Dissociative identity disorder - a rare mental disorder in which several personalities seem to coexist in the body of one person. Billy Milligan, a man with twenty-four subpersonalities, has become a kind of symbol of disorder in the mass consciousness. Based on his biography, Daniel Keyes wrote the novel "The Multiple Minds of Billy Milligan."
In modern pop culture, this disorder is used as a theme for entertainment and science fiction cinema, but in fact it also exists in real life - at least it is included in the ICD and DSM. There are about three hundred and fifty case histories with this diagnosis registered in the world. Some experts believe that there are many more cases of dissociative identity disorder, it is just that it is not always diagnosed. Others are convinced that such a disorder does not exist at all, and all known patients were either charlatans or suffered from other disorders.
We talked with Natalia (her name has been changed) - she has been suffering from dissociative identity disorder since childhood, is registered in a psychiatric clinic (the heroine showed us a certificate), and has twelve subpersonalities in addition to the main one. In addition, we asked the psychotherapist Vladimir Snigur to tell us about the features of the disease.
"Some of them did it"
Throughout my life I carry a trailer. More precisely, twelve trailers. I don’t know how best to call them. Probably the most accurate definition is “other selves”. They are all very different. For example, among them there is a three-year-old girl Sasha, who loves strawberry "fruittella" and cartoons "My Little Pony". This girl is the most harmless and beautiful thing in me. When she appears, all my family and friends breathe a sigh of relief. Sasha can wake up her mother at three in the morning and ask for a swing. She can also sit and watch TV for several days in a row. When she cries, you can just give her candy and she will calm down. True, there is a danger here - Sasha may eat too much sweets, and then she will feel bad. She's got diabetes. Although I don't have it.
When dad first saw Sasha, he did not believe it. I walked around the apartment and was indignant: “Why is my daughter behaving like a three-year-old child? She was sixteen years!" He couldn't accept that I might have such a strange diagnosis - dissociative identity disorder. In addition to my main personality, there are others living in my body. Sometimes they kind of take over control and decide what to do for me. I have lived with it almost always, but only recently have I learned to more or less establish contact with them and accept them as they are.
In the Soviet and post-Soviet In psychiatry, dissociative identity disorder is not taken seriously and is often confused with other disorders - as a result, the patient is misdiagnosed and may be left without psychiatric supervision. Today more and more experts recognize its existence. At the same time, there are mild forms of the disorder in which people can live without assistance.
Since childhood, I have been an impressionable child with a rich imagination. Played with imaginary friends, made up stories. Many children do this, there is nothing special about it. But then, at about ten or eleven years old, strange things appeared: episodes began to “drop out” from my life. It's not that I don't remember at all what happened in those moments. Some passages came to mind. But during these episodes, it seemed to me that I could not influence what was happening in any way - as if I was spellbound or watching a movie about myself. During such periods, my mother said that I was acting strange, as if I had been replaced. Once another "falling out" of reality lasted a week, and during it I cut myself with a razor.I did it when I was washing. Mom went into the bathroom and saw that I was splashing in the water, which had already turned red with blood. At the same time, I looked as if nothing special had happened - I was just staring blankly at my mother. Now I understand that to say "I" in this case is not entirely correct. Some of them did it.
After the razor story, I was taken to a psychotherapist for the first time. After talking with me for two weeks, the specialist advised my family to see a psychiatrist - he said that I might need medication. Then they could not diagnose me for several years. I have visited fifteen doctors. Some said that I had schizophrenia, others argued that it was acute psychosis or depression. I drank a lot of drugs - various antidepressants and sedatives. Of course, this caused stomach and health problems in general. But the most difficult thing was to believe that all this is really happening: doctors, pills, diagnoses. It seemed to me that such stories could happen to anyone, but not to me. Mom, too, found it difficult to accept. She is a psychotherapist herself, and it seemed to her unthinkable that a child with mental disabilities could grow up in her family. She was worried that this was her fault too - that she had overlooked me as a child, had not paid attention to something important.
Until I was fifteen, no one could tell exactly what happened to me. At the same time, I myself felt differently. When I was thirteen, my grandfather died and I was very worried about it. Something strange was happening to me, I could pull money out of my dad's wallet or paint the walls at night. I could wake my mother up to show her the drawing. More precisely, it seemed to others that I was doing it. In fact, it was they - other personalities. This went on for about six months, and I very vaguely remember this time - I know about many events only from stories. Now I understand that during that period I had frequent seizures, so a lot fell out of my memory. Thanks to psychotherapy, I got over my grief and the oddities stopped for a while. Then, at the age of fifteen, a young man appeared for the first time in my life. Falling in love, the first kiss - it was, albeit positive, but stressful. Strange events began to happen again. I myself guessed that something very unusual was happening to me, but I tried not to think about it. Mom also saw that I needed help. But dad thought I was just pretending.
Often the reason Childhood psychological trauma becomes dissociative identity disorder - and it happens that only one of the subpersonalities remembers this. A similar mechanism works in post-traumatic amnesia.
Somehow my parents got tired of everything and once again took me to the doctor. It was an unpleasant trip: my dad and I were quarreling loudly. Suddenly I opened the door and jumped out onto the road. It was another moment when I did not control myself - one of them acted for me. My boot fell off my foot, I tried to run away from my parents, and they started after me. I remember this day in fits and starts: they push me into the car, then darkness. And then I already see how my mother helps me wash my broken knees.
The parents were very frightened by this incident, and the next day they again took me to a psychiatrist. In his office, I (and in fact - they) began to shout that I would kill everyone around, and then myself. The psychiatrist called the orderlies, they tried to calm me down, but I struggled and tried to fight them. In the end, I was forcibly hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital. By court order, I spent about two months there. I remember the day when I was discharged very well. It was December 5, 2015. The chief doctor told me: "Come on, there is a conversation." We went to his office and he explained to me that I most likely have dissociative identity disorder. I hadn’t read the book about Billy Milligan and I didn’t know what it was.He said: "You do forget what happens to you in those moments when you experience a lot of stress, right?" Then he explained to me that I am a very impressionable person and as a child it was hard for me to experience certain events. So my personality seemed to be divided. The doctor said that this is a defense mechanism - with the help of it my brain decided to simplify my life. He made it so that the most difficult moments for me seemed to be experienced by someone else.
"Let them talk"
I have really hard memories of my childhood. I had an older brother, and we fought seriously with him. There were other stresses as well. Every time I explain to people the nature of my disorder, they start asking: "What happened in your life that your psyche reacted to it this way?" It’s as if they don’t understand that I don’t want to talk about traumatic events again.
My doctor honestly said: he had never had patients with such a diagnosis before. Dissociative identity disorder is very rare. Most often, even when someone is diagnosed with such a diagnosis, after a couple of weeks it is removed - it turns out that this is actually another disorder from the group of dissociatives or schizophrenia in general.
Upon learning that I had a rare disorder, I felt as if I had been sentenced - it seemed that my life was over. For a year and a half, I talked very little with people, I tried not to leave the house unnecessarily. It seemed to me that people would point fingers at me, look askance. In addition, I became afraid of myself. It didn’t fit in my head that someone could live in me that I couldn’t control.
Dissociation is primitive a defense mechanism inherent in the child's psyche, which fragments our experience: for example, what the child considers good is separated from what he considers bad. With age, this mechanism is replaced by more complex and accurate ones. If, for some reason, a person continues to actively use dissociation for many years until adulthood, separate identities with different qualities and sets of memories can form.
In the first half of 2017, my parents and I decided to try hypnosis. I lay down on the couch, relaxed and went into a trance state under the voice of the psychotherapist. He continued to talk, as if he was digging in my head - talking about the most painful things in my life. During the sessions, my subpersonalities seemed to begin to come out, they said something, answered the specialist. Once he suggested that I just try to communicate with them, without going into a trance. He asked, "Relax and let them talk." I tried it, and we entered into a dialogue with them. From the outside it looked like I was talking to myself. I still do this a lot now. It may scare someone, but my mother is already used to it. Sometimes, when I feel bad, she suggests: "Maybe you will go and discuss your problem with them?" I sit in front of the mirror and we all take turns speaking.
Thanks to hypnosis, I realized that sometimes I can control them and “release” them when needed. If earlier we coexisted with them in some kind of chaos and I did not understand anything, now I began to gradually get to know them, to recognize their features. I realized that each of the subpersonalities is characterized by different actions and behavior.
They manifest themselves in different ways. Sometimes it happens that they interfere with my conversations with people. Outwardly, it looks as if I am claiming one thing, and after five minutes - quite another. People are surprised - they think that I instantly changed my mind or just don't understand what I'm saying. In fact, it is one of them who speaks out.
I often hear their thoughts. This is not at all like voices in my head, just the thoughts of my subpersonalities arise in my consciousness in the same way as my own. Only I know that they are not mine and do not look like mine. It happens like this: I think about something of my own and suddenly something completely unexpected starts to come to my mind.The type of thoughts, and the logic itself, some accents are also different. Previously, it was difficult for me to filter information and understand which personality this or that thought belongs to. To learn to determine whose thoughts are in my head now, I had to understand myself, to understand what my tastes and values are. So in a way, thanks to them, I got to know myself better.
"We became allies with Stesha"
During seizures, my subpersonalities can completely take control of the body. Sometimes, when one of them crawls out, I continue to see what is happening for a while. And then I kind of fall asleep and completely transfer control to them. If I wish, I can stay on and control their actions, but this requires maximum concentration and does not always work out. And if it works, then it takes a lot of energy.
We found a common language with some of them. I learned to "release" them at the right times, and now they help me live. For example, I can give way to them if I need to do something that is difficult for me. The first person I got in touch with was Stesha. Her full name is Stefania, she is a 19-year-old girl, and we are very similar to her. But she is more frivolous, flirtatious. She loves dresses and jewelry, shopping. She knows how to please people, attract attention to herself. She has a softer character than me.
Subpersonalities can have different abilities and knowledge, IQ level and physical indicators. There are cases when subpersonalities were diagnosed with various chronic diseases. Usually, with such a disorder, individual subpersonalities store different character traits and perform different functions. Among them may be aggressive defenders, negotiators, caring adults, children's subpersonalities. One or more subpersonalities may have a gender identity that does not coincide with the identity of the main person.
Once I felt very bad, I wanted to cut myself. And suddenly, as if she spoke to herself: “Why do this? After all, you have a beautiful body, why do you want to hurt him? " I did not understand very well what was happening: it was as if I were saying it, but at the same time, not me. Then I found out that it was Stesha. Before we became friends, we often argued with her. Once, without my knowledge, she dyed her hair blonde. I woke up in the morning, looked at myself in the mirror and found that my hair had gone from dark to light. Stesha also likes to buy clothes, jewelry, and can bring home ten bags of cosmetics.
When you try to "kick out" some subpersonality, to gain control over the body, it is like arm wrestling. This activity is very exhausting. Gradually, I realized that we don't have to fight with Stesha. I began to give in to her: if she wants to do unusual makeup, buy something or talk to someone instead of me - I let her do it. When I began to periodically "release" her, our relationship with her improved, we became allies.
The scariest self is a woman named Diana. As a rule, it is she who makes me hurt myself. This is how she punishes me for what she thinks I am doing wrong. I think that in fact I myself condemn myself for a lot, but I kind of hide this condemnation in Diana. But besides punishment, she is also responsible for protection. If I find myself in a dangerous situation, she can intervene. All my strength and aggression is in her. Once I met a young man who periodically raised his hand to me. And during one of the quarrels, Diana grabbed him by the throat and pushed him against the wall. I don't know how it happened, physically that guy was bigger and stronger than me. But Diana can do what I am not capable of.
Sometimes I have big seizures, and then I feel like falling into darkness for a few days. I can go to bed and wake up in three days. While I am away, one of them acts for me. If Stesha gets out, then everything is in order: she does my business, goes to school, communicates with people.From the outside, even acquaintances may not notice that it is she, and not me. But there are also less pleasant subpersonalities. Once I had a seizure that lasted a month. When I came to my senses, I had a black eye. The whole family was blacklisted on the phone, so no one could get through to me. The house was a terrible mess. A friend said that at this time I drank a lot of alcohol. She wanted to stop me, take the bottle, but I tried to break the glass on her head. This happens when Dasha and Dima replace me. They are twins and rarely appear. But every time they bring chaos into my life.
"He starts staring at my girlfriends."
Usually, if a big attack is coming, I can feel it beforehand. For example, in my life I don't like red lipstick. But sometimes you suddenly get the mood to paint your lips red. This is a reason to be wary: something is coming. Sometimes, before seizures, sensations in the body change: for example, it may seem to me that I am about to hit the ceiling with my head. This means that soon that subpersonality, which is much higher than me, can come out. It happens that my eyesight suddenly becomes severely low - in this case, I have glasses at home. I put them on and think, "Okay, we need to get ready." There are also men among them. Of course, they don't feel very comfortable in a woman's body. Yes, and they give me anxiety. I have never been interested in girls, but when one of my male subpersonalities wakes up, he starts staring at my girlfriends. This makes me uncomfortable. Still, I need to learn to coexist with them. So in my closet there are men's clothes and a breast tightener - in case one of the male subpersonalities appears.
I am now eighteen years old and in college - studying photography. To be honest, my study is pretty average - I often miss classes due to seizures. If a couple asks me about something, and I am “absent” at this time, the answer is given by one of the subpersonalities. It can turn out to be complete nonsense. The curator of my course knows about my diagnosis, when I disappear, she visits me, we often discuss the situation. She worries, says: "You need to get a diploma." If all goes well, I have to graduate from college this year. But I'm not going to be a photographer. I would like to become a makeup artist and work in a theater. But first you need to adapt to life with all subpersonalities.
To a person with a dissociative identity disorder was able to work and communicate with others, he needs to establish interaction between subpersonalities. This is usually done with the help of psychotherapy, and especially the specialist can be helped here by mastering hypnosis skills. Sometimes in the process of treatment, the subpersonalities can be connected, but often they just learn to effectively share responsibilities and work together.
In recent years, I have learned to more or less control seizures. I cannot make it so that they do not exist at all. But I can influence who gets out. I have life hacks for this. Let's say I feel like I’m getting irritable, lashing out at people and I can’t do anything about it. This means that soon a not very pleasant subpersonality may appear. At times like this, I go to the store, buy a box of strawberry fruit and eat it all. It's like at for Sasha, a three-year-old girl who lives in me. With the help of such a life hack, I release her outside, and she appears instead of the aggressive subpersonality that was originally planning to get out. Sasha watches cartoons, eats candy, and then lies down and sleeps for a long time. The attack passes, I lose a day or two of my life, but I do not cause trouble to anyone and I behave calmly.
And yet, although I learned to more or less control the attacks, until last year I could not come to terms with what was happening to me. I did not understand why so many people live in me, I drank a lot of alcohol to escape reality. Alcohol with antidepressants has a very bad effect, it kills the stomach, liver and psyche. Many times I have thought about suicide.When I get suicidal, the presence of subpersonalities increases. They do not want to die and are trying to intervene, to protect me. At such moments I can walk down the street and seem to talk to myself - they do not stop and convince me to change my mind. So the more I thought about death, the more obvious their presence became, and it only made things worse.
"She will smother you with a pillow."
One day in April 2018, I had a particularly bad day: I had a falling out with my family, at school I was scolded for missing something. I really wanted to finish everything: I locked myself in the bathroom and ate pills. When I was already lying on the floor foaming at my mouth, my mother called me. I picked up the phone, but I couldn't speak. She realized that something was wrong and called my boyfriend, who was sleeping in the next room. He woke up, an ambulance was called for me. After that, I lay in intensive care for two days and did not come to my senses. When I woke up and realized what had happened, I was really scared. I decided: it's time to learn to accept yourself and your “I”. Otherwise, nothing will be left of us with them.
Now I try not to perceive my diagnosis as some kind of deviation. I say to myself: how well my brain works, since it contains so many things. My subpersonalities appeared because I needed them. When they disappear for a long time, I cannot cope with everything alone, I develop depressive symptoms. This is how I am made: sometimes I need to take a vacation so that someone can live for me. They take care of me as best they can. And now I try to take care of them. Sometimes it seems to me that we have become one family. I wake up in the morning, and I have drawings on the wallpaper. I think, “How cute! The child left me a message. " They are me. If I do not accept them, then I do not accept myself. I finally understood this and am learning to live with this understanding.
The most difficult case - when the subpersonalities do not know about the existence of the others and each considers itself the only one. Intermediate options are far more common when they are in a relationship. In general, it is like a family of people of different ages, characters and even gender who need to interact to survive.
With those subpersonalities with whom I have contact, we agreed to keep records - to sit down at the computer in the evening and write a couple of sentences about where we were today and what we did. So you can not get lost in reality. True, sometimes it still happens that I drop out of life and out of the educational process. There is knowledge that only I have, and things that only I can do.
Due to my diagnosis, I have lost many friends. Not everyone is just with a person who periodically begins to behave very unexpectedly, to refute everything that he said before, to treat others in a different way. But I was lucky: I have close people who support me and are ready to be friends, no matter what. One of my close friends, hearing my story, giggled, and then said: "You know, but I have always dreamed of meeting a person who has such characteristics." She began to ask me about everything, even once went with me to a psychiatrist. She became interested, not scared. This is the main thing.
Recently, I told in one of the social networks about my diagnosis. I live in a small town, and many began to discuss me. They approached the young man with whom I met then and said: "She is sick, she will strangle you with a pillow." Many people accuse me of just pretending. If they knew how much I would like it to be really just fiction. So that I can say: "I played you, there are no subpersonalities." I would not refuse a stable psyche and stress resistance.
Many more people, after watching movies and reading books about dissociative identity disorder, began to diagnose themselves.They say: “Oh, and sometimes I forget some things! Maybe I have a multiple personality? " I want to hit them with something. Or say: "Fools, be glad that you do not know what it is."
In general, the way this diagnosis is portrayed in popular culture is sometimes frustrating. After the movie "Split" I wanted to stay at home. The hero is drawn as some kind of beast, a monster. After such a movie, people begin to think that mental disorders are dangerous, and it is better not to get close to people like me. But I know that I am an ordinary person. I want to live a normal life. I heard that Billy Milligan died alone in a mental hospital. I don't want it to be the same with me. I want to be happy. I also want to stop feeling guilty about what is happening to me. I can fall out of life, I can sleep almost day and night after attacks. Recently, I slept through a family trip to the cinema for my mother's birthday. I woke up and saw that I had been called many times. People needed me, but they could not contact me. I realized this and burst into tears.
"I am lucky - he believes in my diagnosis"
The more stress I get, the more often I get seizures. At the beginning of the year, I had a remission that lasted for several weeks - during this time none of my subpersonalities ever got out. But then something happened in my personal life, I got worried, and everything became bad again. Once again I went to a psychiatric hospital, and now I go to a psychotherapist every other day. After much suffering, I finally got lucky with a specialist - he believes in my diagnosis. Usually, when I turn to the next psychotherapist, he tries to prove to me that I do not have dissociative disorder. I have to convince him, rush around with some information, just so that he believes me and agrees to help.
Some admit my diagnosis, but refuse to work with me, because they have not encountered such cases and do not know how to behave. We have to look for another psychotherapist again and prove and explain something to him. At the same time, I feel like some kind of circus monkey. I'm terribly tired of this.
My current psychotherapist is one of the best specialists in town. He does not question my diagnosis and says that I can learn to live normally with this disorder. To do this, I need to fully accept the existence of my “I” and establish contact with all of them. He says: “You will build your life the way you want. But for that you need to stop being afraid. " He also says that all people have some kind of diagnosis, just some know theirs, while others do not. So I'm still lucky - at least I know what's wrong with me.
I would like to meet a person who has the same diagnosis. With someone older than me. I would ask him: "How do you live, how are you coping?" One of the doctors I visited told me that very few people with this disorder live to the age of twenty-two. Like, it's too hard, people can't cope. At first I believed him, I was upset. But now I think: why should I listen to someone? All people have an alter ego, it's just mine - like that, very bright. I want to cope and learn to live with it. I want to tell people about myself so that they know that people like me exist. We are not dangerous, we are normal people. Not circus monkeys or movie monsters.
Illustrations: Dasha Chertanova