Why Normalize Dissociation?

August 1, 2011 Holly Gray

Over the past couple of months I’ve published a series of articles focused on normalizing dissociation. I've said repeatedly that I believe just about everyone can achieve a basic understanding of Dissociative Identity Disorder, provided it’s explained to them in a way they can relate to. But that doesn’t mean I think everyone should. In fact, normalizing dissociation isn’t about making other people understand DID. It’s about freeing ourselves from the need for other people to understand it.

2669979566_f0b4eec3be_oMost People Do Not Understand Dissociation Itself, Let Alone Dissociative Identity Disorder

I don’t expect that to change. And when you’re living with something that most people just don’t understand, and you regularly read or hear things that either minimize and discount your experiences, or paint them as grossly abnormal to the point that your very existence seems aberrant, it’s easy to feel chronically confused, fearful, lonely, desperate, and ashamed. I certainly did. And I thought if I could just get other people to understand I wouldn't feel so bad. My thinking was faulty for two primary reasons:

  1. I needed people to understand Dissociative Identity Disorder because I didn't understand it myself. When your definition of your own disorder is wrapped up in mythology and outright falsehoods, when you believe that your illness is aberrant, acceptance from others seems awfully attractive. My limited and distorted knowledge of DID, in other words, was the very thing creating my need for other people to understand it.
  2. Deep down, I didn't want to be accepted in spite of my abnormalities. I thought having Dissociative Identity Disorder meant I was one of the most broken members of society, a tragic anomaly, a pitiable mess of a person who could only fit in if other, less broken people graciously chose to see past my abnormalities and love me anyway. And though I was craving understanding, as long as it looked like that it didn't feel particularly good.

Normalizing Dissociation Freed Me of the Need for Other People to Understand Dissociative Identity Disorder

A funny thing happened when I began to understand that dissociation isn't inherently abnormal, and acquainted myself with the wide range of human experiences that fall under the heading "normal dissociation" ... I discovered that Dissociative Identity Disorder isn't the bizarre condition I thought it was, and my need for others to understand it subsequently abated. Still, there are those that will understand. And it's partly for them that I do everything I can to correct the rampant misconceptions that abound about Dissociative Identity Disorder and the people who have it. But mostly it's for the people who are struggling like I was with a diagnosis I thought made me a freak. And my hope is that by normalizing dissociation, I can pass on to those people at least a little of the freedom I found.

Complete Series: Normalizing Dissociation

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APA Reference
Gray, H. (2011, August 1). Why Normalize Dissociation?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 17 from

Author: Holly Gray

Sharon Riley
August, 9 2011 at 8:18 am

I believe I have DID, but not sure to what extent. I have had memory & time lapses a number of times. They were substantial. The only reason I know about them is because there were people who told me what happend & I didn't have a clue. I was physically present, but not mentally or emotionlly. I also have gone back emotionally in time to a particular event, where I thought it was really happening.
I have told only 2 therapists & they poo pooed it. They said it was normal, but I don't think so. It was an alarming experience & it frightens me, I have put myself in danger more than once. Another thing, I've had physical sympoms too, some new ones. I often have head aches & recently I've had aches & pains different places in my body, as well as kidney pain in my side & lower back. I passed out the other day. I have a dr. appt. tomorrow. I feel like I'm falling apart.
My life is a shambles. I just am unable to 'get it together'. My memory is shot, I can't keep up with myself, I just keep getting messier & messier. Daily tasks are impossible & they've piled up leaving me feeling overwhelmed. I do have depression & anxiety & ptsd. I've also been diagnosed with ADD & am taking adderall for that. I'm also on Pristiq & abilify & buspar. I'm wondering now if the ADD is a misdiagnoses, the adderall is not helping, I've been on it for years.
I read one of the articles that said DID people keep changing meds & therapists. That is me!! My med dr. won't change them anymore. I am also a recovering alcoholic/addict. I functioned when I was drinking & using up to the last few years. But I am not functioning well sober. I get so frustrated, I cause unbelievable havoc for myself. I think I've almost given up. But then I came across this website & it has given me hope. Maybe I'm not crazy or so different.
I haven't really talked about the DID symtoms per say. I've talked about my anxiety & depression & ADD. I haven't talked about the ptsd either. I've been so confused. Is that a symtom? lol I don't have anyone to talk to either. I am going to check out of couple of therapists. One I've been to before & is very understanding. He also works with me on my med changes. The other specializes in ptsd. I went to a group she had for 6 wks. I haven't been back since, but I think I need to. I hadn't gotten treatment for the ptsd, so now's the time I think. It's been a difficult long haul. But hey, I'm still here, surviving, kinda.
Well, I'm also long winded & I don't mean to whine, I just need help. Maybe I can get it after all.
Thanks so much,

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
August, 17 2011 at 6:49 pm

I'm sorry therapists have ignored your concerns. I wish I could say that was unusual. But unfortunately, few clinicians are properly screening for dissociative disorders. It's my opinion - and I'm not a clinician, mind - that anytime a client reports regular memory lapses that they wouldn't have even known about if it weren't for other people telling them about things they'd said or done, that's reason enough to screen for dissociative disorders. From where I sit, that deserves investigation and it disappoints me to hear that you've fallen through the cracks.
You mentioned the possibility of seeing a therapist that specializes in PTSD - that's good. Any clinician treating Post-traumatic Stress Disorder should be very familiar with dissociation. I want to offer a suggestion - perhaps print out this comment of yours, and any articles you most strongly relate to and take them with you to therapy. Share them with your therapist. If you're like me, i.e. severely dissociative, when you are stressed and nervous you're more easily confused. For me, how that manifests is that I am finally in a position to ask for help and I'm incapable of reporting the problem. I'm too confused and my brain is too jumbled. One way to get around that is to prepare your thoughts ahead of time and write them down. This way even if you don't remember any of what you've written, it's still there, ready to be shared with the clinician.
You are most certainly not whining. You are understandably confused and I'm glad you're here. Please come back and let us know how things are going.

August, 2 2011 at 4:44 pm

I want to sincerely thank you for writing this excellent, thought-provoking series.
Even though I have come a long way in understanding Dissociative Identity Disorder, I still struggle with feeling like a freak. It is immensely helpful for me to be reminded how normal our experiences are, so that I'm not constantly scrutinizing every single aspect of my life.
When I was first diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, I was positive that my diagnosis was a terrible mistake. So I came home, and did what I always do when I am questioning something I don't understand. I set out on a mission to educate myself about DID. I jumped on the internet, I looked through books, and yes..... I even watched the movie Sybil. I was horrified, furious, afraid, confused, and very, very desperate.
That is until I stumbled upon this blog last year. Sometimes I swear this blog saved my life. Prior to coming here, everything I had read, heard, or seen about DID made me feel as though I was some grossly, abnormal freak. That is how most media chooses to portray this disorder.
This false portrayal of DID instigated my refusal to accept my diagnosis.
Had I found more realistic material on the subject of DID, I would have accepted my diagnosis, and accepted treatment many years sooner than I did.
(There is more realistic reading material out there, but you have to dig through a lot of less realistic material to get to it, or already know what you're looking for.)
For this reason alone, I can see how important it is to normalize dissociation.
Personally, I would have been much more prepared to accept my diagnosis, had I understood that my many of my experiences were normal, but just a bit more intensified.
Also, because of the stigma that surrounds Dissociative Identity Disorder, I am forced to hide my disorder from family, friends, and co-workers. Most especially co-workers. If my diagnosis were to be discovered at my workplace, there is no doubt in my mind I would be out of a job. This is because DID is so misunderstood, and seen as grossly abnormal.
I have discovered that there are so many bright, perfectly competent people who have this disorder. People who are working, raising families, and living normal lives.
"I thought having Dissociative Identity Disorder meant I was one of the most broken members of society, a tragic anomaly, a pitiable mess of a person who could only fit in if other, less broken people graciously chose to see past my abnormalities and love me anyway."
This is so very true, and is something I still struggle with, and indeed, another reason why dissociation should be normalized.
I still breathe a refreshing sigh of relief when I read the posts here, because while you relate to the struggles of this disorder, you also humanize it as well.
And yes.... you did pass on some of the freedom that you found.
Thank you for such an educational, well written series, Holly!!
~~ Mareeya
And sorry for my long-windedness.... but you know me.... :)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
August, 5 2011 at 3:36 pm

Mareeya, I love your long-windedness. :)
I've told you before I see so much similarity in our experiences with this diagnosis. This is no exception:
"Personally, I would have been much more prepared to accept my diagnosis, had I understood that my many of my experiences were normal, but just a bit more intensified."
I feel the same way. It was a relief to learn that DID isn't the bizarre, sci-fi-esque condition I thought it was. Making peace with it became possible when I realized that.
"Also, because of the stigma that surrounds Dissociative Identity Disorder, I am forced to hide my disorder from family, friends, and co-workers."
I wish you had at least a few people in your life with whom you could be open about your diagnosis and your life with DID. I'm going to keep hoping for that.
Thank you so much for taking the time to tell me that Dissociative Living has been a source of comfort for you. When I'm struggling, comments like this are the ones that keep me writing because they remind me that it's worth it.

August, 2 2011 at 9:30 am

Normalize it bec it is normal and bec too many shrinks getting rich convincing otherwise.

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