Supporting Someone Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder—Through Treatment and Beyond
The more you know about your loved one’s experience of dissociative identity disorder, the more effectively you’ll be able to support their recovery. The best outcomes go hand-in-hand with personalized treatment, and you can promote the long-term support that can lead to healthy integration and harmonious quality of life.
If someone you know has been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, it doesn’t mean that person is no longer who you think they are. It doesn’t mean that you should fear them or that they are crazy or volatile. Rather, it means that they need extra help adjusting to life through altered states of consciousness.
If you don’t know much about the disorder, that’s okay; it’s time to learn. If you resist the realities of their mental health, you may be adding to the trauma this person is still coping with, and they may become further isolated. What they really need is a system of personal and professional support that can help them begin to heal the trauma of the past, integrate their life in the present, and discover ways to thrive living with dissociative disorder into the future.
What Is It Like for Your Loved One Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder?
People with dissociative identity disorder, or DID, often refer to their overall consciousness and way of living as a “system.” In some cases, the system works together well and the various states of altered consciousness support each other through their days. In other cases, the various “alters” in a system may struggle to navigate their days and to manage stress and trauma. In any case, it’s important for someone with DID to have clinical support so they can feel more grounded and discover a better quality of life overall.
Dissociative identity disorder is an automatic coping mechanism. The original onset of the disorder happened as a way to adapt to an incredibly distressing trigger. For someone living with DID now, the stress may not be immediately present, but at one time it was. Most often, the disorder was a result of trauma in their childhood. As the person’s identity was still developing, they struggled with abuse or violence or some other form of intense trauma. And their development was stunted; they became unable to integrate the naturally multi-dimensional aspects of their own personality. Without adequate treatment, they’ve been unable to recover and work to integrate these distinctive aspects that do their best to show up and protect the collective self from the unbearable trauma still stored in their psyche.
As well-intentioned as this original adaptation may have been, in the long run, it can prevent balance in life, complete self-knowledge, and grounded relationships. The instability of this person’s presence in daily life may put work, education, and other regular responsibilities out of reach. And the distress can increase greatly with time when left untreated.
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How Can You Support Them During and After Treatment for DID?
Dissociative identity disorder used to be referred to as multiple personality disorder, and the experience has encountered a lot of skepticism. The fact that people have questioned whether the disorder of dissociated states of consciousness is real has stood in the way of critical treatment for many. Hence, acceptance is an important precursor to taking healing steps forward.
Here are some of those steps that you can be involved in to support their recovery:
- Help them to access treatment. The best outcomes for dissociative identity disorder go hand-in-hand with adequate treatment. As knowledge and acceptance of the disorder has grown, targeted treatment approaches have improved. To begin with, an accurate diagnosis is vital for DID and for any co-occurring disorders a person might have. The diagnosis or diagnoses help clinical experts to craft a treatment plan that best fits an individual’s life and needs. Treatment for dissociative identity disorder is a long-term process that involves a few different stages. First, clinicians will ensure that a client is safe and stable by establishing a welcoming, compassionate environment for healing and by helping them to replace any harmful coping methods with more effective and healthy strategies. Second, clinicians will guide a client to approach, heal, and manage their traumatic memories—likely unifying the diverse identities in the process. And third, clinicians will help a client to further integrate their identities or alters, fostering greater self-awareness, cohesion, emotional clarity, and stress management.
- Learn what you can about their disorder. Take advantage of educational opportunities and any therapeutic involvement in your loved one’s treatment. Only with a greater understanding of their experience living with dissociative identity disorder and the possibilities for recovery can you play an active role in the process. Simply by learning more, you are also working to reduce the stigma around this serious disorder, paving the way for compassion and the responsible care of our overall mental health.
- Promote after-care and long-term recovery. Especially if their care begins in a residential treatment program, your friend or family member will be connected with diverse professional clinicians and therapists. Here, they will come to trust those who are directing their care. They will have an individualized plan of care, specially designed to continue even after the program ends. In fact, integrated family programming will help you to understand how you can best support your loved one during and after treatment.
You can be an important part of the system that will support your loved one’s own system as they learn to live with dissociative identity disorder. But you cannot support them fully on your own. Now is the time to reach out for help to discover a recovery path toward greater harmony and stability.
BrightQuest is a long-term residential treatment program for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned San Diego-area program and how we can help you or your loved one begin the journey toward recovery.