**This is part 3 of an educational blog series I am writing about DID. It is based on scientific research, my experience, and the experiences of others with DID. To view all posts in the series, click on the tag “educational” on the sidebar.**
One of the largest misunderstandings about DID are the symptoms. Everyone has seen Hollywood movies like Sybil and TV shows like United States of Tara that hype up the disorder, seem to be real and ultimately cause a lot of confusion. I urge you to wipe these preconceptions about the disorder out of your mind and act as if you know nothing of the symptoms of the disorder.
DID is an extremely variable condition. Everyone with DID has different numbers and types of alters, different experiences, levels of amnesia, and types of dissociation. There is no mold to conform to, there is no right or wrong way to experience alters. DID is vastly different for different people and that’s okay. It’s a coping mechanism, a last resort, it’s not always going to look the same. Sometimes it’s going to be confusing, disorganized, and chaotic.
DID is a spectrum disorder and like any spectrum, there are people at both extremes as well as all the places in between. If you or someone you know doesn’t fit where it seems like they should on the spectrum, don’t worry: there is no “normal” when it comes to DID.
Do people with DID have no idea what their alters say or do when they come out?
This is the most commonly represented symptom of DID in the media and unfortunately, it is extremely misleading. There are some people with DID that always have full amnesia of what their alters do and say when they come out. There are some people with DID who always remember what their alters do and say when they come out. Most people with DID have a combination of both experiences as well as a more middle of the road experience where they are partially aware of their alters’ behavior without full memory or full amnesia. This “middle ground” experience is the most common.
Often, more than one part or alter is aware of what is going on and is influencing what is being said and done. This can happen with or without the host personality or other alters’ awareness and is called co-consciousness.
Just because an individual always knows some or all of what an alter said or did, does not mean they are faking or do not have DID. This is a fairly common manifestation of the disorder.
What is co-consciousness?
Co-consciouness is when more than one part is aware of what is going on outside the body and is influencing the thoughts, actions, or emotions of the individual. This experience can vary greatly from actually hearing the voices of the alter (internally or externally) or simply feeling their emotional presence as an “other”.
Co-consciousness is the most common experience of alter personalities for many individuals with DID. For others, achieving co-consciousness or more cooperative co-consciousness will be the goal of therapy.
Co-consciousness can feel like many other things. Many individuals with DID live much of their lives without realizing the way they think and feel is not “normal”. Sometimes it just feels like your emotions are not coming from you or when you speak your voice doesn’t sound like your voice. Sometimes individuals with DID even feel like they cannot control their own bodies.
How often do people with DID switch personalities?
As with all aspects of DID, this depends greatly on the individual. Some people with DID switch constantly. Others switch very rarely. It is not uncommon for individuals with DID as well as friends and family to be unaware of personality switches, especially if those switches are co-conscious and the host personality is present the majority of the time.
Why do people with DID switch personalities?
The most common reason someone with DID switches personalities is because of a trigger. A trigger can be a word, phrase, emotion, situation, experience, or anything else that encourages a particular part to emerge. Alters are usually created with a specific job in mind, which means that particular interactions are likely to cause particular alters to emerge. For example, there may be an alter that deals with hostile interactions, an alter for school, or an alter for sex.
A trigger may also be involuntary. For example, a part that holds a trauma related to water may emerge every time an individual takes a shower.
Alters may also come out against their will when they are forced out by other alters or when no other alters want to be on the outside. It is also possible for alters to come out to do something they like to do or when they are around someone they like.
Some alters never come out and exist only on the “inside”. This does not invalidate them, they are still alters. Some people have whole systems of alters that rarely or never “come out”, but that can still be felt as an internal presence.
**Please leave a comment or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions or comments.**