I have dissociative identity disorder (DID) without multiple personalities. DID used to be synonymous with multiple personalities but it is now accepted that it can be a distinct disease even in the absence of multiple personalities. When people ask ‘how many of you are there?” The answer is “one”. There is only one personality, one person, on being inside my brain but it is fragmented. Movies and books have sensationalized DID but those of us who live with it know it is a day to day struggle to keep your life and memory together and on track.
Dissociation happens, in its most benign sense, when the mind wanders and you find find yourself three chapters past where you remember reading, two exits past your exit on the freeway, or your mind wanders in the middle of a conversation and you realize you have no idea what is being talked about. Dissociation is also a very useful psychological tool that helps victims of trauma separate their brain from whatever trauma or pain of their body is experiencing. Children are especially adept at using this tool, largely because they have no way of escaping tragedy on their own so they disappear in their own mind, relying on it to relieve them of the stress. It is a gracious gift from God to protect the minds and hearts of victims.
However, dissociation becomes maladaptive when the person is no longer under duress and yet the brain still wants to dissociate, fold in on itself. Such is the case with me. I joke a lot about having a terrible memory, which I do but it’s more complicated than just not being able to remember things. 8 months ago I enjoyed dinner out with my family and friends to celebrate my birthday. The other day I mentioned to my youngest that we really need to take her to this restaurant someday, when she reminded me we had gone for my birthday. I have no recollection, zero memory, of having done this,
I look at pictures of my children when they were little and wish I could remember what it felt like to be there with them but it is as if I am looking at a scene where I wasn’t present. This last weekend we were going to take an adventure in Seattle and I mentioned a place I wanted to go because I never have been there. My husband reminded me we had been there with good friends some years back. Blank. I would swear on the Bible that I had not been there.
My brain checks in and out with less predictability and dependability of a shift worker punching a time card. But, it cannot be assumed that I don’t remember everything – I do remember a lot and hate to be challenged as to what I remember. I know when I know something – and it makes me hostile when people assume my illness has warped a memory I have. I have a memory that works. It just doesn’t work all the time.
Its a challenging way to live. DID makes reading books difficult because I can’t remember characters from one chapter to the next. My husband says every movie is new to me because I don’t remember how they end, which is true sometimes.
Living with DID is a challenge because my brain is constantly battling a non-existent enemy and escaping to higher ground, leaving me in the darkness. You would never know my brain is checking in and out. I cannot predict when it will happen and often don’t even know when it has, until I cannot remember something I did this week, this day or last month.
This is living with a DID brain; a lot of blank space with fragments of memory floating around like puzzle pieces anxiously looking for a match to make a more complete picture.