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People With Dissociative Identity Disorder Describe What Life Is Like

Films and television shows such as Split and United States of Tara have introduced audiences to characters with dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder. But people are perhaps less familiar with real-world patients who have this rare psychological condition and the unique challenges they face.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, dissociative disorders are mental illnesses that "involve problems with memory, identity, emotion, perception, behavior, and sense of self." People with dissociative identity disorder develop one or more distinctive personalities that are separate from their usual identity. These different identities can even take control of a person's behavior. Many people with the disorder have previously undergone significant physical or emotional trauma.

Those with dissociative identity disorder often can't remember events carried out by another personality. Patients often harbor thoughts of self-harm as they try to cope with the competing voices in their head.

Famous people with dissociative identity disorder include Chris Costner Sizemore, whose story inspired the 1957 film The Three Faces of Eve, and football player Herschel Walker. In this list, Sizemore, Walker, and lesser-known people with dissociative identity disorder share in their own words what it's like to live with the condition.

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  • Chris Costner Sizemore Grieved For Her Personalities When They Merged Into One
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    Chris Costner Sizemore Grieved For Her Personalities When They Merged Into One

    Chris Costner Sizemore, the inspiration behind the 1957 film The Three Faces of Eve, had 22 distinct personalities. Sizemore said each of them carried out actions she couldn't remember when she returned to her normal state:

    It began when I was 2 years old, although I really didn't know I was different then... It wasn't until I began at school, when I talked about the other little girls seeing things, that I realized I was different... Everyone thought I was lying... Of course, they had seen my body commit the act. When I said the other little girls did it, they would laugh at me. Children are astute about these kinds of things, and after a while, I stopped talking about it. I became a loner.

    Sizemore didn't receive any psychiatric treatment until she was 24. She described achieving a final integration when all her personalities merged into one:

    One of the hardest things to adjust to was the silence and being alone... There was no presence. I grieved for [the other personalities]. I thought I had [done away with] them so that I could live. It took me about a year to realize that they were a part of me and it was all right. I had to learn to accept myself.

  • Some Of Former Football Player Herschel Walker's Personalities Were Extremely Aggressive 

    Former professional football player Herschel Walker won the Heisman Trophy in 1982 and went on to play in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Giants. Throughout his career, he experienced DID and eventually wrote a book about the condition, Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder.

    Walker told ABC News that during his years of playing football, he didn't know he had DID. Some of his personalities were aggressive, leading to episodes he mostly doesn't remember. But in his book, he does recall an incident in which he drove angrily to harm a friend. The event caused him to seek help: 

    Every few seconds, I’d hear a voice telling me, “No, Herschel, that’s wrong. You can’t [end a life] in cold blood over this.” Over that, I’d hear another urging me on: “You’ve got to take care of business. This guy has done you wrong. You can’t get let him get away with that. [Off] him.” Over and over these two voices were shouting with me, each one pleading with me...

    Like the pulsing rhythm of a chorus, the two voices kept up a relentless beat. Simultaneously, I felt frightened, exhilarated, at peace, and resigned...

    Only through prayer was he able to stop himself, Walker said. And then he realized he needed help:

    The Herschel Walker who had driven to that house with [rage] in his heart and mind was not the Herschel Walker I had been for most of life. Something was clearly wrong with me, and I had to figure out what it was.

  • Melanie Goodwin's Personalities Emerged To Help Her Cope With Her Childhood

    Melanie Goodwin developed dissociative identity disorder when she was 40. It was triggered by a family situation that led her to remember her childhood - a time she'd forgotten up until then. She told Mosaic her individual personalities were like frozen parts of her psyche. Each was associated with an event, allowing Goodwin to dissociate herself from it (she refers to all her personalities as "we"):

    Development should be seamless... But because we didn't grow up naturally, we would update ourselves... Finally, there were nine different adult parts, each managing a stage of our [pain-free] adult life. If you're in a totally impossible situation, you dissociate to stay alive. Trauma can freeze you in time. And because [it] is ongoing over years, there are lots of little freezings happening all over the place.

    Goodwin was so disconnected from her feelings that even her wedding day wasn't particularly joyous. "I know I got married," she said. "But I watched and observed it, rather than being fully engaged.”

    She also has no sense of the chronological order of her life's events. “As babies, you get born, and you have a timeline that goes through your whole being," she said. "If you get fragmented, you don’t get that timeline.”

  • Truddi Chase Had 92 Personalities And Didn't Want To Integrate Them
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    Truddi Chase Had 92 Personalities And Didn't Want To Integrate Them

    Truddi Chase, who passed in 2010, is unique among those with dissociative identity disorder for her sheer number of selves. She wrote about her 92 distinctive personalities in her 1987 autobiography When Rabbit Howls. However, Chase told the Chicago Tribune she had no plans to integrate them. She, along with psychiatrists, believed the personalities emerged from the trauma she suffered at the hands of her stepfather as a child.

    According to Chase, each of her 92 personalities had distinctive traits and behaviors:

    They differ in terms of age, background, [gender], intelligence, wants, needs, attitudes, backgrounds. The youngest one is Lamb Chop, a little girl who is 5 or 6. Then there are Catherine and Elvira, who are both 28 but are completely different. Elvira believes a sense of humor can get you through anything; Catherine believes the way you get through things is by putting on a wonderful facade and keeping your sarcasm under a cloak. Ean, the Irishman, is a poet and a philosopher. He has been called a literary genius and claims to be more than 1,000 years old. Don't ask us where he comes from. We don’t know. And Ten-Four is a sharp businesswoman.

  • Michael Jordan And His Personalities Created Their Own World

    Michael Jordan (not the actor or basketball player) wrote about his 26 other personalities for The Mighty. Two of them (including his main personality) are male, and the rest are female. Jordan said he was teased as a kid; the first "alter" to inhabit his body came when he was 13:

    The [mocking] never stopped, and the social isolation got only worse as time went on. So one night as I sat in my bed, I began to hear a little voice from inside my head, and she talked to me. [She], along with another voice, became what I know as the first generation of alters. On the whole, my alters did not come with names, so I had them choose. The first two were Tokyo and Star.

    Then, Jordan said, the "second generation" arrived, followed by a third:

    The second generation existed of vastly more personalities than the first. I can remember Charlotte, Nikita, Kagura, Omi, Ariel, and Mei, but there were anywhere from 20 to 40 others that existed. This generation made the world inside my head what it is today. At first, it was like [an] M.C. Escher painting collided with a [Salvador] Dalí painting, but with their concerted effort, we made the world into something that is mildly recognizable, molding the reality of this world like clay... Then, some two months after this event, the Third Generation came about and are the personalities I live with today. 

    Jordan said his personalities created an entire world all their own:

    Now, a lot of people who have DID will tell you their alters live in some world. I’ve heard anything from houses to apartment blocks to hospitals to neighborhoods. But when I say world, I mean a whole world. One that is 0.82 times the size of earth to be exact. All of us created the grass, the trees, the oceans, the plants, the mountains, the countries, the nations, and the people. We made 2.7 million people to live in this huge world we created, to which we affectionately referred to them as “Others.” And I mean people, with lives as complex as we could imagine and races as diverse as we could muster. 

  • Kim Noble's Personalities Developed Artistic Talents


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    Kim Noble spent years in psychiatric hospitals as medical professionals tried to determine the cause of her memory loss and strange behavior. Eventually, they diagnosed her with dissociative identity disorder. Noble told The Independent she loses any sense of time when the different personalities take over: 

    I don't really get any idea when I'm about to go except occasionally a feeling of drifting. Mostly it's instantaneous. I can lose six or seven hours, but if you were asking another personality now, of course, they'd say they lose days. So we haven't got much of a sense of time - I'm always [trying] to get things done.

    Thanks to counseling and art therapy sessions, she has the condition mainly under control, and 12 of her 20 personalities have developed a skill for painting. Each paints very differently:

    I have no memory at all between the personalities, so when I come back, I don't always know who's been around. The best way to tell is to look at what painting is out at the time... Since we started the artwork, there's actually been a lot more control in my life. If they're painting, they're achieving something, and when they don't, they get very restless.