I am binge watching Marcella on Netflix and I just finished season one. The show is about a woman, Marcella, a former detective who quit her job and became a stay at home mom to raise her children. She does this for several years until a familiar case she worked on before, resurfaces after years of being cold.
A serial killer is back at killing and she goes back to work as she knows the case best. But despite this, something intriguing is going on with her. She goes through episodes of violent outbursts and blackouts to an extent that she cannot remember what she did or where she went. The violent behavior and blackouts got me curious and after doing some research, I found out that Marcella suffered from Dissociative Identity disorder. (DID)
DID, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, is a mental disorder characterized by the maintenance of at least two distinct and relatively enduring personality states. The disorder is accompanied by memory gaps beyond what would be explained by ordinary forgetfulness. The personality states alternately show in a person’s behavior, however presentations of the disorder vary.
90% of people who suffer from DID all get it from childhood experiences, abuse and trauma which interfere with personality development. For example, if a father is responsible, loving and caring to a child when sober but violent and physically or sexually abusive when drunk, the child may adopt different personalities to try cope with the different personalities of the parent. The child usually struggles with understanding and accepting the situation. The disorder begins on the basis of a “difficulty of attachment” which is essentially when a very young child’s connection to their parent is disrupted. DID does not only happen in childhood but also in adulthood due to extreme situations. For example, after trauma in war, an individual may suffer from PTSD which extends to DID as a way to cope.
When an individual experiences these blackouts and personalities, it is usually triggered by something traumatic they saw or remembered. For example, a person with DID may get a flashback when they see someone who abused them or someone who resembles them. They may also be in a physical place that reminds them of something traumatic. When this happens, their minds automatically think they are in the exact situation and living the ordeal, so they ‘switch’ personalities involuntarily so as to be able to handle the situation.
A patient with DID is often found to have other mental disorders such as borderline and avoidant personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, sleep and eating disorders, and anxiety among many others. Often, DID is misdiagnosed as schizophrenia.
For a doctor to be able to diagnose a patient with DID, they have to have at least two dominant personalities, accompanied by periods of forgetfulness which are far from the usual forgetful experiences in normal people. These personalities often act as a coping mechanism. Mostly, individuals lose their self-awareness and self-control and present with an average of 2 or 3 personalities. Statistics state that the usual number of personalities in an individual is less than 10 with other showing even 16 personalities.
Although not everyone experiences DID the same way, for some the “alters” or different identities have their own age, sex, or race. Each has his or her own postures, gestures, and distinct way of talking. Sometimes the alters are imaginary people; sometimes they are animals. An individual ‘switches’ as each personality reveals itself and controls the individuals’ behavior and actions. Switching can take seconds to minutes to days.
DID is one of the most controversial dissociative disorders due to the disputes surrounding it. Some doctors believe that it arises after trauma where the brain splits into different personalities to help the individual cope. Other doctors believe that trauma does not play a part in the development of DID and that it is artificially caused by psycho-therapeutic practices to the patients. Those who believe the later attribute the condition to the use of practices like hypnosis as a way of treatment.
It is challenging to treat DID because it is often hard to diagnose especially when one is not violent or not showing obvious signs. Once diagnosed, the individual needs to attend therapy for a couple of years because the trauma is very deep rooted. Therapy is usually important because they are able to access parts of their brains that store those memories. Medication is also a way to treat the condition although it is difficult to treat DID like all other dissociative disorders.
Although people with DID escape reality in involuntary ways that affect their day to day activities, and with treatment being difficult, some have managed to find coping mechanisms that work best for them and have gone ahead to live healthy and productive lives.
To understand more on how DID works, you can watch movies and shows like Fight Club, Glass, Frankie and Alice, Sybil, Split, Many Sides of Jane, Bates Motel, Voices Within among many others.