MYTH: Dissociative Identity Disorder is extremely rare.
FACT: DID is estimated to affect up to 1.5% of the global population. That is more prevalent than Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and there is plenty of representation, education, awareness, resources, trained therapists, and more for OCD. Dissociative Identity Disorder is uncommon, but it is not as rare as people make it out to be.
MYTH: DID isn’t in the DSM.
FACT: This is one of the strangest myths because it can quickly be busted with simple fact-checking. DID is in the DSM-5 and has been in the DSM (initially named Multiple Personality Disorder) since 1980.
MYTH: DID is always obvious
FACT: DID is a covert disorder that hides itself from others, even the person with the condition. It will often be difficult to tell if someone has DID. Patients are often misdiagnosed, especially with BPD or Bipolar Disorder.
MYTH: DID is the same as schizophrenia.
FACT: DID and schizophrenia aren’t related. Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder where someone experiences hallucinations and delusions, generally outside themselves. In contrast, DID is a dissociative disorder where someone has developed amnesiac barriers that have built walls between different parts of themselves. Those parts have developed individual identities due to the lack of connection and communication between parts due to amnesia and disconnectedness.
MYTH: DID is a modern disorder and only came about recently.
FACT: The first reported case of DID dates back to 1586 (Jeanne Fery). There have been cases of what we now know as DID documented throughout history, becoming more obvious as we have learned more about the disorder and there is more public education and understanding about the condition.
MYTH: People with DID can never be aware they have alters.
FACT: DID is indeed structured to keep itself hidden, but the disorder is also imperfect. Over time cracks will often form, and people with this disorder will start to pick up on things that don’t make sense. By adulthood, people with DID commonly realize that they have something going on, whether or not they fully know it’s DID.
MYTH: Fusion is death.
FACT: In fusion, two or more alters come together to form one new alter. Others in the system may struggle with attachments they had to an alter that fused, and grieving a fusion is understandable to an extent, but fusion is not death. The original alter is still there; they are now connected with someone else and share memories, which is part of a healing process. Allowing for grief and pain is essential, but treating it as death is unhealthy and incorrect.
MYTH: A system cannot form new alters, or split, after 7-9 years old.
FACT: Once a person develops DID, their brain has discovered splitting alters as a coping mechanism, and it can use that throughout that system’s entire life. Even if they fully fuse at some point, they can still split again as a response to trauma and stress.
MYTH: DID can be formed in adulthood.
FACT: DID forms in a child’s brain as a response to repeated trauma before their ego states can integrate at a specific developmental stage. Read more on the theory of structural dissociation and how DID develops here.
MYTH: Switching always OR never happens “on command”.
FACT: Neither is true. For most systems, intentional switches do not happen. To say it never happens, however, would be false. Through significant therapy, communication, and effort, some systems can achieve the ability to willingly switch between certain alters at times. There are no hard and fast rules for how a system can or cannot function. Each system will work differently, so these blanket statements are often false.
MYTH: All systems have an “Inner World”
FACT: Not all systems have an inner world. Some do, some don’t, some have one that only specific alters can access, and some may only have one once they actively build it through therapy. It’s unique for each system.
MYTH: The host stays the same throughout the system’s life (and keeps the birth name)
FACT: “Host” is just a role in a system, and multiple alters can hold that position throughout a system’s life. Hosts can and do change. Like anyone, an alter can choose a name other than the birth name. Many systems have no alters who use the birth name because it’s tied to trauma for them.
MYTH: Introjects (Fictives/Factives) signify someone faking their disorder.
FACT: Professionals have repeatedly confirmed that introjects are a part of this disorder. People’s brains, especially the brains of children, take from the world around them and what they know – particularly in moments of high stress and trauma.
MYTH: Alters can die.
FACT: Alters can go dormant and become inactive for an extended period. Alters can fuse with each other and become a new alter with characteristics and memories that are a mix of the two former alters. But alters cannot die.
MYTH: DID is a “white people” disorder.
FACT: DID affects people of all races. However, people of color are statistically less likely to have access to medical and mental health professionals. Diagnosing and treating something as complex as DID can take years of specialist treatment; therefore, BIPOC people are under-represented. While it’s true that there is a disparity in people getting actively diagnosed and treated, and in those you see online and actively talking about DID, it’s incredibly problematic not to recognize why this is happening and ignorant and harmful to claim that it’s just a “white person’s disorder”. Erasing people’s experiences with this disorder who are struggling without access to appropriate care and claiming that it’s ‘not their disorder to have’ is harmful; it’s not okay and false.
MYTH: Once the host is aware they have DID, everyone in the system is aware they have DID.
FACT: Just because the host has discovered they have DID, there may be other alters in the system who still don’t know they have the disorder/don’t know what the disorder is. This should be treated with care and patience.
MYTH: When someone with DID learns about their trauma/uncovers those repressed memories, they will be ‘fixed’/their DID will be ‘cured’.
FACT: Uncovering repressed trauma memories is something that needs to be done with great care and at a proper pace. Trying to push the uncovering of repressed trauma memories because you think it’ll be a magical cure will actually likely just cause much more harm than good. Yes, uncovering those memories over time can be helpful to your healing process if done with care and at a gentle pace – ideally with the assistance of a trained professional (not just a professional meaning someone who knows EMDR but a professional meaning someone who is familiar with dissociative disorders and the complex nature of DID and the care that is needed with uncovering trauma memories for a system). There is a reason these memories are held by some alters and kept from others, and trying to push the recovery can cause splits of more alters, major issues within the system, and more. There is no magic ‘cure all’ for DID. It is a lifelong disorder and needs to be treated with patience and care.
MYTH: All alters will be human.
FACT: Alters can be nonhuman. Alters come from the mind at a time of desperation and trauma, and often come from the mind of a child. For example, imagine a child is drowning and thinks they’re about to die. Their mind starts realizing they can’t survive this and wishing they were something that could survive this – if only they were something that could survive what they were going through, then they would be okay. In this situation, the child might split a fish alter. Now if the child survives, the alter doesn’t just go away because the immediate situation is over. They now have an alter who isn’t human. Some nonhuman alters will act and feel more human and some might feel and act more nonhuman – some might be animals and some can be mythological creatures, objects, etc. Anything the system’s brain thought could get them through that moment that they wouldn’t have gotten through otherwise. It’s important to remember that these alters come from extremely dark times and are not fun or lighthearted ‘characters’.