TikTok has been a blessing and a curse when it comes to mental health awareness. There has never been as much information on mental illness online as there is now, which means there’s also never been as much misinformation. With the rise of mental health disorder awareness, came the rise of self-diagnoses. And the latest viral mental illness? Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).
DID, previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder, is a rare psychiatric disorder affecting only 1.5% of the entire world’s population. So how is it possible that so many TikTok accounts are popping up left and right claiming that they have DID? Is it because people with DID are now more comfortable having a social media presence due to rising awareness, or are people actually faking it for online attention?
Accusing specific accounts of faking a mental health disorder, or “fake claiming”, has no merit as even mental health professionals cannot diagnose someone through online persona alone. However, let’s go over some popular claims you’ll see on TikTok and whether they’re real or fake.
What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?
DID is a dissociative disorder where an individual has two or more separate identities that controls their behavior. DID is associated with persistent childhood trauma that disrupted one’s identity development. This condition can lead to many gaps in memory due to not being conscious of what other identities are doing in the individual’s body. The symptoms of this condition must cause significant distress or problems in functioning for the individual to gain diagnosis.
Alters: Alternate, separate identities that occupy one body.
System: Referring to all the identities that collectively occupy one body.
Fronts: When an alter has primary control of the body.
Switch: When a different alter is fronting or taking primary control of the body.
Purposefully Switching on Camera
FAKE. A person with DID is unable to switch alters on command. While it is possible to influence/force certain alters to front through certain triggers, DID systems cannot switch in whatever alter they want just because they want to.
Alters are created due to repeated childhood trauma; to put simply, individuals with DID put up amnesiac walls in their brain and created identities that could better cope with whatever traumatic situation they were in. This created dissociated parts of their identity, and these parts never integrated leading to multiple alternate identities occupying one body.
Each alter serves a purpose and often take on roles in the system. Some common roles are:
- Host: Alters that fronts the most and handles most of the system’s daily living.
- Protector: Alters that protects the system and/or specific alters from threats, which can be physical, mental, emotional, sexual, etc.
- Persecutor: Alters that purposefully hurt or sabotage the system, as they may be the part of the system that holds the most self-hatred and internalized negative messages.
- Gatekeeper: Alter that keeps track of and controls which alters front in the body. They also can control access to certain alters and/or memories. They make sure switches happen when necessary and the right alter fronts for the situation. Rather than choosing which alter fronts, think of this role as a monitor that makes sure the system is functioning correctly.
Alters can hold multiple roles, and systems may not have alters that fulfill roles that other systems have. However a system functions, alters were created for a specific purpose and will front when the situation calls for it.
Alters Can Be Any Age, Gender, and Even Species
REAL. Most of us have seen the classic DID video of the same person introducing themselves multiple times, with different names and mannerisms. And this is true! Alters can be very unique from one another, with different names, ages, genders, sexualities, sometimes race. The individual has no control on what alters manifest; alters are created unconsciously due to thoughts, memories, emotions, behaviors, and other traits not being able to fully integrate.
Some alters may not even be human or even real. Many non-human alters manifest in childhood, when children do not yet have a solid understanding of who they are or what is possible. Subsequently, this leads to the creation of identities that may not be human but serves their purpose in traumatic situations.
There have been accounts of animal alters, for example a neglected child may form a dog alter from wanting the affection their parents only give to their dog. Another example may be a traumatized child forming a feral animal alter that represents them being treated as subhuman. Some systems even identify having fictional alters, such as dragons as the child needed an alter that was fantastically big and strong enough to protect them. Alters that manifest may not even be alive, whether they are dead, undead, or simply objects, from being treated as such by their abusers.
These alters are not simply imagined or purely psychological. There have been studies showing that alters can have a difference in eyesight, allergies, medication responses, heart rate, and other physiological responses/traits. They can also have different psychological disorders, as well as skills, abilities, and perspectives on life.
DID Can Form in Adulthood
FAKE. If a TikToker is claiming they developed DID when they were older, don’t believe them. DID can only form when the personality cannot fully integrate due to repeated childhood trauma disrupting this process. The integration process typically happens between the ages 6 and 9 in individuals, and so DID cannot occur in individuals older than that. But individuals that already have DID can develop new alters in any point in life.
It should be noted that claiming “development” and receiving a diagnosis later in life are very different. Individuals with DID can receive a diagnosis later in life due to being misdiagnosed with other disorders, as they often are with other personality disorders.
DID is Easy to Spot and Many Fake It
FAKE. As mentioned previously, DID is often misdiagnosed with personality disorders and those afflicted may even spent 5 to 12.5 years in treatment on average before being correctly diagnosed. Before receiving diagnosis, a very detailed history must be taken by psychiatrists and experienced psychologists over long periods of time.
Professionals are trained to be able to spot the difference between DID and faked dissociative disorders. But even then, DID is not faked at high rates to begin with. Malingering, or the exaggeration/feigning of conditions, of dissociative disorders are at 2 to 14%, which is comparable to the 7% to 17% of general malingering.
However, it is impossible to diagnose someone simply from their online activity and presence alone. As stated, diagnosis of DID can only be received after long periods of extensive assessment.
People with DID Can Communicate with Their Alters
REAL. While people with DID will have some degree of amnesia when alters front, many can remain co-conscious. During co-consciousness, certain alters can be aware of both each other and their external world simultaneously. Many report being able to hear their other alters, with 89-95% of DID systems hearing voices. This indicates that they are able to hold some form of communication with each other.
Sometimes systems must learn to communicate externally if they are unable to internally. Fronting when you have no recollection of what the previous alter has done is frustrating for many systems. So, many streamline communication by journaling or leaving notes for whoever will front next.
Systems Should Always Integrate
UNKNOWN. While the goal of DID treatment has traditionally always been to fully integrate all alters into one identity, many systems are pushing back on this ideology. Some parts of the DID community are happy to be a system and are advocating for functional multiplicity. This means they believe a fulfilling life is possible despite not having a fully integrated consciousness.
Integration of some degree is an essential part of trauma healing. Healing from trauma means to accept and take ownership of what has happened and how to move passed it. Alters were originally formed to shield an individual from taking the full brunt of a traumatic experience. So, functional multiplicity includes partial integration of alters.
Because of this, many practitioners are becoming less insistent on the fact that complete integration is the only way to heal from DID. But there have been studies that full integration may be the better option, as integrated individuals are less depressed and dissociative as well as reporting reduced rates of posttraumatic stress and somatic symptoms.
The extent of integration is up to the individual and what they are capable of. For those who want functional multiplicity, times are constantly changing; as more people become aware and accepting of DID, the less distressed systems may feel. Some systems are unable to integrate even if they wanted to due to still being in unsafe settings or having a lack of access to services. Sometimes within a system, some alters will want to integrate and others will not, preventing complete integration from occurring. Either way, the best choice is up to the system and their provider.
If you or a loved one suspect having DID with or without co-occurring disorders, our team at Beachside Teen Treatment Center can help you heal. We specialize in individualized treatment plans catering to an individual’s needs and goals for treatment. Contact our admissions team today.