real life

For 13 years Maggie was abused by her father. Her mind created multiple personalities to cope.

Content warning: This story includes descriptions of child sexual abuse that may be distressing to some readers.

How does a child survive years of unimaginable abuse?

She splits. And splits again. And again. And again. She does survive. But not without consequences.

From the age of three, author Maggie Walters faced abuse that is unimaginable to most. It was physically, psychologically and emotionally sadistic and didn't end until she reached 16.

When the abuse began, Maggie went to the deepest, darkest part of her mind to protect herself. She created multiple personalities to cope.

"The belief had been seared into me that no-one could really be trusted. My soul had been so decimated. It seems as a child I had an innate ability to sense new danger," she tells Mamamia.

Maggie was born in England. She and her family — her mother, father and two older brothers — immigrated to the US when she was three years old.

Watch: Maggie shares her story with Mamamia. Post continues below. 

Video via Supplied.

There were small sections of her childhood that were positive. She looks fondly back on how her family marked Christmases, or when they went camping.

But there was a significant amount of pain.

"Both my parents physically and sexually abused me and passed me around to their friends. So it was a paedophile ring. My mother groomed me, so while it wasn't hardcore sexual abuse from her, there was still a real sense of betrayal," she explains.

For the duration of her childhood and young adult life, Maggie did not exist. Instead, her mind created 'Annie', her primary alter.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder, develops when a person goes through heinous abuse and involves "switching" to other identities (known as alters) to manage that abuse for one intrinsic purpose — survival. DID is only associated with abuse victims, particularly those who experience the abuse in their infancy and childhood.

At the age of three, Annie came to exist after an incident of physical abuse inflicted by Maggie's father. 

Annie became what's known as the 'system administrator', meaning as an alter she was in control and the externally facing identity. With each new episode of abuse that this little girl couldn't understand or manage, a new alter was born. As a group, these alters are known to Maggie as 'The Girls'.

"I have close to 40 alters. An alter is a completely developed identity inside my head that was created in order to handle the circumstances that I couldn't handle," Maggie explains.


DID is an extremely creative way of coping with trauma, and it happens because a child's mind is still very malleable and has got a lot of plasticity to it.

As Maggie writes in her book SPLIT: A Life Shared: Living with Multiple Personality Disorder:

"There were signs. Mother might be going out for one of her unending cocktail hours with friends, or father might invite some of his colleagues around, sharing a beer or whisky as they laughed on the back veranda. These were the more recognisable, get yourself prepared because sh*t is about to hit the fan moments."

"I knew fear when father took me down the hallway to his bedroom, or when his friends would walk through the front door. I knew something was coming. The Girls became attuned to these moments. Then came decision time. When The Girls were little, everyone knew whose turn it was to come out. It was instinctual. And when the abuse began, it was their job to deal with it, each one handling the abuse differently."

Aged five, and aged 12. Image: Supplied.


By the age of 16, Maggie — who was then living as Annie, her primary alter —  had started to find respite via her local church.

"It opened up a whole new world of friends and embracing a different way of thinking about how being loved and cared for should be. That enabled me to heal, but to also push away the control of my father and his friends. I was also older by this point, and a bit stronger and more defiant too."

In her late teens, Annie managed to separate herself from her family home and forge a new path for herself. Though like with any period after complex trauma, healing wasn't linear.

Annie had large gaps in her memory, a lot of the pain and anger from childhood locked away in her mind. She began to struggle with an unpredictable temper, hypervigilance and socially difficult behaviour.


In her mid 20s, Annie decided to go to therapy, as some of her traumatic memories began to surface. This led to her diagnosis of DID in her late 20s. 

In her early 30s, Annie met a man. 

"We met online and he's an Aussie. He ended up coming to America on business and we spent three or four months together while he was over in the US," says Maggie.

Although he met Maggie originally as Annie, an intimate encounter brought Maggie to the surface. He knew prior to Maggie 'returning' that he was dating a woman who had DID. The discussion had occurred early in the relationship, explains Maggie. 

After a lot of therapy, and Annie feeling it was now safe, Maggie began living her life as Maggie — the core, original child from her early 30s onward. 

"I think my husband has had his own struggles with it, but he's accepted it. He found his own way to be comfortable with who I am," she says.

"We were in love, both in our 30s, and figured, 'Let's just do this.' We married, and have been together ever since."

In 1996, Maggie immigrated to Australia from the US and married her husband. Soon after, they adopted three kids from the Philippines together, who are now 17, 19 and 21 — Maggie's absolute pride and joy.

"We adopted because I can't have kids because there's just too much internal damage [from the abuse]. I've got three lovely kids, and it's just a dream come true. Everything I do is for my kids. I couldn't imagine my life without them."


Maggie with her daughter, celebrating the launch of Maggie's book SPLIT. Image: Supplied/Instagram @maggiewalters_writer.

Only recently did Maggie tell her kids about her DID.

"I did it very carefully. They've always had grandparents on my husband's side, but of course not on mine. I slowly in an age appropriate way would tell them that my parents weren't very nice. I started to share more gradually as they got older," she explains.


"Then when deciding to write my book and be public with my story, I sat my kids down. I told my boys separately to my daughter, I knew they'd need different ways of it being explained.

"They were a bit shocked and surprised. I asked them, 'What will you do if your school peers find out and say 'Your mum is a psycho or screwball?' They were really affirming, shrugged their shoulders and said, 'We know who you are, that's all that matters.' It made my heart so happy."

It's important to clarify that DID is not a mental illness. It's not a condition that is genetic or chemically based, say for example like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Instead, DID is trauma-based and a coping mechanism.

Dr George Blair-West is a leading dissociative psychiatrist and the co-author of The Girl in The Green DressDr Blair-West also wrote the foreword of Maggie's book.

Speaking with Mamamia, he says: "DID is an ingenious and creative solution to dealing with overwhelming abuse, nearly always sexual in nature and prior to the age of eight. It's trauma of the highest order, oftentimes related to betrayal trauma — where children are abused by people who are supposed to care for you and protect you."

"There's nothing wrong with Maggie's brain. She just has a post-trauma syndrome."

When it comes to 'treatment' for DID, it's complex, because there is nothing inherently 'wrong'. Medication can help with the anxiety and PTSD related to flashbacks associated with the trauma. Therapy is incredibly helpful too.


Approximately 1.5 per cent of the global population has DID, though Dr Blair-West assumes this number is in reality far greater, but stigma and access barriers are stopping some from receiving a diagnosis. 

"It's important to build awareness, particularly in the medical and policing fields. DID is the human mind at its best. We can all dissociate. It's a mechanism that we all have the capacity to do in extreme situations."

As Maggie adds: "It's very easy for people to just think we're crazy. Hollywood and their depictions of DID have not been our friend. I am what is called a high-functioning multiple. What that means is that during my early years, my alters came out and handled all the abuse. Now as an adult, yes they talk to me and give me lots of their opinions, but I am in control."

While promoting her new book, Maggie has began to meet more people living with DID. There's one interaction that stands out for her in particular.

"After a talk I was signing books at the book signing table and a woman leaned over really close and whispered in my ear, 'I haven't come out of the closet yet.' I just told her, 'When you feel safe, do whatever makes you comfortable.' It's nice to affirm to people with DID who are struggling that they are not alone. That you can thrive."


Maggie today. Image: Supplied.

Writing the book was a cathartic experience, says Maggie, though she didn't do it alone.

Her story is written from different points of views — Annie's story is written by Annie, Maggie's story is written by Maggie. Maggie, with the permission of The Girls, also had many of her alters write various chapters of the book that detail the early years of abuse and what they endured.


She says it was important for their voices to be heard, with their consent. 

Today, Maggie feels peace in her life.

She's 63 and loving being an author, set to speak at Byron Writers Festival in August, which she describes as a "pinch-me moment". She runs a small business and is busy with her kids and husband, living in the Northern Rivers of NSW.

Maggie's parents are now deceased. She has some contact with her youngest brother, though not with her eldest.

"I probably don't reflect on what I've overcome enough. Like many trauma survivors, though I speak for just myself, you're taught you're worthless. It's a constant battle of huge cognitive dissonance. It's about finding balance," she notes.

"What brings me the most joy is the small things. My daughter smiling and giving me a hug. Watching my boys play footy and soccer. It's about getting up each day and seeing what it has to offer — good and bad. Because I believe I actually have the ability to get through it now."

For more from Maggie Walters, you can visit her website and her Instagram. You can purchase a copy of SPLIT: A life shared: living with Multiple Personality Disorder here.

If this brings up any issues for you, contact Bravehearts, an organisation dedicated to the prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse, on 1800 272 831. 

Image: Supplied.