When I first found out I had Dissociative Identity Disorder I was devastated. I was afraid of people finding out, thought perhaps I would lose my job. I was afraid my husband would leave me. I thought the diagnosis meant I was truly ‘crazy’. I suddenly wanted my old life back—the one I had before I started having panic attacks and memories of being sexually abused as a child, adolescent and young adult.
I was diagnosed with DID and other related trauma disorders in 1993. I was 31 years old and a government lawyer. I was happily married with a normal life and no idea that I had a separated sense of consciousness. Before then, I thought I was like everyone else. I thought that my childhood had been happy, that I simply couldn’t remember much of it.
I only even started therapy because I started experiencing intolerable panic attacks. Images would flash before my eyes during the day and immobilize me: while I was at work, driving home, or cooking dinner with my husband. Of course, I recognize these pictures now as flashbacks, but at the time, they made no sense. For example, I saw my father raping me. With the image came a childlike thought that Popi was hurting me. Or I saw one of my brothers “hurting” me. I set to work to find a psychiatrist to help me understand the strange thoughts and stop the panic attacks.
In the course of my work with him over several years, I learned why I couldn’t remember my childhood. I discovered I had been chronically sexually assaulted and prostituted by my father and then my brothers. I learned about how my mind had protected me from the awful reality of my formative years by dividing my consciousness and creating parts that were mercifully unaware of what was happening to me, parts that could participate in normal every day activities. In therapy, I learned how this coping mechanism helped me survive, do well in school, make friends and succeed as an adult.
DID, or Dissociative Identity Disorder, is a separated sense of consciousness. Consider it like a spectrum, with normal dissociation one on end. On the other end is a fractured consciousness with distinct personality states that are not aware of each other: a condition formerly known as multiple personality disorder, or MPD. In fact, what we now recognize as DID was once thought of, and is still popularly described as, multiple personality disorder.
For the rest of this journal link to my new blog on Psychology Today.
The Sum of My Parts Now Available
This memoir follows Olga as she splits herself into “parts” and develops dissociative identity disorder with the abuse, and then struggles to merge these parts and overcome the disorder in adulthood.
A Survivor’s Story Now Available
Olga’s critically acclaimed first-hand account of the impact of violence in her life is available in both English and Spanish.