There is an appalling lack of information, resources, and access to peer support for people who experience dissociation, amnesia, or multiplicity, our friends and family, and professional supporters. Training for psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers often contains only the barest mention of these experiences. Arguments about the diagnostic legitimacy of the whole dissociative field are common, and doubts about the credibility of those of us working within it. Peer advocates are comparatively rare due to the high personal costs of being open. The result of this is often terrible confusion and suffering.
We are needed because dissociation is a very common aspect of many ‘mental illnesses’ such as PTSD, BPD, psychosis and depression. Dissociative experiences can be gradual and disabling, or sudden and extremely distressing. People often struggle to find a language to communicate about dissociation and many have never used the word itself when looking for help. Like psychosis, dissociative experiences can be terrifying and leave people afraid they are going mad. Dissociation in various forms is one of the most common reasons people seek mental health support, and yet because of these factors it is rate for them to access useful language and information about it.
We are needed because professionals are often anxious and uncertain about how to recognise and support someone experiencing dissociation, amnesia, or multiplicity. We are needed because friends and family are often distressed and confused about a loved one, and can’t find resources. We are needed because those of us who experience dissociation, amnesia, or multiplicity often have experiences such as
- Being accused of faking our experiences to get attention
- Being blocked from accessing, or thrown out of mental health services, even during crises such as suicide or homelessness
- Being told that dissociation is life long and there is nothing we can do about it
- Never being told that our experiences may be dissociative, and that there are things we can do about them
- Being treated as freaks, asked to switch, exposed, or humiliated
- Being far more knowledgeable about dissociation, amnesia, or multiplicity than our doctors, therapists, and other support staff, and having to educate everyone else
- Spending many years in the mental health system accruing diagnoses and trying treatments that don’t help or only partly work before someone finally considers dissociation or multiplicity as a possibility
- Being treated with fear and assumed to be dangerous
- Having to keep our experiences secret to be able to maintain our jobs, relationships, access to health care, and custody of our children
- Being exorcised of demons or bad spirits in ways we experienced as frightening, unhelpful, or alienating from ourselves and our faith communities
- Never having met someone else who is open about their experiences with dissociation, amnesia, or multiplicity
- Never having heard of someone ‘recovering’ or living well with dissociation, amnesia, or multiplicity
We are also needed because some people are inaccurately diagnosed as having dissociation, amnesia, or multiplicity and experience deep confusion, distress, or shame. Some people are ‘treated’ in authoritative and destructive ways such as being told their current experiences ‘prove’ they have been abused, or that all people with these experiences must understand themselves the same ways and ‘recover’ in the same ways.