Non-DID Multiples Sometimes Have Trauma.
I’ve noticed that there seems to be a lot of tension between the multiple-but-not-DID and DID communities. It has gotten very frustrating to me, particularly since I think that a lot of the animosity is coming from lack of understanding and awareness about the overlap between the two communities. I want to try to address some of the incorrect assumptions I’ve seen being made about DID multiples and non-DID multiples alike in the hopes that it will help.
While this post aims to be fairly neutral and accurate, I may generalize with the idea that DID usually involves dissociative amnesia/fugue/etc. and non-DID multiplicity usually does not. This may not be your experience. I’m happy to read about your experience if you’d like to share.
Myth: DID multiples are multiples who have been through trauma. “Natural” multiples (or other non-DID multiples) do not have trauma.
Fact: The actual diagnostic criteria for DID does not include trauma as a requirement. DID basically involves the presence of two or more alters/headmates/system members/and so forth along with some form of time or memory loss. In both the DSM-IV and DSM-V, the time or memory-loss criteria is pretty loosely defined (although it’s better in the DSM-V). I have encountered at least one system that met the diagnostic criteria for DID but did not remember any trauma or show any signs of trauma (beyond being multiple and losing time, which wasn’t too much of a problem for them once they learned effective system communication).
On the flip side, it is possible to be multiple with trauma but not meet the diagnostic criteria for DID. Because my own memory loss/lapses only occurred while a very specific kind of trauma was still ongoing, no therapist will be able to observe and classify those experiences. However, I am still multiple. Here are some other ways that a person can be multiple and traumatized without necessarily having DID.
1. Aiden has alters. His alters exist mostly in his mental space and don’t front very often. They emerged because he was dealing with extreme emotional neglect as a young child, and they helped comfort him and guide him as he grew up. Now, a few of them can front, but there are no black-outs when they do. Aiden’s system developed to support him, but it did not become a means of shielding him from the abuse he suffered.
2. Carla has always been multiple. She wasn’t abused as a child, but she was abused at age 16. This seems to have affected Carla’s alter, Mark, more than it affected Carla. This is because Mark really trusted the abuser. To get support for her abuse, Carla hopes to find a therapist who will treat Mark like a real person without assuming DID and probing for earlier trauma.
3. Flora is multiple and always has been multiple. She has trauma, and it seems like different alters are dealing with it in different ways. Although she and her alters mostly all remember the same trauma, different alters have different levels of emotional connection to the different traumatic experiences. Even though everyone remembers the abusive boyfriend they had in 9th grade, Jane felt like that boyfriend was her boyfriend specifically, and Jane feels much more hurt and betrayed by his abuse than the other system members do. Similarly, everyone remembers the religious abuse at church, but Jordan is more repulsed by fundamentalism than the other alters, so he tends to be the one most affected by that abuse.
Myth: Multiples who do not black out, lose time, or have dangerous/self-harming alters have literally no problems, issues, or concerns related to their multiplicity.
Fact: Sadly, time-loss and self-harming alters are not the only challenges people face from being multiple. Non-time-losing multiples and multiples whose alters cannot use blackout periods to harm the body without interference from the host still need support and understanding. Non time-losing multiples often have very strong shared memory banks, which means that it’s often not feasible for the host to simply go away if someone else wants to have sex she’s not comfortable with, and it’s not possible for her to do other things in the system while a new system member replays a video game the host has already played. Triggers often have to be handled head-on or not at all.
For example, if Sarah is triggered by a class she’s taking at school, Evanna can offer to front for the class, but rather than Sarah getting to black out and have zero awareness of the triggering class, Sarah will likely be in the background, processing the experience through Evanna’s emotional landscape (which may be less triggered). However, if the trigger is bad enough, the switch will likely not prevent Sarah from at least experiencing it to some degree.
There are also logistical issues. Different people may want separate friends, experiences, lives, relationships, and so forth, all of which are harder when existences may blur together at times. Everyone may want their friends and family to understand and support them, which can be challenging enough if you do have institutional backing to help explain the way you are and can sometimes be even more confusing if you don’t.
All this being said, I do not envy the uncontrollable time-loss, the fugues, or the self-harming alters. That all sounds terrifying.
Myth: Survivors who don’t experience traditional dissociative amnesia remember all of their trauma and never have to do any work to recover memories.
Fact: There are actually a lot of ways that memory storage can get funky for survivors of abuse, especially multiple survivors.
1. Paul recovered a traumatic memory from when he was eight. Although Paul never dissociated from the memory and did not black out while it was happening, he did repress the memory somehow. In the memory, Paul’s abuser explained that she was punishing Paul for being “bad.” The memory was so violent and upsetting that after it happened, the whole event just felt like a blur of shouting and hitting and other violence. Because the memory made Paul feel like he was a bad child, Paul resolved not to think about it after it happened. Years later, he went back into the memory and really thought about what happened. This forced him to conclude that he was sexually abused during that “punishment.” His adult mind is able to recognize what was happening when the abuser touched him inappropriately and can understand it in ways that his eight-year-old mind could not. In short, a lack of context and just general feelings of fear caused Paul to lose his memory. New context and a more stable living situation allowed him to retrieve it.
2. Claire went through ritual abuse. Her abusers seem able to command her to forget certain things, and she is not quite sure why this is yet, because she does not ordinarily lose time or forget things.
3. Jenna, Mallory, Beth, and Isaac had abusive parents. However, Isaac is really loyal to the system’s parents and interprets their actions as non-abusive. Beth interprets their actions as abusive but downplays how bad it is. Jenna and Mallory both think the parents were horrible. The conflicting emotional realities make it hard for the system as a whole to get an accurate idea of what they’re facing.
Myth: Ritual abuse survivors cannot truly be affected by mind-control/programming unless they have DID.
Fact: I’ve encountered singlets who deal with mind-control. I also know that some methods of MC/programming do not rely heavily on switching or even on alters.
Myth: Most non-DID multiples think that being multiple is just a cute/fun thing you can do for attention. They don’t understand how serious and horrible having DID really is.
Fact: I don’t doubt that this is true for some people. However, I think most non-DID multiples who are also trauma-free recognize that they’re pretty lucky not to have trauma. Most of us have the experience of realizing that there are multiple voices/alters/people/system members/etc. present in our minds (and possibly affecting our actions and lives) in common, and really I think everyone is just trying to understand their unique experiences as thoroughly as possible.
Myth: How cool a person’s alters seem is a good indication of whether or not a person has DID. It’s also a good indication of whether or not someone is faking being multiple in general.
Fact: Fantastical, mythical, and fictional alters exist both in DID and non-DID systems. They also exist both in trauma and non-trauma-related systems. There are many ways of understanding this. Some are spiritual, some are medical, and some have a combination. Here are some that I’ve heard of.
1. Systems that believe in spirit guides, past lives, guardian angels, personal daemons, etc., may perceive some of these beings as system members rather than as wholly separate, external-yet-internal beings. Some suppose that having DID or being multiple affects how you process spiritual experiences, causing these spiritual beings to share system space with “regular” alters.
2. Some people believe that they have walk-in system members who are sharing system space with them.
3. From a more medical perspective, fantastic, mythical, or fictional alters may have developed naturally based on the abuse survivor’s needs. A scared, abused child might have thought “I wish Luke Skywalker were here! He’d know how to handle these abusers!” This thought might manifest a new alter who sees himself as Luke Skywalker and is an internal protector. A child abused by religion might think “I feel really judged by God and the angels” and then manifest a snarky demon sidekick to make him feel better. The possibilities are endless, and they’re all valid.
4. Mind-control programming may cause an alter to believe they are a non-human, a character, etc. Oftentimes, the narrative will cause the alter a lot of pain rather than feeling like an inner truth.
Myth: Multiples without trauma are role-playing and aren’t really multiple.
Fact: This likely happens sometimes. However, most people who say they are multiple say that because they are living with more than one person/alter/headmate/etc. sharing their mind and/or body. This is a unique, fascinating, and sometimes terrifying experience that people deserve support and community for, with or without trauma.
Myth: If a multiple system claims not to have trauma, they’re probably wrong. Systems should be encouraged to work harder at recovering traumatic memories.
Fact: While everyone should examine their lives to make sure they understand themselves and their experiences as well as possible (and this sometimes includes acknowledging or uncovering abuse), asking someone to actively try to recover memories when they do not even think they *have* any repressed/dissociated/lost memories can do more harm than good. It sometimes encourages people to push too hard and come up with ideas that aren’t quite right in order to get the asker off their case.
Many people can and do recover memories on their own, but putting someone on the spot to recover memories when that person does not think they have been through any abuse at all can be destructive. If you have reason to suspect that someone has been abused and you have a good relationship with that person, it may be possible to confront the person about issues you have observed them dodging/not addressing. However, simply telling someone they’re wrong about their pasts and obviously must have been through a specific list of traumatic events can become an inadvertent form of gaslighting.
Myth: Doctors don’t take DID patients seriously because of non-DID multiples on Tumblr.
Fact: While this may happen at times, I think that there are a number of better movements to blame for psychiatrists ignoring DID. The False Memory Syndrome Foundation, for example, has worked to convince everyone (including doctors) that recovered memories are all inherently bullshit, and its members tend to be pretty unkind to therapists who work with DID patients. Also, many therapists have never worked with a real DID patient before, are not very educated on the subject (since general counseling schools often focus on the issues a therapist is most likely to run into), and have learned most of what they know about it from Sybil or some other sensationalized source.
Myth: Multiples who don’t experience multiple hospitalizations, intense self-harming problems, regular black-outs, and so forth, are taking away from the experiences of people with DID. They’re making DID look like a cakewalk, which makes it harder for people with DID to get support.
Fact: If a non-survivor judges how all survivors should act and feel based on how one fairly stable survivor they’ve met acts, that’s the non-survivor’s fault for engaging in ableism/saneism. It’s not the more stable survivor’s fault for existing. Gatekeeping the community based on a person’s overall level of stability is a dangerous way to go. First of all, it minimizes any and all struggles that don’t fit that exact description (and there are many a person can have such as nightmares, triggers, flashbacks, body memories, relationship struggles, and so forth). Second, it erases survivors who maybe used to experience that and now don’t because of the therapy/non-therapy support/advice on forums/self-help books/etc. that they’ve done to address those problems. Third, it is dangerous to tell survivors “your issues only matter if you self-harm and black out.” I think this may actually keep people trapped in self-destructive cycles and trapped in a system where self-harm is the only way to communicate emotional distress. Fourth, it often creates this really ridiculous system of comparisons even within survivors who fit the accepted mold. You see stuff like “I’ve only been in the hospital once; can mine really be that bad?” or “My self-harm isn’t as bad as yours, so I must just be doing it for attention and not because I truly have problems!” If feeling like you need support for a specific experience is enough, no one will need to embellish or get worse to fit in.
Myth: Unless you have DID, there is no medical way to have your trauma or multiplicity validated.
Fact: DDNOS-1 used to exist to allow for multiples who do not lose-time. OSDD does a poor job of replacing it in my opinion because it insinuates that alters must be less distinct/more like emotional states if there is not time-loss when in my experience the level of dissociation/time-loss has little to do with how distinct the alters are. Even without a diagnosable dissociative disorder, a survivor who exclusively qualifies for/as PTSD may still be able to find therapeutic support for being multiple.
I hope this is helpful and doesn’t erase or skip over anyone’s experience. Because I am a survivor multiple who does not quite fit the criteria for DID and I know survivor multiples who meet this description, I object to the way that a lot of people dichotomize DID multiples and non-trauma multiples as if DID multiples have the monopoly on trauma in the multiple world.
I also want to make it clear that if anyone is reading this, has DID, and is feeling discouraged by how easy it seems to be for some non-DID systems to avoid blackouts or time-loss, it’s important to remember that we’re not necessarily fighting the same battles you are. We have things in common, sure, but we don’t have everything in common. However, we all have challenging things to deal with. Just like you don’t have to disappear to make my non-time-losing multiplicity and trauma look more valid, we don’t need to disappear to make DID look more valid. Everyone is already valid.