I don’t view DID as a mental illness. Yes, I know it is in the DSM-5 as a mental illness. But then again, the DSM once classified homosexuality as a mental illness. The DSM is fallible and is always evolving, reflecting societal beliefs in some diagnoses.
So if DID isn’t a mental illness, what is it? Like many who understand DID, I view it as a mental wound. The only way it’s different than a broken arm that results from physical abuse is that the broken arm is visible to everyone. There’s physical proof of injury. With DID, other people can’t see any equivalent to a cast on an arm. There’s nothing that says, “this person has been badly injured!”
DID doesn’t just happen. It takes overwhelming trauma, usually repeated over time. Often, but not always, the trauma is sexual in nature. DID starts in childhood, although it often remains unnoticed or hidden until adulthood. This is trauma inflicted upon the child by others. This is a wound, only one which doesn’t have telltale bruises and black eyes.
DID is more than a mental wound. It is also an amazingly adaptive survival response. When the child experiences overwhelming trauma that their brain is not yet developed enough to handle, the experience may be sealed off, out of awareness so that the child can continue to function. Sometimes, it is a matter of life and death for the child to continue to act “normal” despite the abuse. For example, a child who is sexually assaulted by their father at night could be at risk of further harm if their behavior gives something away during daytime interactions.
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