives such as Split, Fight Club and Sybil.
But the reality of Disassociative Identity Disorder (DID) is stranger than fiction itself – and a far cry from fantasy, according to leading expert and the founder of the Clinic for Dissociative Studies, Dr. Valerie Sinason.
Speaking to UNILAD, Dr. Sinason explained that DID is estimated to affect 1 per cent of Brits but is an ‘unpopular condition’ among psychiatrists as it usually occurs after immense childhood trauma, the likes of which most of us couldn’t fathom.
Sinason explained DID and its causes, saying:
In order to survive, a brave person has split off continuous understanding of what’s happening to them. So, a child who can’t fight back or can’t run away finds another part of the mind to retreat to in order for normal service to continue. The whole basis of DID is a child saying ‘This is not happening to me’. It’s a way to survive.
But to help us understand what a person suffering DID really experiences, one Reddit user shared an astoundingly heart-breaking account of his relationship with an ex-girlfriend whose personality fragmented to cope with formative sexual abuse.
As illustrated by artist and photographer, Jessy Zee, the anonymous Reddit user wrote:
My girlfriend in high school had Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder). I know a lot of people think it’s fake, I can’t blame you, but I can verify it does exist.
While I didn’t learn until senior year that her ‘normal’ personality was actually not her real one, she seemed perfectly fine.
He candidly described her behaviour, writing:
Shy and insecure, but hopeful. She studied hard, took part in clubs, and had a close group of friends. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Just another awkward teenager like me. We started talking and hanging.
I was really surprised to learn that she had no sexual experience at all. She had never masturbated, looked at porn of any kind; nothing. What was strange about it was that she was not shy about sex at all.
She talked about it openly, she knew her sexuality, she wasn’t at all embarrassed about the topic. Her lack of any sexual experience and my lack of IRL experience eventually segued into fun sexy times. That’s when things got weird.
During sex, one fragment dominated, he explained:
Once she became sexually aroused, she became ‘Night’. She’d go from a shy, inexperienced, stereotypical Catholic schoolgirl – she did go to one – straight to the sex-crazed, nothing but bareback, wants to be bruised and bleeding, no kink limits stereotype.
As fun as Night was, we both knew Night having free reign would end poorly. So we started trying to condition Night away. The moment Night popped out I would lock her down until she left. As one can imagine, Night did not like that. Eventually she decided to pull out her secret weapon, ‘Angel’.
Angel was 4-years-old in every way but physically – which made her appearing during sex really weird and almost traumatic for her. Thankfully Angel caught on to a degree and gave me a warning sign when she was switching in for Night.
Over time we did almost totally condition Night out. She would pop out every now and then when my girlfriend was super tired or drunk, but I would just lock Night down until she went away.
During this time, through more strange situations or just sort of randomly, I came to meet several other personalities; ‘Emo’, ‘Shattered’, ‘Doll’, ‘Robot’, ‘Netherlander’ and ‘Real’.
Eventually, he discovered her true identity:
With the discovery of Real I learned that the super shy insecure girl I knew wasn’t who she really was. She was actually a confident and strong person. Over time we eventually regressed the different personalities away, and by the time we had to part ways for college, she was practically cured.
The reason I’m blathering on about this though is how she gained those personalities. Disassociative Identify Disorder doesn’t just pop out of the ground, it happens due to extreme trauma. In my girlfriends’s case this was being raped as a child.
Shattered, was her immediately after it happened. She would squeeze herself in the tightest space around, cry, mumble, and just stare forward.
The man recalled how his then girlfriend’s fragments came to split, saying:
Angel was my girlfriend before it happened; happy and very catholic. Emo, Doll, and Night were created during middle school.
Her family moved to the south. There, as someone who didn’t hate anyone that wasn’t white anglo-saxon and christian, she was constantly bullied and was a total outcast. Around two years of that created Emo.
He shared a particularly devastating account of how sexual abuse caused the woman to retreat into other fragments of her mind:
Everything changed though when she made a friend, lets call him Joffery. When Joffery learned about her past and her multiple personality disorder he decided to take advantage of it.
He manipulated her into creating Night to act as his hooker for him to pimp out, and Doll so his friends could have a living sex toy. He programmed her to switch to Night and do one particular thing when she heard a specific song.
His girlfriend was removed from this manipulative influence but her DID remained:
Thankfully for high school her family moved back up north. By the time freshman year had started she had conditioned herself into that shy insecure girl I first met.
The only reason I know most of this is due to Robot sometimes showing up. Robot had no emotion, and always told the truth. I have no idea if Joffery created her as well, but Robot told me my girlfriend’s dark history when none of the other personalities would or could.
In the end, the brave woman learned to control the fragments of her identity, the Redditor said:
Thankfully by the end Real was there to stay. As for Netherlander, that was her only knowing Dutch and thinking she was in the Netherlands.
For the life of me I cannot remember where or when she came from. She would appear, both of us would very awkwardly try to communicate, and then eventually she’d switch to someone else.
Sharing a final message of remorse, the Reddit poster wrote:
And before someone calls me a saint or some shit, don’t. I fucked up so badly so often in my own ways that we haven’t talked in over four years and I am still discovering new ways I was a disgusting piece of shit to her today.
I am nowhere near as bad as Joffrey, but I was still deplorable.
Supposedly we would be able to talk now, and I would love to, but every single person has recommended that I let you contact me. So if you somehow see this, I’d love to catch up after spending something around 40 hours on my hands and knees apologising.
According to Dr. Sinason, this account – though shocking and moving by anyone’s standards – is typical of how DID affects both the sufferers and those close to them.
She tells UNILAD that in her thirty years of treating patients with DID, Sinason has known many brave individuals who are able to control the fragments of their disassociated identity and function perfectly happily in society, with anything up to 20 fully-fledged personalities.
While DID takes it to a different extreme, Sinason believes, ‘we’ve all had the experience of dealing with changes we don’t like in someone we wish would stay the same, be consistent and even-tempered’ and coping with a loved one who has DID requires ‘the same rules of behaviour for all of us’.
She shared her advice, saying:
You must be interested in the different states but not intrude more than somebody wants. Be aware that there could be more pain behind the changes… What helps when caring for somebody is to realise that here is somebody brave who has clearly gone through something.
Trying to find out what they’re communicating is really important, both for you and for them because having somebody that accepts you is key.
While it is understandably difficult to fathom the experience of someone with an invisible illness such as Disassociative Identity Disorder, due to it’s complex nature, it’s important to remember these are struggles of real people every day… Not just the stuff of fiction.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised or want to know more about Disassociative Identity Disorder, visit First Person Plural.
A former emo kid who talks too much about 8Chan meme culture, the Kardashian Klan, and how her smartphone is probably killing her. Francesca is a Cardiff University Journalism Masters grad who has done words for BBC, ELLE, The Debrief, DAZED, an art magazine you’ve never heard of and a feminist zine which never went to print.