Dissociative identity disorder isn’t like you see in the movies. For me, it’s having many souls that are housed in the same body. They all have different world views, are different ages, different nationalities and even different sexes and sexualities.
I have 1001 personalities that have been created to protect the original child.
The best way I can describe living with dissociative identity disorder is by likening it to a passenger flight.
There’s a pilot and co-pilot, traffic control, baggage handlers, flight attendants and of course all the passengers.
Then there’s me, Shazi – I’m the radio operator. There are lots of things going on, problems to solve and a lot of co-operation to make the flight happen.
I was in my late 30s when I began to understand that my disjointed life was far from normal. I realised I had been living lots of ‘little lives’ and not one continuous one. These ‘little lives’ saw me having very different lifestyles, partners, wardrobes and jobs.
I wasn’t functioning at all well and decide that it would be safest to see a psychologist. I was losing time and my behaviour was constantly changing, or I was immobilised and unable to do anything. I spent over a year with a psychologist with not much progress.
I was having what I now know to be panic and anxiety attacks. I was passing out and having flashbacks. I spent hours crying. I had the strangest sensation of being picked up and plonked into someone else’s body.
Two things happened that that made it apparent that dissociative identity disorder should be looked into.
One day I was sitting alone and thought I saw someone. I realised it was my arm. I had moved it with no knowledge of having done so.
Then, while I was at a friend’s home, I was embarrassed to fall asleep. I began to apologise, when my friend told me that I hadn’t been asleep. She went on to tell me that, yes, I did put my head down, but then sat straight back up again, talking to her. She then went on to explain that it wasn’t me. I didn’t look like or even sound like me. My friend told me she had been talking to ‘someone else’. We were both very shaken. My friend said it was like I was possessed by someone else.
I went to my psychologist in a very distressed state, which quickly led to my diagnosis being confirmed by a specialist. This explained a lot.
Dissociative identity disorder usually comes with many other issues. For me it’s post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, panic disorders and seasonal affective disorder.
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Every time there is trauma the human mind cannot cope with, those of us with a particular predisposition split and create another persona or alter.
For a long time, I had no idea this was occurring. I was protected from this knowledge by my personalities.
There is a lot for me to deal with. I can have many personalities present at any given moment and they are switching constantly.
Not long after I was diagnosed, I went into a crisis period when all of my personalities were making themselves known to me (and even sometimes to each other). This continued for many years. It was very messy, extremely confusing and often frightening.
My first reaction to my diagnosis was relief. With my diagnosis, I could make a plan for dealing with my dissociative identity disorder. I soon realised this was a very simplistic view of an extremely complexed situation.
I think the one defining moment of clarity for me was when all of my racing thoughts just stopped, and I had just one, ‘All of your thoughts are not your own’.
Up until that moment, although I had a diagnosis, I hadn’t even started to understand my reality. I’d taken for granted my singularity as a person. We all take for granted that no matter how good or bad, caring or selfish, rational or irrational our thoughts are – they are our own.
This was the moment my lifelong sense of self crumbled.
This was the moment that I truly began to understand my multiplicity.
As soon as I was diagnosed I went in for my next psychologist’s appointment only to be told that she was leaving. I had no idea what to do from there and was on my own for 18 months until I found a mental health organisation called Mind who introduced me to a therapist who specialised in high-end trauma and dissociative identity disorder. This was brilliant.
This gave me so much support and guidance and helped me to begin to understand my situation. Sadly, this ended. I was again on my own, but with a much better understand of dissociative identity disorder. I was introduced to grounding and breathing techniques and mindfulness. These skills were (and still are) developing. They became the foundation of recovery as I know it today.
I think that the most frustrating thing for me about dissociative identity disorder is that people think there’s going to be a time where I’m ‘cured’. I’m very upset when people suggest getting rid of ‘them’ or decide that they would rather be dealing with another personality (never a good idea).
Then there are the people who just look at me like I’m an alien or a freak. If you have X amount of people it’s okay. Put them in one body and you all of a sudden have some kind of monster. The only thing that I ask is that people remember their manners, regardless of how they feel about my disorder.
‘The modes’ themselves are an incredible collective. The constant shifting between them can be really difficult, but I have some truly amazing ‘people’. Funny, witty, endearing, frank, bold, sweet, strong and loving … there’s never a dull moment.
The hilarious outfits I often have to change before I leave the house, the broad range of abilities I have to draw from, the empathy we collectively have and how people are often drawn to one of us because they can always find a little of themselves reflected back.
A very difficult aspect for me is that sometimes there’s so much going on that I grind to a halt. I can’t shower, I can’t brush my hair or clean the house. I can’t make a phone call or deal with people very well. This always leaves me in tears and the only relief to be found is to hide in a book. These are the worst days.
The most distressing thing is the pain and trauma that made it necessary for all of us to be here.
I’m very open about having dissociative identity disorder.
I don’t want other people to feel confused if I seem different or if I don’t recognise them. I guess in a nutshell, it’s just plain easier for me.
As for having a significant other, there is no one these days. I’ve decided for the foreseeable future to remain single. I think it would be very difficult for someone to live with my array of personas and to cope with all of the constant change that comes with them. I just don’t want to put anyone through that – including me.
The original child that was born is so damaged and it’s been a very long time since she’s been able to interact with the external world. She and many others never will be able to again – they are protected deep within.
I’ve asked myself many times, ‘What could have been? Who would I have been if I was just one? What could I have achieved with that singular entity?’
I’ll never know who could have been living this life. I have grieved for her, but today I cannot imagine being any other way.
Dissociative identity disorder put me in some terrible places. I even came very close to losing my life. But today not only am I thankful for the life I’ve been able to live, but I see very clearly that my disorder (I’d prefer to think of it as an alternate-order) has enabled me to keep all of the good things about myself like empathy and compassion. I am very lucky to come through so much trauma and still be a strong woman.
Dissociative identity disorder, simply put, is a survival system.
I live on Kurnai Land. I would like to pay my respects to Elders past and present.
If you think you may be experiencing depression or another a mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. You can also visit sane.org for helplines, information and support, as well as Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.