Who doesn’t know the inner voices that like to speak out, especially before important decisions – and thus represent completely opposing views. We all have different parts of our personality that don’t always pull together. But what if the whole thing doesn’t just happen in our heads, but is so pronounced that we consist of several distinct personalities? Then we speak of “dissociative identity disorder”. But what is it actually like to be many?    

The Bonnies know this very well; they have “dissociative identity disorder” and talk about how it shapes their lives on social media. They don’t know exactly how many people the Bonnies are – new parts keep coming to light. But the whole thing only really becomes tangible when you get to know a few of them, when you hear them speak and see that really different characters live in one person. Four of the Bonnies took us exclusively into their world of thoughts. In the next few days we will get to know Tessa, Isa, Fiona and 46 a little better. Fiona starts off. 

I’m Fiona and I’m in my late 20s, so a bit older than the body I live in. He’s 24 years old. And that’s been going on for quite a long time. How it works? I live with “Dissociative Identity Disorder” (DID). This means that I share my body with many other personalities, which used to be called multiple personality disorder. The diagnosis was initially an attack for me; I felt reduced to the illness. That’s why I prefer to use the term “dissociative identity structure” today. We are not illnesses, but people and have a different personality structure than other people due to sick living conditions. What makes DID a disease is the suffering, the limitations and the extent to which it affects our lives. 

For me it is very normal to be many. I don’t know any other way. For as long as I can remember, I have known that there are others inside me because I can see them. But I don’t really have contact with them. This (often) difficult coexistence within, which is not always as harmonious as one might imagine, has always been just as relevant to me as everything that happens in the outside world. It doesn’t matter whether I’m on the inside or the front of my body, both are part of my life. Being in the front means that I am the person taking action. Both are real to me and can be equally painful. I don’t make any difference.

I think that overall I can handle more than some of us. I have an intense approach to some of our traumas, which is sometimes very difficult. That’s why I’m always happy about the time in the body because I can then have new experiences. There are more feelings than just trauma, trauma, trauma. Through contact with other people, I am not alone with my thoughts and can communicate. I enjoy that very much. 

In the case of “dissociative identity disorder”, several identities exist within one person. They can differ significantly in behavior, way of thinking and language and sometimes cannot remember the experiences of the other. The condition was previously known as multiple personality. Roughly speaking, dissociation means a split in our thoughts, actions or feelings.

The extreme form of dissociation is considered a trauma-related disorder. This means that it arises from traumatic experiences in early childhood. If small children experience persistent sexual, physical or psychological violence, it can happen that they are unable to fully develop their personality and instead split it into different parts in order to be able to process the whole thing better.

Psychiatrists make the diagnosis based on a detailed anamnesis and special questionnaires. The condition is extremely rare; it is estimated that around 0.5 percent of people suffer from it. The diagnosis can be found in the ICD and is therefore considered an official diagnosis, although some experts view it as controversial. However, others suspect that the number of unreported cases of those affected could be much higher because many psychiatrists do not take those affected seriously. Once the diagnosis has been made, psychotherapy can help to integrate the parts of the personality or at least to establish cooperation between them.

I used to be at the front mainly in trauma situations. I am part of the group that remembers some of the trauma and was often at the forefront in these moments. And I bear a very large part of it. It’s sometimes too much for me and sometimes I feel really alone. 

On the other hand, this awareness gives me a lot of knowledge about our past. Everyday life, however, never existed in my memory – I was only able to get to know it much later. Sometimes I still envy the everyday people here in the body because they live their lives without being aware of anything that has happened to us in the past. They were created so that we can cope with everyday life and are therefore cut off from our traumas and sometimes still think that we lead a life without experiencing violence. They didn’t choose this themselves either. But: For a while it really pissed me off. 

That was also the reason why at some point I wrote a message to our everyday people in the diary, which shook some of them up and was the first step towards making a diagnosis. I wrote: “If you don’t speak, you won’t be heard. So I scream because the rest of you are silent. Your silence doesn’t undo my past. It just means that, unlike you, I will never have a future. You decide: your life “To live your illusion for a long time and thereby expose numerous others of us to violence. Or to face the truth and learn together what living really means.”

You have to know that back then, everyday people were completely isolated from everything inside and from trauma. They didn’t know what had happened to us and didn’t want to know anything about it at first. And then suddenly I got into everyday life. That wasn’t really my job; after all, I was responsible for taking charge of the trauma. But then I started writing things down and taking them with me to therapy. As a result, everyday people also had to take a look at some point.

But trauma is still my main task today. None of us chose our purpose; we emerged as a survival mechanism and fulfill that purpose in different ways. And there is still too little awareness, both among ourselves and outsiders, about what makes one person many and what happens within us. If I have the feeling that we are not seen or understood outside, whether at the doctor, in therapy or in everyday situations with friends or strangers, then I usually speak up. Then I explain and name things as they are. I made that a bit of a task for myself a few years ago when we started to look at what was actually going on with us.

The biggest challenge for me was getting along in everyday life. Until a few years ago, I only knew trauma. The first time I experienced safety, I didn’t even know how to use a kettle. I didn’t know shopping and having friends, let alone how to communicate with them. And I still often realize: I actually have no idea how life works here. So I learn how to live every day. And I was able to learn that people can also be safe. I have fond memories of how I met our friends. To every single first meeting. It was totally crazy to me that being close to people can also feel good.

When we were still exposed to violence, I always tried to defend myself. It never worked, it only incited some perpetrators even more. I tried it anyway – for the illusion of self-determination. Today I’m just happy that the past is the past and I enjoy every minute in my body. Most of the time I just live in the moment and am happy when I can spend my time with lovely people. Everything else is secondary. Ultimately, what I long for most is peace and quiet. 

What I hope for in the future is more awareness from us and outsiders. And that we (and all those affected) are listened to more. It would also be great if trauma was no longer a taboo subject in society. Bad things happen every day and all over the world. Those affected can only be helped if people pay attention. I always think to myself that I didn’t survive this for nothing. I have to do something with this experience – and if I can’t heal us, then I at least want to do something for other affected people.

This report is the first part of a four-part series on the topic of “Dissociative Personality Disorder”. We believe that in order to even begin to understand what it feels like to be “many”, you should listen to more than just one of the personality parts. That’s why we’re letting four of the Bonnies have their say – and they’re taking us into their world. In the next part, we’ll get to know Isa. She’s one of the everyday people – and was therefore quite surprised when she found out that there’s so much more inside her than her own thoughts.

This is part one of the series. Part two of the series can be found here. Part three of the series can be found here. Part four of the series can be found here.