Today we want to discuss Dissociation. There are varying degrees and types that can interrupt someone’s day that lives with one of the Dissociative Disorders, but it’s important to note that yes, all people dissociate to some degree.
The main example of ‘typical’ dissociation would be your drive to work every morning or your drive down a long stretch of highway. It’s mundane. Your mind wanders to the tasks you need to accomplish once you arrive at work or upon the arrival to your destination. Where are you traveling to, the why’s may scatter through your mind, it’s the typical human “spacing out” moments many describe.
You are aware you’re driving you know the route where you need to go etc.… But do you see every single moment along the way? No. Have you thought, “Woah, where did the time go?” Yes, I’m certain at some point in your life you have. This is the standard every day type dissociation. It’s a completely ‘normal’ thing for people to do, but that being said, there are more extreme versions of this to the point someone will have no real idea how they arrived somewhere or that they were even out and about traveling to a destination.
There are three main types of dissociative disorders laid out in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) here we will be discussing some of the ins and outs of those disorders as well as real accounts from people who live with each and things that can cause heartache for those living with the disorders.
- Dissociative Amnesia: someone living with this form of dissociation will be missing important or notable dates in their lives. The main symptom being, memory loss. Not able to be explained by your typical forgetfulness or another medical condition. Those diagnosed cannot recall information about themselves, events or people in their lives. This is especially true when trauma is a part of this individual’s life. These people sometimes experience confused wandering away from their lives. These dissociative moments can last minutes or hours but more rarely can span months to years. It all depends on the individual.
- Depersonalization & Derealization Disorder: this form of dissociation is categorized by someone experiencing life as though it isn’t really their lives. They may see themselves as if they’re watching someone else interacting with the world around them. Life may seem clouded or foggy, reality, in a way, escapes them. They are not delusional, what we mean by this is they can’t seem to fully experience things for themselves. They dissociate. In a sense they’re watching a film reel of their lives. These symptoms can come and go in varying degrees and be situational, last a lifetime, or until the individual can find the help they need.
- Dissociative Identity Disorder: this tricky little devil, DID, is characterized by the presence of 2 or more distinct identities within one individual. It was previously known as multiple personality disorder, but now DID. It stems from severe repeated childhood trauma(s). The person may experience a feeling of being “possessed” (no not in the demonic sense) by these other identities; they may be able to have conversations with them and a unity of a system working in harmony. Now, on the flip side of that it is entirely possible that someone with this disorder may be completely unaware of it. All they know is they’ve experienced “black outs” or they have massive gaps of their lives missing. (The latter was true in my case.) People with DID, typically, also have dissociative amnesia and often have dissociative fugue.
I find it profoundly important to educate people on dissociative disorders. People living with these various things are not monsters, I’d like to say that once more, dissociation does not make you a monster, nor does it mean you’re “possessed by the devil.” People who dissociate to the degrees I described above are those struggling and living with a mental illness of any sort is no easy feat. If you see someone who may need help, talk with them, and reach out so they know you’re there for them, despite how difficult it may be for you or them.
This brings me to my last point, dissociation as it’s portrayed by the media and why I say people living with these various disorders are not “monsters.” Over the last few weeks we’ve received many messages on our Twitter page regarding a movie scheduled to hit theatres at the end of this month. My husband (unintentionally) triggered many things for us when he showed me this trailer a couple months ago. He knows the horror film genre is my favorite and thought it looked interesting, as did/do many others. Being a fan and someone who lives with DID he thought I may find it interesting and wanted to know what our take on it was. An understandable and fair question to which he would have no idea the internal debate and turmoil this brought up. Now after we had gotten things in my head sorted and those who needed to be comforted to a place where they were ok again, we wanted to discuss this…
It’s a new M Knight Shyamalan film, Split, that depicts an individual (McAvoy) living with 23 distinct personalities, i.e. Dissociative Identity Disorder. The trouble with films like this is they very much portray mental illnesses in a dark and gruesome light. I can assure you myself nor my parts have any desire to kidnap three unsuspecting girls (as depicted in the film’s trailers) nor would we want to hold them against their will. Knowing what that experience is like we have no desire or ill intent of any sort to do harm to others, this is especially true of children. Which you will find to be based in fact, if you don’t allow a movie to ignite your emotions and actually take the time to speak to someone living with DID. This is a movie please remember that films are not always based in facts and while we have seen every film brought to the horror/thriller genre from Shyamalan we can assume the various twists and turns this movie will bring. That being said, the trailer is inflammatory and as proven to me by our inbox on Twitter it is already doing some serious damage.
The reason we point this out is due to a couple of specific messages I have personally received:
“Murderous B**** you and your demons should F*** off and DIE” –someone who had read something we’ve written, thus knew I live with DID and was grossly misguided based on this film’s trailer. This message went on to state they saw no reason to pray for my demon soul. A delightful gent.
“I dunno what happened. We went to see a movie last week with friends the last thing I remember is this movie trailer. Have you seen it yet because I just came back to my dorm room a mess and the word NO written all over everything I own. I’ve no idea what to do…” –A friend living with DID who found us on Twitter through the various pieces & interviews we’ve written/given this year.
I’ll leave it at those two examples because from there things got more desperate as well as, unimaginably cruel. I want to end this piece with Hope. Information is the key when combating stigma and sensationalized imagery. When in doubt or if you find yourself confused the simple solution is asking the questions to the answers you desire. Don’t just assume something this is especially true when it comes to mental health disorders and the horror film genre. It’s not something new. The horror/thriller genre is lousy with mental illness as the fear driving nails, but that doesn’t make it the norm nor does it even make it factual. I can research anything and write a short story about it, but that doesn’t make it right nor does it make it come true.
Erika is a freelance photographer from Chicago, IL. She has worked as an entertainment & nightlife writer, as well as a model. Her & her husband now live in Indiana with their ferrets. They are very passionate about animal rescue & rehabilitation. She lives with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) PTSD, Depression & Anxiety. Some of her parts struggle with their own individual mental health problems; an ED & OCD to name two. It took many years but she found her voice and now is actively speaking out against the stigma surrounding mental illness and the lack of assistance for those struggling to reach out. In addition, she also lives with some limiting physical health conditions which unfortunately have made working impossible. For now, she is focused on her writing, speaking engagements, painting and her small family.
You can follow Erika on Twitter.