In this blog post, we will talk about Helen and her dissociative identity disorder, we will also discuss what is dissociative identity disorder (DID), its signs and symptoms, treatment and we will move on to talk about Helen who has DID, and also answer frequently asked questions.
Who is Helen and What is Her Story of Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Helen is a woman who is well-known due to her Dissociative Identity Disorder as there was a documentary that was made on her life story and DID condition.
We will discuss Helen’s story after we have a little understanding of Dissociative Identity Disorder.
What is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)?
Formerly called multiple personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder is when a person develops two or more distinct personalities sometimes referred to as alternate personalities or subpersonalities. Each personality has a unique set of emotions, memories, thoughts, and behaviors.
DID falls under the class of Dissociative disorders in DSM-5 which are characterized by discontinuity and/or disruption from the normal integration of consciousness, personal identity, emotion, memory, self-perception motor control, behavior, and body representation.
These disorders are close to the class of trauma and stress-related disorders as dissociative disorders are frequently found in the aftermath of trauma and the embarrassment around the trauma, including the desire to hide them.
This disorder is characterized by the presence of more than one identity, sometimes in a dramatic fashion.
In clinical populations, the prevalence of DID is estimated to be in the range from 0.5 to 1.0% (Maldonado, Butler, & Spiegel, 2002). In the general population, however, the prevalence is estimated to be somewhat higher, ranging from 1-5% (Rubin & Zorumski, 2005).
Females are more likely to receive a diagnosis of DID and the ratio is at 9:1 (Lewis-Hall, 2002). The reason why females are diagnosed with DID more than males might be because the rate of abuse is especially sexual is larger towards females than males.
Causes and risk factors
As mentioned above dissociative disorders usually occur as a way to deal with trauma. Disability most often occurs in children who have been exposed to long-term physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, or, rarely, to a horrific or highly unpredictable family environment.
The stress of war and natural disasters can also cause dissociative disorders. Personal identities are not yet formed in childhood. This allows a child to step outside of himself or herself, more than an adult, and observe trauma as if it is happening to a different person.
Children who learn to dissociate to withstand traumatic experiences can use this coping mechanism in response to stressful situations throughout their lives.
The risk factors include long-term experiences of sexual, emotional, or physical abuse during childhood. Other traumatic events such as natural disasters, torture, kidnapping, looking at a lot of emotional suffering, and exposure to poor living conditions, war, etc. may also lead to this condition.
Signs and symptoms of DID
The Signs and symptoms of dissociative identity disorder are as follows:
- Sometimes, there can be memory loss (amnesia) of certain time periods, events, people, and personal information
- Presence of more than one identity that might be different from each other with respect to their traits, likes, characteristics, etc.
- There is a sense of being detached from the personal self and emotions.
- The perception of the people and things in their surroundings might appear distorted.
- There is a blurred sense of identity.
- There is significant stress or problems in their relationships, work, or other personal areas of life.
- There is an inability to cope well during emotional or professionally stressful situations.
- DID might also co-occur with other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, self-harming thoughts, behaviors, etc.
Dissociative identity disorder has been traditionally thought to be rare. Some people also disagree with the existence of such a disorder and do not accept it as a separate diagnosis.
While these arguments are supported by the fact that, many of these subpersonalities come to attention when the patient is already being treated for some other serious mental health disorders.
However, it is not true in all cases. There are many individuals who come forward for treatment because they notice significant time lapses in their lives which they may or may not be aware of.
People around them, friends, and family also notice these sudden and often dramatic changes. This disorder is usually diagnosed during the late teens. In the last few decades, the existence of such cases has been increasing.
Treatment of Dissociative disorders
The primary treatment for dissociative disorders is psychotherapy which is sometimes also referred to as talk therapy. A therapist with advanced training and experience in working with people who have experienced trauma or personality disorders is often the best choice of dissociative disorder treatment.
Treatment for this pattern of disorder is complex. Therapists usually try to help the patients in three steps
(1) recognizing the nature of their disorder,
(2) trying to fill or recover the gaps in their memory, and finally,
(3) integrating all the subpersonalities into one functional personality which is present at any given time.
Once a person is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID), therapists try to bond with the primary personality and also with all other subpersonalities (Howell, 2011).
Once the rapport is established with the therapists, they further try to educate clients and guide them in recognizing and understanding the complete picture of their disorder.
After this, therapists can help people recover the missing pieces of their past, by applying a number of approaches or a combination of these approaches such as psychodynamic therapy, hypnotherapy, and drug treatment.
This can prove to be a difficult and slow process as at times, one of the subpersonalities may become a “protector” who, when “switched” denies the experiences of trauma.
It basically is a coping mechanism which keeps the individual from confronting their painful memories. And when this is broken, the final goal is to integrate/merge the different personalities into one single identity. This again may require the approaches of psychodynamic therapy, cognitive therapy, hypnotherapy, or/along with drug therapy.
Although there are no specificized medications that can be used to treat dissociative disorders, a doctor may prescribe antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications or antipsychotic drugs that can help control the symptoms associated with DID.
Helen’s story of dissociative identity disorder: 7 identities
Helen is a woman who is said to be suffering from a dissociative identity disorder. A documentary was made by Ruth Selwyn, her friend from high school. The documentary was made in 2004 when Helen was 35 years old.
Helen is a university graduate with her subpersonalities ranging from a child aged 5 years to a teenager aged 16 years. Her alters include;
- Alex – he is a five-year-old boy who really likes shooting toy guns.
- William – he is a six-year-old boy who really likes the Mr. Men.
- Adam – he is a cute ten-year-old boy who is not restricted from playing outside.
- Brenda – An outspoken, feisty 13-year-old girl
- Karl – A sixteen-year-old boy with an attitude and a temper.
In the documentary created, Helen seems to be switching a lot without warning. She then behaves with the personality’s own characteristics, which are quite different from her own dominant personality. We see Helen frequently switching into Adam, especially when she is excited about something.
For example, the time she went to visit her school and meet her teacher there. This subpersonality also remembers the time she spent as a child with the director Ruth who is also her childhood friend.
Other subpersonalities which put her in physical danger are Brenda and Karl who engage in self-harming behaviours. Helen’s arms appear to have multiple cuts which usually take place when she is in one of the two subpersonalities – Brenda or Karl.
While Helen does not drink, she consumes alcohol when she is in one of her subpersonalities which even led her to be a recovering alcoholic.
Some of the sub personalities communicate with each other using a diary. According to the documentary, the reason for her DID stems from her childhood abuse.
Though DID has been included as a disorder in the DSM-5, there are people who do not accept this diagnosis. The documentary, when released, received quite a backlash as it was suspected to be fake. However, as mentioned, more and more cases are being identified and further research is required for a proper understanding of the disorder and its management.
We discussed dissociative identity disorder in detail, symptoms of DID, treatment of DID, and also explored the case of Helen, a woman who had 7 different identities/personalities in herself, and how the documentary based on her condition depicted her DID in action.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Who is Helen and What is Her Story of Dissociative Identity Disorder?
How can you tell if someone has dissociative identity disorder?
Sudden changes in mood and behavior, no recollection of events at times, self-harming behaviors are all symptoms of DID
At what age does DID develop?
Typically, the onset of dissociative symptoms is at the ages 5 to 10, with the emergence of altars at about the age of 6.
Can alters talk to each other?
Some alter communicate with the host and others do not. Alters generally communicate with each other internally, by sharing thoughts with each other.
Do alters have their own memories?
Alters each has their own sense of self as a distinct individual or entity, rather than seeing themselves as just a part of a larger whole. They have various views, memories, and thoughts about themselves and the world around them.
What triggers a dissociative identity switch?
Past trauma or emotional experiences, stress, alcohol, and other factors can all contribute to a “flip” in a person’s identity.
What is the reason for Helen’s mental disorder?
According to the documentary based on Helen’s DID, the reason for her DID stems from her childhood abuse.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
Dorahy, M. J., & Huntjens, R. J. C. (2007). Memory and attentional processes in dissociative identity disorder: A review of the empirical literature. In D. Spiegel, E. Vermetten, & M. Dorahy (Eds.), Traumatic dissociation: Neurobiology and treatment (pp. 55–75). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Howell, E. F. (2011). Understanding and treating dissociative identity disorder: A rational approach. New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.