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The A-Z Blogging Challenge - I: Who is the ‘I’ in DID? 

By Mia, Berlou, and Maya

People with Dissociative Identity Disorder don’t have a singular, cohesive, self, so the question “Who am I?” can be incredibly difficult to consider and answer. When our sense of self is fragmented and fluid, it can be hard to know who ‘I’ am at any given time, and (sometimes) impossible to be a consistent ‘I’. 

Within this post, we will consider some of our personal experiences, the language used by systems, how that might change over time, and the language we’ve experienced from professionals while trying to get diagnosed and access therapy. 

Who is the ‘I’ in our DID?

Often, the ‘host’ - the identity who carries out most day-to-day functions, might identify with the body’s name, is present most frequently, and is recognised by others (internal and external) as the system’s main identity - is considered to be the ‘I’ by the external world and the psychological community. Language used by professionals often implies there is one main identity, that has to live with having other parts of self who impact their life.

This is maybe true for a lot of systems, for us it maybe was before we knew we were a system. We believe Amber lived the most of our life, she had some level of control (outside of triggers), but since we found each other, we don’t have a main ‘I’.

When Amber started finding us, and once we’d found out about DID, she not only embraced us and encouraged us to live and heal, but she became a parent to many of us, and in time recognised that this is a shared life, she consciously relinquished control, allowing us to live fluidly and authentically.

Before 2020, our unconscious mask was strong and incredibly effective - no one, not even ourselves, had any idea that we were not one person, but many, sharing a life.

When we switched out, into the body, we all assumed we were Amber (actually - this is feeling a little uncomfortable for us to write - the three of us who are here and blended together, shaking a little because Maya is trying to spend more time out, we didn’t live our life before our system was revealed - so saying ‘we’ isn’t right, and ‘they’ would feel more comfortable for us - they being Amber, Penelope, Isabel, and Stef, we believe).

When they switched out, into the body, they all thought they were Amber. Stef (or more accurately, Tiff - one of her previous identities) once said: “It’s like an optical illusion, once you see it, you can’t unsee it”, when they switched out, they all became Amber… Which also leads to more confusion - because, technically, we are all Amber! Amber is our name, so we’re all Amber, but also, none of us except Amber, are Amber… So if I am Amber, all of us are ‘I’, ‘me’... See - confusion.

Before we knew about our system, we were an ‘I’. We functioned as one person, the illusion (dissociation + amnesia) was so effective that no one knew. There was one time, in 2010, that we lived alone, and during that year, in that flat, we became a we. We have no memory of how, or what happened in that flat, but we recall finding it hard to say ‘I’, we somehow became selves-aware, and there’s one specific memory fragment when we had to clarify to someone that when we were saying ‘we’, we meant we our singular, individual self.

Once we started finding each other, working on our integration and healing, we quickly became a we. And now we can’t control our language - if one of us is speaking about ourselves individually, we say ‘I’, if we mean our collective selves and are speaking for all - we say ‘we’. This is subconscious, if we’re speaking to someone who doesn’t know we are many, we often have to correct our own language - “We, I mean I” - which is hard, uncomfortable, and embarrassing at times. 

The language we choose to use is system specific - many systems do identify as an ‘I’, with ‘parts’ - we don’t like parts language, we find it uncomfortable - everyone has parts of self, we are not parts of a whole self - we’re separate identities, people, living a shared life. 

Sadly, for us, ‘parts’ is the most common language used, and every time we read or hear it, it elicits a subconscious negative reaction, for we don’t feel like parts of a whole. 

We have a loose theory (to which there will be many exceptions - all systems are unique in their experiences), that because we started dissociating and fragmenting from a very young age (two), we were never a cohesive self. Perhaps systems whose trauma/fragmentation started later, did start to unify (the [flawed] theory of structural dissociation suggests that our separate consciousnesses unify in childhood), perhaps sometimes when that happens, and we start fragmenting later, perhaps there is a more stable ‘I’ identity, who others fragment from? 

We don’t know. We do know that the experience of being a system is as varied as the experience of being human - and there’s no right or wrong way. We’re not wrong for not liking parts, we’re just different to the systems that do identify with that language.

Maybe because ‘parts’ is the language most used, it makes sense and is the easiest to understand for singlets (non-plural people), maybe that’s why it’s used the most? There are other words - ‘alters’ is very common, and was the language we used for the first couple of years when we started finding each other (and is in all of our books), but that doesn’t feel right for us either anymore, as we said, we like people or selves, others is ok, but again it feels like with ‘alters’ or ‘others’, that there is a ‘main’ identity, that we are ‘alternative’ to... Which, we guess, if Amber is the main ‘I’, we guess we are ‘alternatives’, but it doesn’t feel comfortable - especially when she is often not here, and it’s us ‘alternatives’ living our life (her life?)

Amber has often used parts language to explain us, we get it, it’s easier for people to understand, but hilariously that causes uproar in our head and many times she’s had to correct herself away from parts language, because we all got too loud in our internal complaining.

One goal for healing with DID might be final fusion, the process of all identities fusing together, sharing everything - all memories and traits - and becoming a singular identity, an ‘I’. We can’t imagine this and have no desire to try to achieve final fusion - many of us are very different and don’t want to unify. Amber and I (Mia) have been fused once, for one morning, and it was the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been, we don’t want to and can’t be one. I can’t be Amber and she can’t be me. Then there’s Berlou’s experiences - she didn’t live our eternal life until a few months into our system reveal, and her experiences before then were limited to pain, suffering, and crying, inside - how can she and Amber be one? When Amber lived a (relatively) normal life (with depression, anxiety, cyclical breakdowns, and confusion) until her late thirties, and Berlou lived an abstract, subconscious life of misery?

So we don’t want to become an ‘I’, we don’t want to become one, we just want to be able to live in this world as ourselves. We wish that was easy.

Our experiences of fusion have been varied, Amber has been in many, and she doesn’t like examining herself when she is more than just Amber, her ‘I’ gets confusing, and often she’s been in fusions with selves who have no interest in being identified or healing, which impacts her capacity to examine herself/s.

Professional language 

The language used by professionals often feels exclusionary and unaccepting of our complex selves. More often than not, DID is approached from the viewpoint that there is one main/core self, who then has their parts/alters.

Which is confusing for us - this does, maybe, make sense for us before we knew about our DID. But now we’re a whole bunch of different people who are sharing a life, and much of the language used doesn’t acknowledge this (common) experience.

In the three reports that have been written about us (by two psychiatrists and a psychologist - all of whom claim to have decades of clinical experience working with dissociative patients), not once is our plurality and experience of being a collective of people acknowledged. It’s all ‘she’, ‘her’, ‘Amber’ - not a single ‘they’.

After the first (and worst) assessment (80 minutes on the phone arguing with a Psychiatrist about whether or not DID was too rare for us to have it) he even wrote that Amber “became disinterested and started talking as Mia”, yep, not dissociated, but “disinterested”!! He also had no appreciation or understanding for the dissociation and memory loss that can happen when we switch.

At the end of last year, we started therapy with CTAD (the Complex Trauma and Dissociation Clinic). Even that was rocky, when they specialise in complex trauma and working with people with dissociative disorders! Because we already had the DID diagnosis, they didn’t do a full assessment, and unfortunately, we got an assessor that we clashed with within the first minute. 

She had no appreciation for how far I (Mia) am separate from Amber and the things I do that Amber wouldn’t. She told us Amber needed to take control, that we, the others, shouldn’t be managing our day-to-day life. In response to that, we got rid of Amber and have been living mostly without her since then - so if Amber isn’t even living her life - is she even the ‘I’ in our DID? Anyway.

We recently had to fill in a “Progress in Treatment Questionnaire”, which honestly read bizarrely to us. The singular language throughout was just weird, why isn’t there one that actually acknowledges a plural individual who experiences life as a collective ‘we’?

  • “I have been diagnosed with a dissociative disorder and agree that this diagnosis is correct.” - We have been diagnosed, etc.

  • “I know that the traumas that I experienced were not my fault.” - What if the ‘I’ they’re speaking to didn’t experience trauma? This is just confusing.

  • “I have a generally positive view of myself.” - WHICH SELF? 

There are 26 questions like this, then… “The following questions are for persons who have dissociated parts / self-states.” we thought, “Oh yay! Some questions that might be relevant to our experience!” Nope:

  • “All parts of myself know that we are part of the same person and that we share one body.” - We’re not the same person, we might share the same body, but we aren’t the same person.

  • “I pay attention to and am curious about what different parts of myself are feeling.” - Assuming there’s a main ‘I’, afflicted by their ‘parts’.

  • “I’m aware of which parts of myself are contributing to my actions.” - Just thinking about this sentence breaks our already broken head.

And then there’s just a load more parts language, which, as we said, we find uncomfortable.

We’ve been going through the SCID-D (Semi-structured Clinical Interview for Dissociative Symptoms and Disorders) with our therapist, just out of interest because this wasn’t used in any of our assessments. Even that is full of parts language and assumptions that we are an ‘I’, with ‘parts’.

So, who is the ‘I’?

We think we’ve made it abundantly clear that we don’t have a singular ‘I’, we’re a ‘we’, with many ‘Is’. We struggle to mask as a singular person, we can manage for a brief “Hello, how are you?”, but if you speak to us for more than a couple of minutes and our mask begins to crack, we become consciously aware of our we-ness, and we struggle to hold the mask.

We do know we don’t speak for every system, and as we said, the experiences of system hood vary greatly, many do feel like they’re an ‘I’ with parts, which is entirely fine - if it works for all of themselves. 

Navigating the language used by professionals has been a frustrating aspect of our DID journey. Despite claiming expertise in dissociative disorders, many professionals persist in using language that overlooks our plural experience. Reports and assessments often fail to acknowledge our collective identity, relying instead on singular terminology that misrepresents our reality.

The lack of recognition for our plurality perpetuates feelings of exclusion and misunderstanding. Even specialised clinics struggle to adapt their language and assessments to accommodate plural experiences, reinforcing outdated models of identity and treatment.

Professionals need to catch up. Those working with systems need to be more inclusive and be meeting people where they are, using the language they prefer. The human psyche is complex, consciousness is barely understood, and no one knows everything about the brain, consciousness, and the human experience. When is Psychiatry and Psychology going to realise this? When will the processes involved in accessing and receiving specialist care be inclusive for all experiences of DID?

We doubt it will be soon, but the more our community shares, the more understanding of our complex selves there is, the better it is, for us all.

The journey to understanding the 'I' in DID is a complex and evolving process. Our experiences challenge conventional notions of identity, highlighting the need for greater awareness and sensitivity in both clinical and everyday language. By acknowledging the plurality of identities within DID and embracing diverse perspectives, we can embrace a more inclusive understanding of identity, and mental health.

We're a we, and we're here to stay.

~ Mia, Berlou, and Maya

1 Comment

Apr 30

This is as clear a description of something so conceptually dificult to describe as I can imagine. The take-down of professional language that is still framed in parts is particularly helpful...

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