How can I help?

Reducing stigma around DID is really important. Being accepting of the experience and the confusion and distress that often accompany it is the best way to support someone. It is important to be sensitive to how stressful it can be to feel divided and be losing time or fighting with your parts. People with DID can be inconsistent—some parts may even believe the diagnosis while others don’t. This can be very frustrating, but it’s important not to confuse this with lying. Try to be a safe person for them to share with instead of asking invasive questions. Many people with DID find being asked questions about what happened to them as children, or who is out at the moment, very confronting. Trying to reduce stress and feeling exposed and alienated will help.

Common terms
Part Also called an alter, commonly used to describe the different personalities in a person with DID System This describes the group of personalities that make up the whole person with DID. Many people prefer other terms such as inner family, tribe, or community. Being out The part that is currently in control of the body is said to be ‘out’. The other parts at that time are ‘in’, ’inside’ or ‘away. Switching Describes one part going inside, and another one coming out. This may be slow or quick, obvious or subtle, happen all the time or not often. Different things can trigger switching for different people. Kids Refers to any parts that are children or young teens. May also be called littles. Co-consciousness Means that more than one part is aware of what is happening at the same time, or that information gets passed between parts.

Introducing Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)

Is there hope?
Yes! Wounds from trauma can be healed, and connections that have been broken can be rebuilt. It is important to find caring support people, and to try to develop communication between parts. The more you can learn about your selves and accept each other, the more you will be able to negotiate ways to function and look after each other. The goal is to come together to function as a team. This can happen through cooperation, or via integration where the dissociative barriers between parts dissolve so that every part is out all the time. It may also help to learn strategies to help you manage other aspects of dissociation. Dealing with other common issues such as self-harm, feeling suicidal, depression, posttraumatic stress symptoms, sleep or food issues will also help. Dissociation of all kinds is very responsive to the right approaches!


Dissociative Initiative

DID used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder. It is one of the conditions within the category of Dissociative Disorders, in the way that Depression is in the category of Mood Disorders. DID results from high levels of dissociation in the areas of memory and identity. Some people with a diagnosis of Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (DDnos) also have similar experiences to people with DID. As levels of amnesia fluctuate, that may mean a person sometimes fits the diagnosis of DID, and other times DDnos. Either way, people with ‘parts’ are often called multiples and find DID appropriate supports helpful.

Find more information and resources about dissociation and multiplicity at
Brochure written by Sarah K Reece

What is dissociation?
Think of dissociation as being unplugged in some way. When you disconnect in some way, you are dissociating. Most of us dissociate on a mild level— daydreaming for example, or when you are driving and arrive home without being able to recall the trip. This is normal. Dissociation becomes an issue if it is chronic or severe. Then someone may be diagnosed with a Dissociative Disorder.

Why does it happen?
DID has a high correlation with trauma in childhood. This can be abuse, or other kinds of trauma such as undergoing painful medical procedures. It is different for each person. Being split into parts can help a child to survive a situation that felt overwhelming. DID can be thought of as a creative survival strategy. However, most people who experience trauma as children do not develop DID. There are two strategies that may help people cope with trauma. One is containment. If you have ever helped calmly in a first aid situation, then when everyone was safe, let yourself feel shaken up, you have ‘contained’ your feelings to make sure everyone was safe. People with DID often have bad memories or powerful feelings contained in only some of their parts. This means a child may be suffering in one area of their life, but a different part of them is able to go to school and enjoy time with friends. The other strategy that helps people cope with trauma is to be able to adapt to different situations. People with DID are often very adaptive, and may even form new parts to manage new situations.

DID is often misunderstood. There is not much information or training about dissociative disorders. Many people with DID are undiagnosed or given many wrong diagnoses. DID can present like schizophrenia with people distressed by possession experiences, thought insertion or deletion, feelings of numbness or unreality that are about dissociation and other parts affecting them. A severe dissociative episode can look similar to a psychotic episode, so misdiagnosis and unhelpful treatments are common. People with DID may experience dissociation in other aspects of their lives, and may have other mental illnesses as well. It can also be difficult to find doctors or therapists experienced with DID. Because of the lack of understanding around dissociation and the unhelpful sensationalizing of multiplicity, many people with these issues are reluctant to tell anyone what is happening, and may struggle to find appropriate support when they do.

We all have parts
We all play different roles at times, sharing different sides of ourselves with our friends, children, co-workers. We know what it feels like to be in two minds about something, to feel conflicted—’part of me wants to go out but part of me wants to stay home’. With DID, this is experienced in a literal way. The dissociation occurs in the area of identity and memory. These parts are unplugged from each other, so they can live quite independent lives, and may not even be aware of each other. DID is not having more than one personality, it is having a divided personality. Because they develop separately, these parts may be very different from each other in their interests, skills, beliefs, tastes, and values. It is also common for parts to be different ages or gender.

People with DID are not all the same
There are many differences from one person to another. Some people have no awareness of what other parts do when they are out. Whereas other multiples may have parts who are very aware of each other and share information. The number of parts may be only one or two for some people, or may be hundreds for others. Some people with DID have very stable systems, others are constantly changing and very fluid with new parts forming or vanishing all the time. With some people, switching between parts is quite obvious, but with others switching is very subtle and wouldn’t be noticed. There are some people with DID who are very unwell and spend a lot of time in psychiatric hospital. There are others who work full time jobs and live well in the community.

There are two main ideas about how parts form in a person with DID. One is the smashed vase theory, which conceives of each part as a piece that together make up the whole person with DID. The other is the alternate selves theory, where each part is seen as one possible version of who the person with DID could be. The reality may be an overlap of these frameworks.

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