Autistic DID: Autism and Dissociative Identity Disorder
By Melissa Lushington, "Don't Cut Corners...Unless Its Cake" - Blog Series Vol. 3, Slice #7
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
So, for over two years, I have written all my blogs about autism, for autistic people, and including autistic people. However, I’ve never written a blog about autism along with another neurological disorder (for autistic people, we call autism a neurological difference). It’s important to know that when it comes to neurological disorders (or differences), autistic people are not just autistic alone. Some autistic people can have ADHD, some can have bipolar disorder, some can have schizophrenia, some can even have anxiety disorders. In this blog, I would like to talk about something that is a rare disorder, which is dissociative identity disorder (DID).
Dissociative Identity Disorder according to a website called my.clevelandclinic.org, it is defined as the following, “dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a mental health condition. People with DID have two or more separate identities. These personalities control their behavior at different times. Each identity has its own personal history, traits, likes and dislikes. DID can lead to gaps in memory and hallucinations (believing something is real when it isn’t).” according to the same source, having dissociative identity disorder is a very rare condition. It affects between 0.01 and 1% of the population. It can occur at any age, and it is more likely to appear in women than in men. For this blog, the question I would like to ask is can dissociative identity disorder co-exist in a person who’s autistic? The answer is: yes.
The best example of this would be YouTube Blogger, Writer, and mother known as Autistic Selves. According to an article titled Living with Autism and Dissociative Identity Disorder: My Journey so Far, Autistic Selves was interviewed by an organization known as Autism Education Trust where they explained their experiences in growing up as an undiagnosed autistic, their late diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder, and how having alters helped them cope with the complications of life itself. For starters, Autistic Selves explained briefly about what life was like for her growing up unsure and unknowing of who she is and how she later in life finally discovered herself to be autistic when she states, “I grew up not knowing I was autistic, finally receiving my very late diagnosis aged 42. Had I never had children, I often wonder if I would ever have discovered I was autistic. It was only after my children were diagnosed with autism that I learnt about the condition and then, gradually, started to realize I too was autistic. I remember the moment well. I was sitting in a presentation on autism and how to help my autistic children and the presenter included a slide about how autism presents differently in girls. I sat there in bemused disbelief, realizing to my horror that most of the features she was describing could be applied to me.” She also explained how she had received multiple diagnoses before finally receiving her diagnosis for autism, which is a common thing for many women on the spectrum. She explained how being a people pleaser caused her to mask her autism, in order to appear more socially sophisticated and acceptable in the eyes of others. Learning how to do this through years of painfully observing interactions with others, it had caused her to be physically and emotionally exhausted from social interaction. She also grew up trying to please people so often that it caused her to go to therapy shortly before getting her autism diagnosis, not knowing who she is or why she naturally functions in the way that she does. Not knowing who she was as well as not having a firm identity of her own was and is so intense that it led her to being diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. She explained what dissociative identity disorder traditionally is and how it impacted her life growing up when she states, “In traditional DID, a young child experiences extreme trauma and this results in the splitting of the self into different parts or alters. I am still exploring my ideas but for me, I believe I developed different alters mainly as a way of coping with being autistic – of growing up as an undiagnosed autistic – and as a way of trying to create order in a world that I found (and continue to find) unbearably chaotic and disorganized. As an autistic person, I like my world to be neat, predictable and manageable. I have a whole system of interconnected alters, each one has a different role and a different function, enabling me to live a complicated and sophisticated life without getting too overwhelmed to function.” She continued by presenting examples of her alters and how each of them plays a specific part in her life when she states, “…we have an alter called Fiona who looks after our children. She is responsible, caring and organized. Fiona is an adult, but we also have many children alters, or littles. One of our littles is called Rachel. Rachel is 11 years old, and her job is to run and keep the body fit and healthy. Our youngest alter is called Tiny – she is only 6 months old and can only cry or coo. Not all of our alters are human – we have a tree, a robot and an internal cat. Every alter has an important role to play in keeping us regulated and functional.” Autistic Selves is a 45-year-old woman, who is married with two autistic children. She explained how without her alters, she would struggle to cope with the challenges of life while living in a world that is not naturally made for her. She talks about her autism and dissociative identity disorder diagnosis journey on her YouTube channel and Instagram account, and she’s even currently writing a book that chronicles her life as a DID autistic.
In conclusion, my inspiration for this blog came from my introduction to YouTube channels such as The Entropy System, Multiplicity and Me, and Evie’s Small World, where people with dissociative identity disorder talk about their experiences of living with dissociative identity disorder so they can help put an end to the stereotypical harmful narratives that society placed on them. Watching their videos, allowed me to realize a connection between myself and them as well as autism and dissociative identity disorder, but that’s for a completely different blog that will be made later in the future. It led me to research autism and dissociative identity disorder to see if there were any autistic people who have dissociative identity disorder as well, and that led me to discover the YouTube channel Autistic Selves. Hearing their story, moved me to want to share their story to help educate people about how an autistic person with DID can live a happy successful life like everyone else. I hope that’s what you all received after reading this blog, that autistic people with dissociative identity disorder, ADHD, or any other neurological disorder (difference) can have successful happy lives full of enriched fulfillment like everyone else.