Dissociative Identity Disorder and Relationships – It’s Complicated!
I wasn’t sure if I should write this post because, well, it is complicated. I feel like with most of what I write, people can still find points they can relate to or are curious about. But I have only written one post about this particular part of me because it is something that is very difficult to explain to anyone who doesn’t have knowledge about it. It is the part of me, I am able to hide best, and the reason why I have withdrawn from most social interactions in real life. Because it’s complicated to explain, and there are so many misconceptions about it.
After some thought, I decided to write this post. Not so much because I feel confident that I am great at explaining it, or that I think people will finally understand. I am writing this post because there isn’t much information on it online. I want to make sure that people who want to know more about the topic, actually can read someone’s reflections around it. Because it is complicated. The topic is Dissociative Identity Disorder and relationships.
Why haven’t I mentioned my Dissociative Identity Disorder much?
I have mentioned my Bipolar Disorder, Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and anxiety issues in some of my more reflective posts. But I have stayed away from mentioning much about the Dissociative Identity Disorder. There are so many misconceptions about this disorder, even in the professional community. Hollywood has done terrible portrayals of people with the illness., most recently with the movies Split and Glass.
And it is the only mental illness that actually has a lobby against it. Yes, there is a group of people who so strongly deny the existence of this illness, that they are lobbying against it. The reason for that is that they are spiritual leaders and Dissociative Identity Disorder can be a result of ritual abuse. I can assure you that Dissociative Identity Disorder is real. It is in the WHO’s manual for diagnostics, it is in the American DSM-V. There are people who claim that it is made up. But studies show that the number of people who are faking it is even lower in those with DID than it is in those diagnosed with depression. You might have heard of this disorder under its previous name: multiple personality disorder.
What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Before I go into my personal stuff, let me try to explain what Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is and how it works. It is a trauma based illness. The person suffering from it has gone through severe trauma before the age of 8. Let’s say that a child is faced with a threat. The child’s brain has many ways to deal with that threat: flee, flight, fight or even freeze. Those are the primal reactions every human being has towards a threat. But if the trauma is too severe, the brain disconnects from physical pain and emotions. It is like it is in shock and uses its final defense strategy. Dissociation is pretty common in most trauma survivors and even those with strong anxiety issues.
If the trauma is ongoing and too much to handle for the overwhelmed brain, dissociation becomes the first strategy that the brain engages. But what happens with the memories of the events, the pain, the feelings? If the child’s brain has engaged dissociation, those memories are being compartmentalized. They are stored in a sort of box inside the brain. And why is that? Because those memories are too painful for the brain, and the brain wants to survive. The memories, the feelings, the pain, and the behaviour that the child displayed during the traumatic situation, becomes a different part than the brain that is in the now, dealing with the present. They become an alter (an identity or personality).
Now, most children who go through severe trauma, unfortunately go through more than one traumatic situation in their lives. And because the brain has learnt to dissociate and then compartmentalize the painful memories, more and more boxes are being created. A healthy person, with no trauma, processes their memories and they are part of who they are. They have grown with them, they are shaped by them. Someone with DID doesn’t have that connection. Because if they had that connection, they might not be able to survive.
Dissociative Identity Disorder is a covert illness. That means it is not as dramatic at Hollywood wants everyone to believe it is. Instead, most people wouldn’t even know if they were engaging with a system of alters (system= all alters together), or one person. DID is a lot about amnesia, and for the body’s survival it is often paramount that the person hosting (host = alter who is interacting with the world the most) isn’t even aware that there are alters inside their brain.
Confusing, eh? An alter is a full personality, but they are often stuck in their time, their age, the situation they got created in. That means that a body that is in its 30s, might have alters inside that are children, teens, or even toddlers. And if they front, interact with the world, things can get very, well, complicated. Add to that, that most people with DID don’t find out about their system before much later in life, and there is amnesia either about the now and/or the past. Someone with DID might suddenly end up in places they don’t remember travelling to, have relationships they weren’t aware of, or are unable to state firm opinions.
I am diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder. I didn’t know that there was a system inside me before my mid 30s. The self-awareness came because I got retraumatized and my system fell apart. I am a new alter, I am the host, and I am the one writing this blog. There are around 20 alters in my system, from the ages of 3 to about 37. Most of the time, I don’t want to discuss my DID, or my different parts. Why? Because it is complicated. But also because I don’t want to be like this. Sometimes I am convinced that I am faking it all. And a lot of times, I am just overwhelmed and confused by memories I didn’t know I had, and I am often stuck in questioning their validity.
I am not necessarily in control of the switching. A switch is when one alter pushes out and starts interacting with the world. The reason for that is often a trigger, or because that particular alter is able to handle a certain situation better than anyone else. Alters all have functions: some are trauma and memory holders, others are more a fragmented coping strategies, yet others are protectors of the system. Most hold certain skills that can be helpful in specific situations.
Dating Someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder
My alters all have names, and my partner can tell them apart. The tone of voice changes, the vocabulary changes. Interests and opinions are suddenly different, mannerisms, facial expressions and personalities are very different from each other. When you are dating someone with DID, you are not dating one person, you are dating a system of many people. For most with DID, relationships become therefore very complicated, if not impossible. I mean, what are the odds of the whole system being in love, attracted to, trusting or liking the same person? And what are the odds of someone actually being in love, attracted to, accepting, or liking everyone in a system?
Well, we have beat the odds, it seems. My, or our, partner is understanding and accepting of that we are a system. Actually, he is more understanding and accepting of it than I am most of the time. It is only with him, that most of us feel safe enough to front, and be ourselves with. As I said earlier, DID is covert and if you met us and talked with us, you’d be most likely only interacting with me or another adult who you can’t tell apart from me, because the differences are subtle.
But of course it becomes complicated. Every alter in my system has a different connection with my partner. The littles (children, alters are stuck in different ages) see him as a parental figure who they can trust, play with and who takes care of them. The younger teens need him to put up rules and boundaries, but also to take care of them. The older the alters are, the more they have a romantic or sexual relationship with our partner. Some are more on equal standing with him, others are very much seeing him as our mentor or guide.
So who is dating him? Well, I am, the host. But others are as well, in their own way. We are all connected to him and are emotionally attached to him, just in different ways. There are one or two that are adults and they are not romantically involved with him at all. It is just as confusing as it sounds. I see it more like he is dating a body with a system. His emotional connection is with the system, not any specific part of that system.
Sexually, it becomes even more complicated! The body is 37 years old, but not all alters are. Children do not have a concept of sex, and abused children have a very skewed concept of intimacy. I have written a more in depth post on switching and different sexual needs that each alter has. But I think it is very important to remember, that children should not be involved in any kind of sexual intimacy.
In our system, that works pretty well most of the time. I can count the number of times one of them accidentally started to front and interact with him while we were having sex, on two hands. It is almost like the moment the body is aroused, the appropriate alters are coming out. Different alters have different sexual needs too, and so far, everyone is being satisfied. A lot of times, during sex, there are several of us who are co-fronting and experiencing the physical sensations.
One thing that I have found very interesting is that different parts have different pain thresholds and experience pain very differently. Some crave it, others cry from it. Being in a D/s relationship and practicing BDSM, our communication is the basis of everything that we are doing. And that has brought another issue in the past: while some are very submissive, others are bratty, feisty or even dominant. So when writing down the rules for our relationship, everyone inside the system had to agree. That was quite the process!
It’s Complicated – But Doable!
So what am I saying with this post? That it is possible to have a romantic relationship with someone who has Dissociative Identity Disorder. And it is very much possible to have kinky sex and a D/s relationship. It is all about honesty and communication. Your partner needs to get to know all your parts of the system, they need to build up positive connections with everyone. Because if you are being covert or try to hide the fact that you are switching, littles might end up getting terribly triggered during sexual intimacy. I am happy with my partner. Our whole system is in positive connections with him. He is our safe person, our love interest, our caretaker and our Master. It is complicated though. We are plural. Most singletons might never understand what a relationship like ours feels like.
You can read more on DID here.