NOTE: According to the DSM-5, Dissociative Identity Disorder is when two or more distinct identities or personality states are present, each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self. The disorder develops after severe developmental trauma that interrupts the child’s ability to integrate all parts of self.
Dear Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID),
You are hard to describe. It’s hard to put into words just how life saving - yet destructive - you really are. Allow me to describe a day with you:
I wake up in the morning to start the day. I get dressed, start the coffee and jump in the shower. I step in, but you do too causing something else entirely to take place. Someone else takes over - someone inside decides to step forward and pilot the body for a few hours. One of my ‘parts’ comes to life, yet I, the host, am completely out of the loop - completely blacked out, like a person whose drank too much and can’t remember anything they did the next day. Accept, not the same at all, because this isn’t chemically induced - it is all me and extremely scary.
During these episodes I act completely unlike my adult self. I switch into one of 3 alters: ZoZo, a timid 5 year old girl; Zoey, an outgoing and vibrant 8 year old; and, lastly, Emma - an angsty 13 year old who thinks she is a full grown adult.
I remember when my therapist first told me about you – ‘Dissociative Identity Disorder’, formerly known as ‘Multiple Personality Disorder’. My entire body initially cringed, because I didn’t want to be the “crazy one”; but then I calmed down and thought about what this diagnosis really meant. It meant that I wasn’t crazy! It meant that I wasn’t blacking out for hours at a time for no reason. It meant that years of lost time and actions that were allegedly performed by me (but felt so foreign to me) came from someplace real!
I am getting to know you, now, and my respective parts, but we’re not exactly friends – frankly we want to kill each other at times (NOT an overstatement). But, I’m learning to respect you and each of the parts that you enact within me - because each part has a story and each story comes from someplace very real in my life. Places that will forever affect me because they took place in early childhood. I wish I were stronger - strong enough to hold onto each piece separately, so as not to slip in and out of your dark holes. I’m grateful, however – grateful that you saved me during times in my life that I needed those parts of myself to survive my past.
ZoZo (age 5) is small. I see her in the sad eyes of other little girls who clutch onto the arm of their favorite teddy bears. She has short brown curly ringlets that bounce when she walks. She talks, but is hardly heard because she whispers. She is scared, scared she will be seen by men who have hurt her; scared she will talk too loud and be punished; scared she will blink her eyes too long and the people she thought loved her will disappear forever. She has deep brown eyes and big bold pupils that look around at everything. She doesn’t just see the world as it appears, though; she sees what she can sense - fear, happiness, joy, and excitement. ZoZo is quiet, but she loves to be noticed. She loves when someone safe wraps their arms around her and holds her tight. She loves when you look at her artwork and adore it. Unfortunately, when I picture her in my mind I see her as exceptionally tiny - a minuscule little girl in the corner of a big dark room. She is curled up with her head bent down. She is wailing, cries echoing through her chest.
Zoey is my protector. She is who kept me calm and happy in times of extreme panic and sadness during my upbringing. She is one big ball of energy, a classic bouncing 8-year-old girl. She loves music and dancing and can play the piano better than anyone in our system. Zoey is a pudgy little thing, with a gap in her two front teeth and cheeks big enough to fit in an entire handful. She is adorable, nonetheless. She has a zest for life and loves everyone she meets. She will play with anyone, introduce herself to anyone and put herself out there in, sometimes, not so safe of ways… She has wavy brown hair, not as curly as ZoZo’s, and brown eyes. She loves to talk and to be talked to. Zoey doesn’t hold as many bad memories as ZoZo (nor as Emma). Unlike both of them, that isn’t her primary purpose. Her purpose is to help me function in everyday life, like in school, work, and social situations – you, DID, have made it clear to me that her primary position is to help me survive in the present...
Emma is the oldest of the bunch and she knows it. She is 13 going on 30 (pardon the pun). She has been an integral part of the system for the longest amount of time. She was present for the majority of the trauma that occurred – she is the manufacturer of resentments, anger, and the hard shell that wards off any forms of love, affection, and care from foreign sources. Emma’s primary job is to keep everyone safe – every part of me looks to her for safety… But, in doing so, she has learned to push everyone in the real world away. She isolates, self-harms, over drinks, and acts out sexually in order to fill internal voids that she wont let anyone else help her heal because she is too scared to be vulnerable…
Each of my parts - ZoZo, Zoey and Emma - have played vital roles in my survival up until this point. Without them, I don’t know that I would have been able to handle the trauma, pain, and heartache that my past has created for me. Of course there are plenty of things to complain about as a result of your existence, DID; you haven’t been all good. Switching in to a terrified 5-year-old personality in the middle of a job interview (for example) is not ideal. The ways you show up, in fact, have caused me to lose any hope at being hired; any hope in holding down a job when I really needed it most. But, I’m learning every day how to appreciate each of the parts that you keep me in touch with – each of which has helped me get to where I am today. I am learning how to create boundaries with each part of me that remains intact. For example, I now understand the importance of making time for myself - the adult; as well as how to facilitate appropriate playtime for the others – ‘the littles’.
So, DID, thank you for your service. Thank you for being there when I was just a little girl, just a vulnerable tiny little child who had no one to help her. Thank you for giving me my soldiers - ZoZo, Zoey and Emma - to fight my battles for me when I couldn’t fight for myself. Thank you for quite literally giving me the superpower to survive the unthinkable. But please hear me when I say, I am stronger now. I am safe. I can do this on my own.
Female, Age 23
Dissociative Identity Disorder, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Clinical Depression
Brianna Schiavoni, LCSW
“Ms. Schiavoni has given a voice to many people who battle various diagnoses. Through this therapeutic and empowering writing project, participants can finally share their story and reclaim their power over that diagnosis!”