MDIA2003_19 Society Wed11.30 (2019)

Dissociative Identity Disorder Online– Heroes in Disguise

One body, thirty personalities, sat in front of a camera, with a lot to show. Through the internet, individuals are dismantling misconceptions of Dissociative Identity Disorder whilst educating the community about it.

YouTuber and host Chloe introducing her alters to viewers

Eyelids drooping, voice softening, body rocking back and forth… If you did not know better, you would have thought this girl is falling asleep. Her viewers, however, are anticipating this moment when she “switches” to a different alter. When dissociation dawns on her, she stops talking, gets into a drowsy state, and frowns at voices only she can hear. Next second, she comes to her senses and introduces herself with a different name, and a slightly different British accent. 

People with DID are constantly misunderstood and often treated with stigma, according to a YouTuber Chloe and her alters. Admitting to have initially made negative presumptions about DID when she was first diagnosed, Chloe said her thoughts were running along the lines of “Oh God! People with DID! Violence and being out of control and being aggressive and unpredictable!”

Clouds of misconceptions were soon vaporised by research that assures her she is not a monster.

“People with DID are no less likely to be violent or criminals than any other member of the population.” Chloe said, “In fact, because everyone with DID has been exposed to some trauma and abuse in their life, they’re more likely to fall back into the role of the abused rather than the abuser.”

In her video, Chloe proceeds to explain the psychological reasons behind this disorder, detailing a theory that attests one’s personality has yet to fully integrate until they reach the age of eight or nine. However, if the child was exposed to extreme trauma, and has a penchant of already dissociating, they are likely to have formed multiple personalities.

Types of abuse experienced by people who have DID

With a routine of uploading weekly videos about DID on YouTube, and updating regularly on social media, Chloe and her system are open and willing to share information of themselves, but with it came the price to pay: disrespectful and ignorance-driven comments. On responding to some controversial claims about the movie Split – a thriller film centralising a protagonist who has DID and a beast-like alter, Chloe was confronted by a message telling her that it is “childish” and “foolish” to think that the film has real implications on the DID community. In addressing this claim, Chloe recollected reactions she encountered both in real life and online, questions like “which one of you is the beast”, “which one of you is the murderer”, “as long as they don’t try and kill me”, all these assumptions she concluded were built on portrayals of DID in movies like Split.

Her experience demonstrated that the film “promotes an inaccurate and highly damaging stigma”. Aside from limited research, false media representation, fear from friends and family, the marginalised group is also being constantly told their illness is not real, and has to live with the possibility of being confined to a psych ward against their will, without treatment, according to Chloe.

Chloe ended the video by asking her viewers to “promote accurate, destigmatising and healthy information about DID such as the educational videos on our YouTube channel”, highlighting her ultimate aspiration in becoming a YouTuber.

James McAvoy in Split – acting as a predator who has DID, argued by many to be stigmatising

However, everyone who has Dissociative Identity Disorder has a different experience with it. Sarah K Reece, who was previously diagnosed with DID, now an activist and founder of online support group Dissociative Initiative in Australia, emphasized repeatedly that one’s experience is never representative of everyone in the community. In terms of how their systems work, how it affects their daily life, everyone can be distinct, but not always mutually exclusive. This is why Sarah founded Dissociative Initiative for those who experience dissociation, whether or not they are diagnosed, offering a platform for sharing and support. 

When it comes to treating or diagnosing DID, Sarah had long held unwavering distrust in mental health professionals from the medical field, ever since her personal experience with therapy. Delving into the darker period of her life when she was once “acutely suicidal”, Sarah had no choice but to seek mental health support. Upon discovering that Sarah was diagnosed with DID, her doctor evaluated that she had a “better chance surviving without any resources, homeless and suicidal, than (being) inside the mental health community”. The reason for that being a long history of misdiagnosis and mistreatment of people who clearly meet the criteria for Dissociative Identity Disorder, due to scepticism and denial of its existence in the clinical world, even though it has been experimentally proven with brain scans that the condition is authentic. It is the reality that isolates people who live with multiplicity from “normal” society.

When the conversation takes on a lighter tone, Sarah amusingly describes awkward situations she had to deal with because of her multiplicity, such as not recognising the people who greeted her, whom some parts have met but others have not, being forced to hang out with strangers when another alter invited friends over but forgot about it.

One of the most remarkable instances when her system worked together to combat significant crisis, according to Sarah, was when she was once attacked by a guy with a bloody face and a knife in hand, on the streets. “I can tell you at that point, I don’t care who’s watching or what’s going on, I switched straightaway to somebody who was strong and confident and capable of dealing with that.” Sarah said, “We handled that situation, we got home safe, we got the police, and we got a lot coordinated crisis care.”

It was moments like these when Sarah was thankful for her multiplicity. Instead of viewing it as a nuisance, Sarah appreciated this automatic, intricate system and said she wouldn’t want to make switching voluntary. “On the one hand, this is really confusing and destructive and I couldn’t get a hand on what’s going on. On the other hand, something about this is beautiful, life-saving, and part of an incredibly rich experience of life.” Sarah said.

With the current existing framework for DID that provides a very monotonous solution, equates integration to recovery, and uses strict terminologies that barely allow room for diversity, Sarah came to a realisation that it does not fit her. Therefore, she formed her own framework, one that engages dissociation in not only a mental illness context, but everyday life, rejecting the idea that multiplicity is a developmental failure, and creating a more inclusive language that can apply to a broader range of people. Sarah even set up a welcome pack that “you can print out and cross out what doesn’t apply to you and scribble all over it and take it to your psychologist or, use it to try and explain how you work to your partner or your best friend”.

Activists for Dissociative Identity Disorder are slowly changing the world for the ostracised minority. Through having their own narratives and voices delivered across the world, a collective that unifies to battle stigma stands firm.