Becoming by Donna Williams ‘I lose time’, said the woman across the table from me.It was the follow-up sentence after having told me she lived with a mental health problem.’Do you tell this to all your customers?’ I asked, perplexed. She had just told me she was a ‘multiple’.This didn’t mean she was good at maths, though she was, but that she was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), a new name for what was once Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). Even scarier, she was telling me because she had, by now, become convinced she was facing the first other multiple she’d ever met, which apparently was me!’You know’, she said, telling me about the neurological study she was in, ‘the brain scans of us multiples consistently show an enlarged gland at the base of the scull’. it seems in fact that there are studies coming up with a variety of neurochemical, neurological and patterning differences in those who develop DID.Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) is a diagnosis that came under much scrutiny and challenge when those with it claimed to continually find and then manifest ‘recovered memories’ which were often put down to suggestibility and therapists guiding patients towards ‘recovering’ memories they may or may not actually have had. Further, once personality was understood to be the product of inheriting chemistry patterns and accumulating environmental impacts that channelled us into various personality traits, it became clear that none of us truly have ‘one’ personality. In fact we have a collective of traits which come together like the ingredients in a soup till they are, hopefully, fairly integrated and blended enough to come across as ‘one personality’.

Dissociative Identity Disorder was different. It meant that developmentally, you were different. Your brain didn’t work in an integrated way and as a result your personality traits were at risk of remaining equally unintegrated, leaving you shifting sharply between various ‘chunks’ of self till, over time, these become other separately functioning ‘selves’ within the one body. Just like there is fragmented vision, fragmented thinking, and movement, rapid cycling bipolar and impulse control disorders which could amount to fragmentation of sorts, personality can also fragment, or disocciate. We all do this when faced with extreme chronic stress or loss we can’t face. People with DID have done this from a young age and, hence, as adults this lack of integration is almost ‘hard wired’ so its hard for them to not ‘switch’ and to function as ‘one cohesive personality’ and the identity that springs from that. As a result, some are crippled and struggle to function. Others can be prolific and astounding in their range of skills, almost as if they live the lives of three or more people in the space of one day, one week, one month, year or lifetime.

I’m diagnosed with autism but many people have claimed me for the DID camp. Why not? I lived my first twenty-five years as three people- a male (Willie), a female (Carol) and me (Donna). There’s got to be more than a little possibility there. And certainly I wouldn’t be the first autistic multiple because I’ve already heard from a number of others on the autistic spectrum.

‘How would you define autism?’ one of her selves asks me before adding that we all seem to have bits of autism.

‘We all have bits of lots of things’, I reply, but a bit of illness doesn’t make a physical breakdown, a period of emotional distress doesn’t make an emotional breakdown, being temporarily mentally messed up doesn’t amount to a mental breakdown and a few quirks and poor processing moments doesn’t amount to a developmental breakdown either. I tell her that Autism is a kind of developmental breakdown in infancy and that after that its a long climb to get development on track. She can relate.

Multiples can relate to developmental disabilities and they may additionally be autistic. The two conditions share a remarkable number of features in common. Being multiple means never knowing what your day will bring. It means living in the moment.

Being multiple may mean being a serious logical person one moment, a comic doing characterisations the next and then a socially anxious emotional self struggling to string a sense together for a stranger across the table.

I’m far more ‘one person’ than I ever was. I think of the ‘us’, the ‘he’ and the ‘she’ collectively now as an ‘I’. I lose time, sure, but I’m a self employed artist and writer. Aren’t we meant to lose time? And after all isn’t time just a mental construct measured by our bodies? Then what happens if the mental formatting or the ownership of the body keeps shifting? Does time shift or disappear more easily? Certainly Multiples may be the closest thing we have yet to cloning ourselves or perceptual time travel.

And this intriguing woman across the room smiles at me with an enormous shyness and smiling eyes, running the fingers through her hair and suddenly she seems about six years old. We used to accept these eccentricities. Now we label them.

I remind her as I leave, “a patchwork quilt is still one quilt”.

I leave knowing each step is in the moment and that sooner or later, one of me will end up back home in time for tea,… in time.

My husband said he loved me. ‘Which one?’ I asked a few years back. All of them, he replied.

Donna Williams *)