Dissociative Identity Disorder & Alters

By Rebecca HilliardJuly 6, 2021

I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder two and a half years ago by my long-time therapist. Prior to that, things weren’t making sense.

I had been tormented by suicidal thoughts for years with no relief even after multiple trips to residential treatment, plus regular therapy. I was self-harming, dealing with an eating disorder, and barely hanging on by a thread. In therapy, we started talking about this ‘dark’ place inside of me where it felt like a part of my being was missing. Using imagery, we got closer and closer to this dark place until it felt like something in there wanted to say something to my therapist. Following that session, I went home and allowed the words to come out through a pen and onto paper. As the pen moved, I realized these words weren’t my own, I wasn’t in control of what was being etched across the page. It was an alter—one of many—that had now chosen to reveal themselves.

Alters are alternate personalities. When a child is young, the brain is still developing, their personality is still developing, and everything is malleable. When a young child experiences severe, prolonged trauma, the brain is able to split and alternate personalities are developed to hold the trauma.

The weeks and months following the discovery of that first alter were chaotic. Fellow alters were coming out left and right. I didn’t know who was who or who I was. I was helpless to what was going on. Some were angry, some were scared, some wanted to talk to my therapist, some didn’t—but the one thing they all had in common: they didn’t want me to be in control. These alters were created for a purpose, they have a job to do: protect me. To keep me safe from the world, to shield me from what had happened, was happening, and could happen.

At this time, I have 80 known alters. 

The suicidal thoughts and the self-harm weren’t coming from me. But through revealing themselves, my alters have learned coping skills and therapy that has allowed the thoughts and self-harming to subside beyond sudden trauma responses.

My alters are now much more open to letting me be in control. Through increased system communication, I am more connected to their needs and they are to mine. I know there are other alters we have yet to discover. Alters that reside deeper within that continue to be impacted by the abuse we endured. But in therapy, by creating a safe space, they are able to make themselves known when they are ready or able to.

Before being diagnosed with DID and getting to know my alters, I didn’t know I had been abused as a child. My alters held and still hold all of the memories from those experiences. I have the symptoms of childhood sexual abuse but none of the memories. The incredible thing about my alters is that they experienced the abuse for me so I didn’t have to—call it elaborate self-preservation. Through their efforts, I was able to continue developing as a child without the debilitating trauma of abuse.

There is a lot of stigma and ignorance surrounding DID. Oftentimes, I feel shame when talking about it. I’m afraid people will think I am crazy or making it up. But I’m not crazy and I’m not making it up. DID isn’t talked about much in the mental health community and that’s why I’ve made it my mission to bring more awareness to it. There are lots of us who have it, there are a lot of us who feel misunderstood. To those who are reading this and are a DID System, I want you to know you aren’t alone. If you are reading this and don’t have DID, I want to thank you for reading to the end and for caring enough to educate yourself.

DID deserves to be talked about. We deserve to have a voice in the mental health community just like any other mental challenge.


For more from author and mental health advocate Rebecca Hilliard, follow her on Instagram.


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Comments (8)

  1. Jana R.

    I am in therapy right now and just got the diagnosis of DID. I am shocked about it, but as I learn more about it, it absolutely makes sense. My suicidal tendencies, self-harm and voices in my head – I always thought, it is normal and other therapists just diagnosed me as borderline. I always felt like this diagnosis didn’t belong to me. Did kinda does. But I still have work to do. Right now I made out 6 alters and I think there might be more.

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  2. Tammy Copland

    You are amazing ❤

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  3. Erin

    This is like reading about myself. I was just diagnosed with DID after being in therapy over a decade. I’m so scared and shocked right now. I’m doing things that don’t make sense. I can’t wrap my mind around why the alters are just now deciding to show. It’s so difficult, but comforting to know others are going through the same thing. Thank you ☺️

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  4. Audrey

    Thank you so much for sharing your story <3

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  5. Rachel

    Thank you for your bravery in sharing this. You are definitely not alone in your journey with DID and feelings about it. Check out An Infinite Mind. (www.aninfinitemind.com) They have a great conference every year in Orlando with like 300 people who either have DID, care about someone who does, or is a therapist. They are looking for speakers right now. You would be an excellent speaker for it! They also have a virtual option this year if you cant travel. I go every year and it has truly changed my life.

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  6. Wendi Hansen

    What a testimony you are sharing. Thank you for being so brave to share with the world. I am hoping and praying you continue to feel safe and bold to continue sharing your journey.

    In my 20s I was a nanny for a mother who had been diagnosed with DID after prolonged abuse in her childhood. My heart broke then for her and her family undergoing the stress and difficulties that come along with treating and living with DID. My time with them ended abruptly and I was broken over my separation from them but hoped the intervention would be healing instead full of the unknown and uncertainty.
    I recently reconnected with the mother through Facebook and found out she and her now adult children are all doing well.
    I have hope your journey will be filled with healing and support. Stay strong and keep sharing your journey!

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  7. Mary

    The disorder is very real. You are strong and powerful simply being able to speak out and find the ability to discover you. The journey is long, but it is so very worth it. One of the biggest “fears” for the altered states, is that if they integrate they will “die” and no longer be able to perform their function. The reality is, through integrating with the core persona, the core persona becomes stronger, and more able to cope with life….neither is dominate any longer….but neither is totally gone either. It’s a change….and it’s scary and wonderful at the same time. Much love on your journey.

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  8. Caroline

    Wow Rebecca, I’m so proud of you for using your voice, what beautiful courage! It encourages me to keep hope with what I am walking through.

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