Is Dissociative Identity Disorder Real?
One of the more interesting, and also infuriating, debates is the question of whether dissociative identity disorder is real or not. Some say it should be subsumed under another disorder (usually borderline personality disorder is the most often mentioned) and that it's a harmful diagnosis and causes those labelled with it to unnecessarily suffer. Many of these people also say that the disorder is largely iatrogenic, meaning caused by the process of therapy or caused by a societal pressure.
15 years ago, I debated online about this in a largely naive and idealistic manner. I'm not so much naive or idealistic nowadays.
The issue can get quite complicated, in part because those of us with dissociative disorders commonly switch in and out of self states based on our level of internal presence or cohesiveness or external demands. It's not uncommon to be in a part of ourselves who thinks nothing is wrong. We have learned to partition our internal experiences so well for so long, that eventually it becomes not all that hard. Then we can more easily agree with those who say it's not real. But these are merely denial states. The denial or seemingly "completely well" states often give us a little reprieve, but they rarely last long. When they do last long, it usually means there is a significant crash of reality to come.
The debate in the psychiatric community is really a "no win" debate. Not only are there conflicts about the existence of the disorder, but I am sure you all know there are conflicts about the validity of repressed memories. But that's a topic for another day. Both debates are not strictly "winnable" because each side does have some valid points. And each side is beholden to their point of view.
I sometimes do get sucked into these debates internally, but it never ends up in a good place for me. The internal debate attempts to mirror the external ones. And it just ends up causing a mass of confusion. The best place to be is to avoid the external debate and be true to your own experience. That is, if you can do that.
About 6 months ago, I had a discussion with a psychiatrist I know about whether what I experience is "real" or not. She answered by telling a Chinese proverb:
A monk asked Zhaozhou, "Does the dog have a Buddha nature or not?" And Zhaozhou said "Mu", which can be loosely translated as "not" or "nonbeing" or "without", but it doesn't mean "No, he doesn't".
Then she said: "The interpretation that I read, said that the response was meant to negate the question, not to answer it. For centuries there has been debate and discussion of whether or not the dog has a Buddha nature. Just like there is debate and discussion about whether or not dissociative identities can actually exist. But I like the interpretation that says Zhaozhou intended to negate the question, because I think that theological hair-splitting wouldn't get the young monk any closer to enlightenment and that a wise teacher like Zhaozhou would have known that. Indeed, my favorite interpretation of this story says that Zhaozhou's answer meant 'It doesn't matter!'"
It's very hard to be in a place where you can just say "It doesn't matter." But, really, I think this is the answer. If we can trust in our own experience and keep working at trying to make sense of it, then this is all we can ask of ourselves. It's not for others to judge our experience or tell us it isn't so. There is a lot of suffering that those of us with dissociative disorders have to come to terms with; but the suffering doesn't lessen by forcing yourself to believe that your internal experience isn't real. Just because it doesn't manifest itself in a simple blood test, doesn't mean it's not real. I like to think our job is to work at becoming more whole. We can have a chance at doing this only if we acknowledge our internal reality. Our internal truth.
Others will debate it for many years to come. Let them do that. And let us heal!
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