Disclaimer: I am not a licensed professional. I cannot diagnose you, and my advice should be taken with a grain of salt. I know what it’s like to be a system, but I don’t know your unique experience and if another diagnosis might fit your experience better.
“I love my job,” I told my therapist, detailing how the social interactions were challenging and invigorating.
In the next session, I walked in and proclaimed, “I hate my job!” and detailed all of the horrible interactions I had to deal with every day.
My therapist smirked and took down detailed notes to confront me with later. Alex would front (take over the body) in the mornings for our sessions, and he loved the job, and I would front in the afternoons and absolutely despised it.
Anytime I’d go out to eat, it felt like I had many different voices talking over each other about what I wanted. Choosing was nearly impossible, and no matter what, it felt like I wasn’t fulfilling my needs.
Sometimes I loved writing with a passion. Other times I couldn’t stand it.
My “style” consisted of various clothing styles across different genres. I had low-cut sparkly tops, cargo shorts, flowy robes, polos, and ripped jeans all in the same drawer.
If you asked me what music I listen to, I’d have to say “a little of everything.” And I didn’t mean that I mainly stuck to a few genres but was open to others. It meant I had playlists full of classical, punk rock, rap, country, EDM, folk, etc.
My gender expression and sexuality fluctuated wildly, but I never felt “genderfluid.” I felt like a man, woman, or trans at any time, but I didn’t feel like I was fluid between them.
I had male and female pseudonyms that I would use online in different interest groups. I wrote papers under pseudonyms not because I wanted to remain anonymous but because I “liked how it sounded.”
When I was upset, I acted like a child, my voice getting higher, my cognitive functioning through a fog, and only finding comfort in items “made for children.”
It’s easy to look back now and see how being a system affected how I interacted with the world. When I found out I was a system, there was a click. I finally had an explanation for my unstable, shifting sense of self (which had been misdiagnosed as BPD). I understood my “zoning out,” my dissociative hallucinations, rapidly changing emotions, and being told I was “like a different person” sometimes, and why I felt the need to have so many names.
Wading Through the Sh*t
I have Dissociative Identity Disorder. And if you’re here, you think you might have it too.
It can be scary suspecting you have the diagnosis. There are so many different sources pulling you in all directions.
When I looked up “Do I Have DID?” going through this process, there was quiz after pseud0-scientific quiz asking for your credit card information. There were articles pathologizing and referencing systems as if we were rare monsters causing chaos everywhere we go.
YouTube videos sensationalized and demonized the disorder, saying, “come one come all! See the DID System perform the fantastical switch to become a whole new person!” References to Split and other problematic media are littered with connections to real systems.
All the scientific articles were arguing about the existence of DID, with little on what it actually looks like. And if you want to find research from the last 10 years, you’re pretty much out of luck.
Tik Tok, Reddit, and other social media users have loudly degraded anyone public about being a system. When there’s so much wrong information and incentive not to figure out you’re a system, how are you supposed to work through your own experience?
Finding out you’re a system is not just about wading through pools of bullsh*t to find good information. It’s also about deconstructing what you’ve known your whole life of what it means to be a person.
A Breakdown of the DSM Criteria
Let’s first examine the DSM-V criteria for DID. Since I am American, this is the criteria I am most familiar with but the ICD criteria is similar. Try to read this non-judgmentally. You are trying to find a label for your experience, not fit your experience to a label. I’ve paraphrased the criteria below to help with readability.
Dissociative Identity Disorder Diagnostic Criteria (F44.81)
- Two or more distinct personality states with their own sense of self and change in consciousness, memory, perception, cognition, and/or sensory-motor functioning. Discontinuous sense of self and agency. It may be described as a possession. It can be noticed by the individual or other people.
- There are gaps in remembering everyday events, important personal information, and/or traumatic events beyond normal forgetting.
- Clinically significant distress or impairment in functioning.
- Not attributable to cultural/religious practice or physiological effects of a substance or medical condition. In children, it can’t be better explained by imaginary play.
(American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Dissociative Disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). doi: 10.1176/appi.books.9780890425787.x08_Dissociative_Disorders.)
It’s one thing to look at the criteria, but it’s another to understand it. One of the difficulties of any diagnosis (but especially uncommon diagnoses) is that it’s hard to know what the symptoms look like in application.
Criteria 1 Examples: Two or more personality states
- Your brain functions like a conversation of multiple people talking or thinking at once
- You hear voices that aren’t yours
- You regress significantly and feel powerless
- You regularly feel like you’re a different person altogether, or others have mentioned you’re a different person
- You’ve had an experience of possession
- Your preferences shift dramatically, you may have opposite food, gender, etc. preferences, and this happens regularly
- You have body or gender dysphoria
- Others comment that you sometimes talk or act differently, or you’ve noticed this change. This could be significant changes in vocal tone, vocabulary, posture, situation assessment, facial expressions, etc.
- You feel non-human at times or like you’re the wrong age
- When someone mentions you did something, you don’t feel like “you” did it
- You can identify distinctly different “versions of you”
Criteria 2 Examples: Gaps in Memory Recall
- You cannot remember a period in time beyond what would be considered normal forgetting (e.g., you can’t remember anything between age 12-13)
- People mention how forgetful you are, or you notice you feel your memory is unreliable
- You can recall specific memories very vividly sometimes but can’t remember those same memories at other times
- You remember details of an event but can’t remember anything emotional, as if you read it out of a newspaper instead of experiencing it
- You sometimes forget your name, address, phone number, or other vital information
- You minimize when you do forget something most people wouldn’t forget, blaming it on other factors like being tired
- You can’t remember a particular location at all that you visited frequently
- You find yourself “waking up” somewhere, especially when stressed with no recollection of how you got there
- You sometimes forget significant skills like driving, your job, your ability to write or speak, etc., especially while stressed
- You recall the same memories very differently at different times, with no explanation for why your viewpoint changed
- You have to write things down regularly if you want to remember them. You find notes you don’t remember writing
Criteria 3 Examples: Distress or Impairment
- Your poor memory makes it difficult to work, attend school, parent, or take care of yourself
- You feel haunted by not knowing parts of your past
- Being a different version of yourself makes it hard to maintain friendships or has gotten you in trouble at work, school, or in public
- You struggle to date because there’s a conflict in your head about who you’re dating, or your partner complained that you were “inconsistent”
- You struggle to remember important deadlines or meetings
- Losing the memory of how to perform certain skills makes it difficult to take care of yourself or affects other areas of your life
- You find it overwhelming that you can never make a consistent decision on a direction in your life or a sense of self
- You spend an inordinate amount of time deciding what to eat, wear, listen to, and it makes making any decision difficult
- You feel like you have no control over your life
- You regularly feel helpless
- You feel like you’re constantly on the verge of a breakdown
- You struggle to maintain relationships because people have said you’re “unreliable,” “wishy-washy,” or “unstable”
- You experience any of Criterion 1 or 2 symptoms, and that causes you trouble in some area in your life or a lot of stress
Differential Diagnosis: The Biggest Risk of Self-Diagnosis
This is where Criterion 4 comes in. Self-diagnosis is sometimes necessary, especially when only 55% of clinicians believe the diagnosis is valid. Unfortunately, many clinicians don’t have any experience diagnosing DID, and the psych field has not treated DID systems well. That leaves a lack of information in a situation where a professional diagnosis is needed.
I am not against self-diagnosis because financial and cultural barriers are insurmountable for many minorities and impoverished people. This is an unfortunate reality of our current medical system.
But there are dangers to self-diagnosing DID that need to be addressed. The most significant one is differential diagnosis.
Since DID is so complex, many disorders mimic DID symptoms that may be difficult to spot without a trained eye. If you misdiagnose yourself with DID when you don’t have it, this could have serious consequences.
For example, simple partial seizures are where someone is fully aware but frozen. They may experience hallucinations, deja vu, and headaches. All of these symptoms may mimic a dissociative episode and cause a misdiagnosis.
Absent seizures (the most common type) are similar, where a person freezes and gets a blank look on their face. It is very short and results in a lapse in memory. This can look like dissociative amnesia.
The only way to diagnose seizures is through an EEG which requires a doctor. The last thing you want to do is have epilepsy and misdiagnose yourself as having dissociative identity disorder. The two have very different treatments, and untreated seizures can be fatal.
DID and epilepsy can co-occur as well, so it is worth looking into even if you receive an official DID diagnosis.
A few other differential diagnoses that are important to rule out are BPD, characterized by a discontinuous sense of self and dissociation similar to DID. OSDD is characterized by dissociative amnesia without alters, vice versa, or other specific circumstances (like intense brainwashing or only occurring for a short time). PTSD – which could present as gaps in recall or personality disturbances. Schizophrenia – shares psychotic symptoms with many DID presentations, and negative symptoms could be interpreted as dissociative or personality disturbance.
If you have the means to get a diagnosis, it is important that you seek a professional for DID. If you’re looking for a website to help find someone that can diagnose DID, try this or this.
If you don’t have the means, you are welcome to self-identify but know that there are certain risks of missing a serious medical or other psychiatric condition.
After reviewing all the information, if you feel like you are a system, I recommend checking out my next article, I Think I have DID, Now What?. I detail common experiences of newly discovered symptoms and resources you can utilize to further investigate your experience.