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 on social media about how it shapes their lives. They themselves don’t know how many Bonnies there are – a new character always appears. But the whole thing only becomes really tangible when you get to know a few of them, when you hear them speak and see that there are really different characters living in one person. Four of the Bonnies have taken us exclusively into their world of thoughts. Over the next few days we will get to know Tessa, Isa, Fiona and 46 a little better. This time it’s Isa’s turn.

I’m Isa and I’m 20 years old. That means that in the last few years I was always a little bit younger than my 24-year-old body, and then I aged along with it. Most of the time I don’t really know how I feel, I don’t have the feeling for it. That’s because I’m only ever there very selectively and can’t remember the time when I’m not there. I think I’m doing pretty well though. Although I have always carried a lot of sadness within me, from all of us. As a result, I often cry, but I can also have very intense positive feelings, which has something healing for all of us.  

In “Dissociative Identity Disorder” multiple identities exist in one person. They can differ significantly in behavior, way of thinking and language and sometimes do not remember each other’s experiences. The condition used to be 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.

For me, being many is not at all tangible, it never has been. I have always been solely responsible for everyday life. I was actually mostly in my body at school, even in my free time for a long time in my youth. I thought the life I was leading back then was everything. I didn’t realize that there are times that I don’t experience. But then I found some crazy explanations for these time gaps and convinced myself, for example, that I was sleeping or that I was just super forgetful. Ultimately, these have always been the only signs of being many for me.  

Well, apart from the hospital stay about two years before the diagnosis was made. Back then, overnight, we were torn from our seemingly dreamlike lives. A life in which, just a few days before, I celebrated my prom without any worries and lived a life that many others envied me for. At least that’s what I thought for a long time. That’s why I couldn’t explain my serious injuries in the hospital; neither the doctor nor I could figure out the cause. I stated at the time that I had harmed myself. I knew it was a lie – but I had no memory of what happened to me. All of this made me incredibly sad, without knowing any tangible reason for my tears. But deep down I already knew back then that my life wasn’t perfect.

It took another two years until we were diagnosed with “dissociative identity disorder” at the age of 18 in a trauma clinic. Until then, it was mostly everyday people like me who were outside. Being outside means that you control the body’s actions, so you are the main character in that moment. None of us had any idea what terrible things had happened to us. I denied the diagnosis at first because I couldn’t imagine that there was so much inside me that I knew nothing about and had no access to. I asked myself for a long time whether my life wouldn’t have been much easier in the uncertainty of being many, whether I would have been so happy.

I’m coping better with it now because it explains a lot of things – not just the gaps in time, but also the pain, the physical limitations or the different handwriting in my diary. I still can’t really grasp it – and I still have no access to the inner world. That means that when I’m not in my body, I’m simply gone. It’s not even like I’m sleeping. I don’t notice this time at all. It really gets to me sometimes because I’m a very emotional person and I find life time so precious. I’ve had so many great experiences and I actually like my life. But I know that I don’t have it all to myself. And when I’m not there, I don’t know when I’ll be back next. I could be talking to you and having the best time of my life and the next moment someone takes over and I won’t be back for another two weeks. Or two years. And those two years are lost time for me.

And to be honest, it also scares me that I don’t know what else is inside me that I don’t have access to. Getting the diagnosis and learning that I had experienced trauma for years and didn’t realize it, despite injuries all over my body, was a shock. You have to know that at the time when I was told this for the first time, the traumatizing actions were still taking place. And I just didn’t check it. Instead, I maintained my illusion for as long as I could. That’s why I sometimes ask myself what else will come up over time that I don’t know about yet. What memory from other people will knock my socks off next? This unsettles me and sometimes downright drives me crazy. But I have now accepted this as my life. 

I think many of us still think that we don’t have enough time in life to process all of our traumas. This means we have to set priorities – and that is sometimes hard. But maybe that’s not the point at all. Perhaps it is rather our job to build a life that creates a positive counterbalance and makes our past bearable. For example, I prefer to spend my time in nature. I’m outside a lot and try to soak up this life as often as possible. That is my greatest need.  

But I’m not alone. That’s why I hope in the future that the needs of people who haven’t been in the body that often will also be met. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is: When there are a lot of people, someone always falls by the wayside; you can never please everyone. Nevertheless, I hope that we continue to try to find a good balance. Fortunately, we have already partially achieved that; we are on the right track.  

This made all the symptoms and memories more bearable. The certainty that looking back (on the outside) we were never alone in this gives me courage. We have felt lonely and overwhelmed so many times, but we were never truly alone. I think our first therapist saved our lives in that respect. Simply because she was there and helped me understand what was going on inside me. And that is significantly more than you can imagine.

This protocol is the second part of a four-part series on the topic of “Dissociative Personality Disorder.” We think: 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 let four of the Bonnies have their say – and take us into their world. In the next part we get to know Tessa. She’s only ten years old – and doesn’t really understand all the adult stuff yet. 

This is part two of the series. Part one 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.