*Thank you to Amber and Co for allowing us to share this piece. You can see more of their content here.*
Trigger warning: this piece discusses themes of dissociation, dissociative identity disorder (DID), suicide and trauma.
Dissociative Identity Disorder - how strange to have three words that can hold so much gravity in our lives. How interesting that a diagnosis can both explain so much, and yet also change so much overnight.
So what is it? Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a disorder that develops when a child’s brain undergoes severe childhood trauma and learns to cope by dissociating. As a child’s brain grows in a healthy environment, the different parts of a personality integrate into one fully formed personality, usually before the age of nine. If the brain experiences severe childhood trauma, it does not have the environment or ‘nurture’ aspect to feel safe, and if you are prone to dissociation as a coping mechanism, then you can develop DID where the parts do not integrate. The result is having one body and brain that shares many ‘parts’ and each has their own personality characteristics, memories, likes and dislikes, and there are amnesia walls between different parts which affect things like memory.
One ‘part’ or ‘alter’ will be out at a time, and other parts can be ‘co-conscious’ or near but not in control of the body. Amnesia between different parts means that what one part experiences in day-to-day life will not become a memory for another part if they were not co-conscious to experience that.
Alters generally switch from triggers, these are strong emotional attachments to things or things associated with trauma memories. Negative triggers cause the brain to go into protective mode and dissociate as it learned as a child, and another alter will end up out. Positive triggers are emotional attachments to good things, such as hobbies, TV shows, certain people or places, that trigger out an alter in a good way because they have a strong connection to it - similar to how a certain ‘version’ of you may come out if you’re around a certain person or thing that you feel strongly about. For us, that means 92 parts that get to co-exist within us. So, that’s DID in a nutshell.
Us in a nutshell? We spent the majority of our life thinking everyone’s brain worked like this because we were taught to believe that was true. We learned to be more than just our trauma and life, we went to school the same as other kids, we had friends, we ate ice cream too much and probably laughed so hard that chocolate milk came out of our nose. I think sometimes people forget that trauma and normalcy can co-exist at times - we had the worst childhood that included DID as a part of it, but we also had normal moments and days. That’s kind of how life is now, too, some days are very much traumatic or hard to manage, but some days are pretty normal for us. We have amazing friendships, we spend time creating content for our Tik Tok pages, we have an amazing community that we laugh and joke around with, and we have our fiancé who has worked to understand our DID and have it become a “normal” part of her life too.
But our life wasn’t always this way, we genuinely thought everyone’s brain worked like this to some extent.
We would hear voices at times but didn’t tell anyone as we were scared people would label us as ‘crazy,’ which also isn’t fair to people who do hear voices, but mental health stigma is a very real and scary thing still unfortunately. We had times when we did not remember things in school, our report cards often said things like, “did well in class but didn’t seem to remember anything when the exam came,” and we often found ourselves in situations with people or places that we didn’t seem to recognise, but they seem to know us. We had a lot of emotional times when parts were triggered by trauma but we didn’t quite know what was happening, and we ended up in bad situations when we didn’t think we had put ourselves there.
The turning point was when we ended up in the hospital after a suicide attempt. The alter that was out at the time was very confused and did not know how we ended up in the hospital, and genuinely thought we didn’t do this to ourselves. We now know it was another alter that was very triggered and scared who had attempted. That’s why the rest of us swore we did not do this. As much as this experience was terrifying and heartbreaking for everyone who loved us, it also started us on a path to learning what was actually going on and getting the treatment and love that we always deserved. It led us to be honest about things like hearing voices, amnesia during day-to-day things, being in places we didn’t remember, being with people we didn’t remember and not knowing how we got there, and other things that we hadn’t been talking about to people out of fear.
It wasn’t until we opened up about our mental health and our life to our professionals and friends that we also opened ourselves up to receive the proper diagnosis of DID at the age of 26. While a diagnosis can feel like a label or sentencing, it can also feel like a relief in knowing what is going on and being able to learn about yourself and the way your brain works.
We plan to write more articles about DID and explain things further, telling you all the stories about our lives and the relationships in it, and the relationships we have within ourselves in a way. We have used our social media as an outlet for many years now - partly educating about trauma and DID, and partly just as a sense of normalcy within silly videos like anyone else. We have grown so much as people through the community that we have created online, and we are so grateful for how many of you we know will be reading and supporting this. So it only made sense to make this first post not just educational about DID, but something we would want you to hear too - a voice of hope in the darkness we know many of you also deal with every day.
We’re living proof that things always get better, even when they get worse first. Even when you have bad days, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel because when you continue to put light into the world, it eventually comes back around - like the sun rotates around, so do we in a way. We’re living proof that a diagnosis can feel like the weight of the world on you at first, but in the end, it is meant to give you a foundation to build on when you learn how to make a home within yourself. We made a home for 92 of us within one body, so you can do it too, whether that’s one of you or many.
Remember that gravity is not meant to hold you down, it’s meant to ground you and remind you that you have a place here on this earth. Three words can’t define us or hold us down. Dissociative Identity Disorder - those are just three words out of thousands, that help explain us and the way we get to experience this world. Your diagnosis can hold gravity in your life without having a hold on you. In the same way traumatic childhoods and some normalcy can co-exist, so can you and your diagnosis. I hope our posts not only teach you about DID, but also about yourselves. Whether you have DID or not - you are so much more than any diagnosis, condition, mental illness or any other label someone could write about you. There is always a reason to keep going because, like us, so much can switch around in the blink of an eye.
-Amber and Co
Voices of Hope wants you to know that you do not have to do this alone. Click here to 'find help' - it's not weak to speak!