What is it like to have a dissociative disorder? Although writing about this makes me feel pretty exposed and vulnerable, I noticed there is a dearth of personal experiences with dissociative disorder available and wanted to let others know they’re not alone.
When my therapist brought up the possibility, I was very resistant. I don’t have multiple personalities, I argued.
It turns out that dissociative identity disorder (DID) is not the only disorder of dissociation and is not even the most common. Other Specified Dissociative Disorder (OSDD) which was previously called Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (DDNOS), is a much more common disorder.
OSDD can be thought of as a “mild” version of DID. You may not have alters or other fully defined personalities, but you do have “parts.” You may not have amnesia when you switch and the parts take over for a time (which usually happens in DID), but you do have the distressing experience of watching from the back of your mind as you talk and act in ways that feel unlike you and not in your control.
It feels like you’re making things up, acting, or pretending—what else would explain why you, an adult, suddenly began acting like a scared little kid when someone mentioned the person who abused you as a kid—but try as you might, you cannot stop yourself from doing it. You notice that you feel little, like you did when you were younger, but you know you are an adult.
You watch yourself talk in a small voice, cower, and cry, and you feel embarrassed and ashamed about it. Your try to stop yourself, but you can’t. Then suddenly, you’re back. You’re yourself again. Almost as suddenly, you switch again. You don’t feel like a kid, but you don’t feel like yourself either. And yet, you’re there, you’re aware, you’re watching yourself talk with others and do different things, and you know it is not someone else, but it is not quite you, either. And then you finally switch back to your normal, everyday self.
You think back on what occurred when the “young part” was active and find the memory of only 5 minutes ago foggy and difficult to remember. It is as if parts of you remember it and other parts don’t, creating a hazy and incomplete-feeling memory. You find yourself cycling through your parts to find the one with the clearest memory.
Wait, what? What am I talking about? What do I mean “cycling through the parts?”
And suddenly you realize that you have been experiencing this dissociative disorder your whole life, you just didn’t have words or a framework to understand what was happening. It was just you. It was just your life. You didn’t realize it wasn’t normal.
You didn’t realize other people didn’t have these experiences. But in another way, you did. That’s why you were always trying to hide it, to not let people notice your switching, to keep the “young parts” stuffed down when you were in public.
But life is really stressful right now, and its not working as well as it used to to control all your “parts” anymore. They’re leaking out in public, you’re switching more frequently, and some parts are stronger and more assertive than they were before. You can’t manage your life the way you used to. It’s really hard to admit you have this problem and that you need help.
This is what its like to have a dissociative disorder. At least for me.