Hello world, hello strangers that walk by me. I see you every single day. Sometimes we look art each other and just walk by. Never really knowing who is around us, what makes them tick, cry, shout, feel sad or mad. But, the not knowing is not only about them, it is also about me. Who or what am I? What is my identity? What is an identity?
In our current world, plagued with immediacy, with social media, with video and pictures every second of the day, we are called upon to show off “who we are”.
For some this is not an issue, for others the inability to be authentic is more than an online issue. It is a struggle in every life.
But in order to cope with this I must say that I believe identity is ultimately in relationship to something else. People’s identity is rooted in their identifications, in what they associated themselves with.
Identity is not just what you know; it is also how you know. People are not born with an identity. Rather, identity is something that evolves over time.
Our identity is the way we define ourselves. This includes the roles we play in our society and family, our past memories, and our hopes for the future, as well as our hobbies and interests.
Here is when the issue of identity starts becoming increasingly complicated because there are some people who suffer from dissociative identity disorder (DID).
To begin with, we must first try to understand what a dissociative disorder is. One of the first things to know is that dissociative identity disorder was previously known as multiple personality disorder. It is a mental illness characterized by at least two distinct and relatively enduring personality states.
The personalities alternately show in a person’s behavior are variable. Psychologist Smita Brahmachari explains that sometimes people are really annoyed with their surroundings but they can’t change anything about it. Then they completely dissociate themselves with the world, to an extent that they very conveniently forget incidents (as long as days, months and years). It’s like being high without taking narcotics. Being in some other state.
Further more, people suffering from D.I.D may suffer from borderline personality disorder (BPD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, substance use disorders, self-harm, or anxiety.
Brahmachari also explains that though genetics have not yet been proved to be the carrier of a gene, people of the same family are more prone to it. This may be because they see and learn from the same environment.
Laura Viera A: Why do people have different identities? Why does this happen?
Smita Brahmachari, psychologist: This can be triggered by any incident. It is more likely to happen when someone is under confident, under estimated, not loved, but you cannot deny its presence in otherwise normal people too.
Laura Viera A: I have read that a common trigger can be a traumatic experience. However, not everyone that has a traumatic experience have this dissociative disorder. Why is that?
Smita Brahmachari, psychologist: This can also happen to a “normal” person. It probably comes with a thought wherein the person wants to bring a change (in himself or others) but thinks he is not capable of doing that.
Laura Viera A: What happens is the identities are enemies? Do they harm each other?
Smita Brahmachari, psychologist: Even if the identities are enemies, they learn to coexist. If one identity kills other then there will be no multiple identities. However in some cases it’s observed that one identity tries to cause trouble to another. For example: one identity was very decent and polite and played really nice guitar, the other identity was rough. A girl loved the guitar playing identity, the rough identity loved the girl too and perceived the decent identity a threat, so he broke the guitar.
Laura Viera A: Does an identity die?
Smita Brahmachari, psychologist: An identity has to die to make the patient better it does.
Sometimes life events interrupt this natural progression from selfishness to thoughtfulness and people’s identities stop growing. Most of these things can, of course, change. We can switch jobs, move to a different community, or experience life changing circumstances that challenge our beliefs.
Then, the identity problems arise. Identity problems can cause people to have difficulty taking an appropriate perspective towards other important life tasks, creating a wide range of life problems.
To have a solid identity we need to be able to see that we are the same person in our past as we are now, and as we will be in the future. We need to feel the same no matter what our environment. It doesn’t mean that we act the same all the time, not at all. We feel we are the same person underneath.
Sadly, people are not always diagnosed. This makes their life much more complicated. At times people with this disorder may appear “almost normal” ( we write this in parenthesis because normal is defined by every individual, in our humble opinion) to the people hanging out with them. And they don’t even meet any psychologist / psychiatrist in their entire life.
Laura Viera A: How “easy” is it to diagnose someone suffering from it?
Smita Brahmachari, psychologist: It’s not easy. You have to have a lot of sessions with the patient. More serious the situation, more difficult it is to find out.
Laura Viera A: If a person has several identities, how do they cope?
Smita Brahmachari, psychologist: Some times all the identities are not aware of themselves, sometimes they are each other’s friends and at times they are each other’s enemy. Whenever some personality is more dominant, it will suppress the other personalities, but it’s very situational.
A person without a sense of identity, however, can instead feel a disconnect from who they have been, and/or no sense as to who they will become next. They don’t feel they are the same, but feel a different person sometimes from day to day. Some report looking in the mirror and finding it hard to believe it is them looking back.
When there is lack of identity many things happen. Some of the constant attitudes are that relationships don’t run deep, bored easily, changes in radical opinions.
Dissociation is a word that is used to describe the disconnection or lack of connection between things usually associated with each other.
Psychologists connects a lack of identity to our childhoods. If we didn’t hit the right markers of psychological and emotional growth, we can be left an adult who lacks a real idea of who they are.
Here is where it all get very interesting to me. The thing is that the vast majority of Dissociative Identity Disorders are caused by extreme early childhood abuse.
Dissociation is a spectrum, and most people are somewhere along that line. Most everyone has the ability to dissociate at need, whether in combat or changing the litter box.
But when it goes beyond being a purely adaptive mechanism for dealing with things that would otherwise overwhelm us, when personalities hive off as a result of trauma, that’s DID.
Amazingly, these personalities may or may not be in touch with one another, they may or may not like each other, they may or may not be pretty much anything a human can be.
The world in many colors
Finally, Multiplicity is not insanity. It’s considered an adaptive response to trauma that otherwise would result in insanity.
Very often there are specialised personalities for dealing with particular situations. Some handle stress better than others. Some are better at remembering things than others. It’s usual for different identities to remember different people and things.
I must say that even though it is a mental illness, this is just another of the many different “avenues” our minds take. They will always leed to a new door, with a world in many colors.
After speaking with psychologist Smita Brahmachari it became clear to me that people that suffer from D.I.D can have a “normal” life. It really depends on the severity of illness. The point is that DID is in many ways like suffering from Arthritis. The fact is that there are things you can do to adapt to it. With time, proper diagnosis and treatment and a strong support system coping gets better and better.
American Psychiatric Association (2013), Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.), Arlington: American Psychiatric Publishing, pp. 291–298.