Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) & The Question of Authenticity

Many of us find ourselves contemplating the question of “who am I” at some point or another; perhaps we are pursuant of a spiritual connection to our place in the universe or may be hoping to connect with ourselves veritably. Evaluating the supposition of authenticity highlights the fact that fidelity to self is layered and complex. The foundation is characterized by a knowing; awareness of internal strata and facets of one’s constitution. Secondary to knowing is acceptance of one’s characteristics; only with knowledge and acceptance of who we are can we begin to navigate our relationship to the world around us.

Presenting ourselves genuinely without fear or regret is risky and requires significant ego strength; the venture of rejection of true self is more painful than that of a disingenuous self. Relating to others in a real way while being accepted simultaneously is a challenge for all of us; individuals with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) are faced with a normal question that is complicated by multiplicity (and it’s functions).

The basal layer of authenticity poses a problem to dissociative individuals; the function of fragmenting can be to hide selves from the self. Presupposing this is a protective process, how does one connect to who they are if overwhelming information is held in the answer to the question? Parts or “alters” are often hidden from view or are “behind the curtain” of consciousness in order to protect the rest of the system. Self-awareness can seem commensurate to emotional gambling.

The second layer of authenticity requires acceptance. Assuming trauma is the etiological base behind DID, acknowledgement of some alters can feel parallel to an acceptance of unacceptable events. Protective alters who hold anger, self-injure, engage in addictive, or violent behavior are often completely rejected by the rest of the internal system. Child alters (who often hold the traumatic memories) are sometimes viewed by the rest of the system as pathetic, shameful and weak. Managerial alters do find external belonging, but become fatigued from their overwhelming task of hiding and pushing for success. Recognition of a fragmented identity may equate to acceptance of the past, acceptance of a controversial diagnosis, and acceptance of an experience that many people will find challenging to connect to.

A common theme that arises in working with DID reflects this quandary; how can I be myself if my self changes? Essentially this is a logistical question; how does one establish an authentic connection to the outside world when it feels like one’s demographics are in flux? Age, gender, and race are significant determinants of who we relate with and how relationships develop.  Small children like to play in very different ways than teens or adults do; men develop different relationships with women than they do with men and adolescents think adults are ridiculous. What if you are male sometimes, a five year-old at other times, or an adolescent girl at others? This is an experiential truth for those with DID and it is very unclear as to how to be real and accepted under the umbrella of fragmentation.

When asked the question of how to relate to others in a way that feels real, my response is likely fairly inadequate. I can only acknowledge the reality that DID is difficult even for some mental health professionals to accept (although research is making this more and more challenging); friends, family members, co-workers, and strangers are even less prepared to navigate such relationships.

There is truth in this experience and I have not discovered the right answer to living authentically in a world that is accustomed to and expects continuity. It could be argued that we all are multi-faceted and are accustomed to disguising our vulnerability or less acceptable components of personality. Authenticity is a collective challenge, although it is a far more complex aspiration for those whose experience of who they are is relatively fluid. Someone who lives with alters may say that in order to be genuine, they may require acknowledgement of all parts of self, to accept them, and to interact with the world from varying perspectives.