Adjusting to a Diagnosis of… | Counseling | Therapy

Adjusting to a Diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder

Alex Robboy , CAS, MSW, ACSW, LCSW — Founder & executive director

Adjusting to a Diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder image

“I just learned I have Dissociative Identity Disorder and I’m experiencing many conflicting emotions about this. Is this normal?”

DID stands for Dissociative Identity Disorder, and was formerly called “Multiple Personality Disorder. If you just learned that you have DID you are probably experiencing a range of emotions and feelings. Some people have very positive feelings about their diagnosis. For some people, they feel relief, as they may have always suspected that they have had DID. Other people feel relieved to finally have a name to describe their symptoms. It can also be freeing to realize that you are not “crazy,” and you have an actual condition that is recognized and can be treated. Knowing your diagnosis also provides you with the power to do something about it, whether that means learning about it on your own or seeking therapy. Learning that other people live with DID can also reduce feelings of isolation. Obviously hearing that you have DID can be terrifying too. If you are not very aware of your alters, learning that many different personalities live inside you might make you feel like you’re a character in a science fiction movie. It can also be shocking or scary to receive this diagnosis if you are experiencing a lot of traumatic material emerging. Some people feel overwhelmed by the diagnosis and wonder how they will ever make sense of their life and move forward. It is normal to experience conflicting emotions about your new diagnosis.

“What does having DID mean for my future?

Some people choose to work on integration (reducing the number of alters) and some people choose to work on learning to live together. The choice is yours. The point of the diagnosis is to help you make sense of your world by providing you a framework to understand your reality, and to explain your world to others. The point of the diagnosis is not to dictate your future. One thing to realize is that you have likely had DID for some time, before receiving a formal diagnosis. Having the diagnosis can help you receive more applicable treatment, which will help you to better manage your life! Some people have DID and manage their symptoms so well that only the people in their life who they have chosen to disclose to know about their diagnosis. Having an accurate diagnosis will help you move forward with your life plans more effectively as you will be more aware of how to work with your symptoms

“How can I tell my family and friends about my DID?”

It is possible that many of your close family and friends may have suspected that you have DID. Other people might even know some of your alters that you do not even know. Thus, while hearing the diagnosis might be hard for you, for your family friends this might be old information. Knowing your official diagnosis might help them make sense of what they already know. They might feel relieved because the diagnosis might help them have a context for their experiences with you. There is a chance that only people who are not in your inner circle would be surprised by your diagnosis. In most cases you will want to disclose to your family and close friends, who likely already suspect something is off. In healthy families and with close friends, most will react to your diagnosis with empathy, relief, maybe some fear, but hopefully not anger. If your family does react in anger or does not believe your diagnosis, then this is a separate issue. Some families may have a hard time accepting this diagnosis due to their own dysfunction, or even their role in your trauma. This situation will require you to reevaluate your boundaries with your family and determine what your relationship should be with them given their unsupportive stance towards your diagnosis. Disclosure to people other than your immediate family and close friends, like your boss, coworkers, classmates, teachers, associates, dates, should be approached differently. Like many mental illnesses, there is a social stigma associated with having a diagnosis of DID. Social stigma is just one of many factors that can make disclosure challenging. Other factors that make people hesitant to disclose a mental illness include cultural views on mental illness, religious views on mental illness, relationship dynamics or expectations, etc. Disclosure is always a private and personal decision. While it might be helpful for one person to disclose their diagnosis, it could be harmful for another to. Disclosure should also be thought of as something you can approach on a case-to-case basis. Your decision to disclose will be partially dependent on the role and importance each individual has in your life. For instance you may feel very strongly about disclosing to your partner but perhaps not to your coworkers. Realize that disclosure is also an evolving process. Perhaps you are not ready to disclose now, but in time you may feel differently. Furthermore, new people and new situations always challenge your boundaries with disclosure.

“What can I expect from therapy?”?

People enter therapy because they feel that something is not right. Someone with DID might enter therapy because they are exhausted from switching, although they might not be aware that they are switching. They might only know that they seem to be having experiences of missing time, that they have certain skills they are unsure of how they learned and strangers seem to know them. Other people with DID enter treatment because their alters are not working well together. Sometimes it is the traumatic memories that seem to come up out of nowhere that lead a person to seek treatment. Therapy can help you better understand your diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder and how your specific system works. You will likely spend significant time familiarizing yourself with your system and learning basic coping skills. One therapeutic goal would be to help you get to know your alters and learn how you all can work more effectively together. Another key goal is also to strengthen, you, the host personality. A common long term goal of therapy for DID is to integrate, or reduce the number of alters you have in your system. However this goal is not realistic or even the best option for all people with DID. Some people like having their alters and they have learned how to successfully live with them. The choice to integrate is up to you. Because DID is very strongly associated with trauma, you might need to do significant work on this material. In addition to your diagnosis of DID, if you have a history of trauma, you might also have PTSD or a depression and/or anxiety disorder as well. Therapy can help you better manage your symptoms to any secondary diagnoses you may have. You may also find yourself needing to process any trauma that your alters may have been holding for you.

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