Polly's pages (aka 'Donna Williams')

Ever the arty Autie

Dissociative Identity Disorder, Autism and a conversation

June7

Dissociative Identity Disorder is on the same spectrum as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They are both DISSOCIATIVE disorders. Those who develop DID have over developed abilities in dissociating, a skill very commonly overdeveloped in children with autism. Dissociation is a natural process in children under the age of 5 but most children grow out of it. Those with developmental disabilities may have stronger motivations to dissociate from what they find sensorily overwhelming or too hard to process and so those with autism may be predisposed to dissociation but also other dissociative processes, such as depersonalisation and derealisation. Some personality traits can also predispose some children to overdeveloping these dissociative processes.

When someone already predisposed to skills in dissociation grows up in conditions of severe neglect, trauma and chronic abuse before the ages of 3-5 years old, that person is at risk of their dissociative skills getting in the way of cohesive identity development. Instead the person grows up with different parts of the self compartmentalised and eventually each part so differentiated from each other they can lose awareness of any relatedness to each other and essentially become ‘alters’ within a DID ‘system’.

The original cohesive self, known as the Core Self, may go dormant for years, essentially leaving the alters without any ‘central management’. Some children who develop DID have undergone such disruption to early identity development and such degrees of abuse, the Core Self may seem ‘dead’ and may never come back into conscious awareness or reconnect with the body. What follows is a discussion between two people formally diagnosed on the autism spectrum and with DID. We are not alone in this. There is nothing about any child with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome that precludes them from being from any range of backgrounds, including abusive ones, and nothing about Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome that precludes a child from developing PTSD or even a more severe DISSOCIATIVE disorder such as DID.

JENNIFER:

One of the first things I ask other multiples is: How many parts do you have? And what are their ages? (That’s question that’s considered Rude unless its asked by another multiple) its a question I never answer for strangers. Its one of the things I consider very personal because it correlates to trauma and reveals a lot of information. I ask to better understand the other multiple and explore similarities, but non-multiples usually ask that cause they find it interesting (which I find rude!)

DONNA:
I relate completely. I struggle with those finding it interesting as if I’m in a freak show, or as if its tasty rich fodder for some bitch session with a non-multiple buddy of theirs where they enjoy gossiping about ‘nutters’, or if they feel like nothing or nobody and want to get close enough to my multiplicity to study it, try it on, show it off like some kind of existential dress up game/ego masturbation.

How many alters? Polly knew of the first when we were 2…that was Willie…. then she knew of the 2nd when we were 4… that was Carol. From there many of the others got blamed on Willie or Carol… so Willie attributed Da to Carol and Carol attributed Da to Willie… same with Marnie. Polly always became a cat and Carol had been a rabbit, but we didn’t realise these were earlier alters these two Littles were reverting to. We knew of Addie but she’d never had a name. We knew of Marnie, Katrina and Anne but forgot about when they used to use their names (late childhood/early teens). We knew we had an Italian in there but attributed that to Polly playing about… now we know Rose. We thought Esby was an earlier part of Polly. We recently met Angel.

I was the core self but dissociated so often, so much that I couldn’t use the body by age 2 and my last memory in the body was at age 4, finding myself in a doorway with no idea how I got there because I hadn’t learned to walk on my own. As such I wondered if I could fly, if I was a ghost, eventually thought I was just a sort of ‘computer’, storage bank for all the other’s lives, I was schizoid and didn’t feel anything personal about any of them… I felt like their typist, I guess completely depersonalised and other than typing, completely disembodied. We have 14 altogether.

Esby (non-verbal autie Little) was the first one left after I quit the body. She identified with the cat, rabbit, dog and developed Ning (cat), Foosh (rabbit), Opie (dog/bear). She developed a protector – Marnie -, and tried to developmentally progress into Polly but they split and Esby stayed developmentally stuck. Polly developed a protector – Willie and a playmate – Carol – and tried to emulate and developmentally progress inbto Carol but couldn’t so became developmentally stuck. Marnie split into Addie. Addie split into Anne, Katrina and Rose. Carol developed a playmate – Da – and a protector – Angel. Ning, Foosh, opie are our animal alters. Esby, Polly, Carol are our Littles. Da, Addie, Anne, Rose, Katrina are tweens. Willie, Marnie, Angel are adults. I function as ‘house parent’ to the team.

Tell me about yours?

JENNIFER:

I have 50 parts now. I had a 100 when I started this journey. About 80 of them were parts and the remaining 20 were what they call “fragments” (which are parts that simply do functions, like drivers, writers, typers)
My youngest part is about 15 months old (just one) the next group are two 3 year olds. And so on. I have several children, and an equal amount of teens from 13-18 and the rest Adults 19-43. Most adults are 28. That is because that is the age I stopped making parts and began the healing journey. The “original Core” part is the real self that is spared all of lifes challenges and is usually the oldest and the least healed.

DONNA:
Esby had been around 1.5-2yrs old and that’s very hard to accommodate in the outside world, especially if other parts are professional and working! How does it play out with having a 15 month old in the team? And do you know why that part got stuck at 15 mths?

JENNIFER:

Hmmm, lets see how to answer this best: I believe my 15 month old part is the first part. It was the first experienced traumatic event. This part, as you can imagine, has very little funtion or contribution to the system except to hold that first memory i imagine. Because it’s extremely difficult to do “memory work” with a toddler, this part remains. Most of my unresolved memories and lack of integration comes from spending countless years with unskilled professionals that could not seem to foster integration or healing but were unaware of the Autistic component as was I.

Because this part is so non-functioning and non-verbal i can count on one hand the times they have “come out”. It is rather amazing to be able to experience and now verbalize the experiences and reality of a 15 month old. I believe there is only one part younger than this part. It is the “original infant”. The child that was “before” the event took place and holds the purity and innocents.

There are many thoughts on what is considered the “Original”. I believe there are two. The Original Infant and the Core part as you call it. They are always the age you are now. This is the part who is the “Wizard of Oz Man behind the glass” if you will. This is the part who created all the parts so that they could be spared the horrible experiences. Strangly though, with all their power, they are the least capable and have the fewest experiences in life to function. It is this part that will have all the parts integrate into them in the end. I personally found this shocking when i learned this fact. My core self, Jennifer, seemed the least capable to absorb parts, memories, or life. But when i thought about it, it made perfect sense. Most multiples i’ve known have this part present much of the time and then “dissociate/switch” when things get difficult or some other trauma happens. For me, this part is almost never up and coming to life (waking up/coming up) is always a painful rude awakening.

DONNA:
50 is a massive team. How do you keep track of them? Do you use external ways to represent each to help the therapist track who is thinking/feeling what?

JENNIFER:

Well luckily i don’t have to work hard to “keep track of them”. i think it would be hard if i were making it up. But since it is my reality it’s like having 50 family members that i’ve always known. I don’t always think about them all or deal with them. And i can say, yes it has been a challenge to learn about all of them. There used to be 100 parts. Well many of them were what they call fragments. Not complete parts just an incomplete personality who served a function. Like you mentioned feeling like you were a typist for your parts. I have a part who is called Scribe. Their only function is to write what others need to say. So i don’t count them as a part but rather a fragment. I have eliminated oops integrated most of my fragments except for some essential ones. Scribe and Driver seem to be good ones to hang on to. I can always write when i need to and drive safe even when a child is up or i’m upset. I’ll hang on to those till the end i think.

Yes fairly recently i created a book of parts. With the help of a therapist, i created a profile page of several parts. I found pictures on the internet that best looked like those parts. I listed detailed info on them and kept it uniform with all the other profile pages. I noted the event that caused them to be born as well as other memories. I also made mention of what parts were close to them. The purpose of that was to know who could offer help if that part was in trouble. Sadly this therapist didn’t work out. She rather abruptly moved out of state and devastated my system. But we continued to work together via email for a while. It took four years and one day it was like she woke up and realized what i had been trying to tell her for so long, that i was Autistic. I don’t know why it disturbed her so much. She literally diagnosed me and terminated therapy claiming that she could not help me if i was Autistic. She actually said it was incurable and she would rather give her time and energy to clients that can be helped. I never completed the book. She was rather special and was the first to know how to work with the Autism even if she didn’t know thats what she was doing. she was gifted in not needing words to communicate. It was the first time i did much healing. It was the first human i had ever connected with who was able to find my world i was trapped in. It was also largely do to YOU and your book “Nobody Nowhere” and “Somebody Somewhere” that i was able to see the “way” to connect with her. and being lucky that she was the first that seemed able to connect to an Alien. πŸ™

When she left my world i retreated and thought no other would ever find the way to the planet i had spent my life trapped on. It made continuing the book pointless. It’s the whole “if a tree falls in the forest and no one sees it, did it fall?” i felt in my heart that if i spoke and no one could hear me or know i was there, why should i continue?.

Six months ago i was blessed to find an even better therapist. She officially diagnosed my Autism. It was torment having to tell her about my DID/MPD and my abuse. I felt she would also bail because this wasn’t HER specialty. But she surprised me greatly and has been a God send. She took the time to educate herself on DID, she took my books to understand about the parts inside me, and she has given me hope of healing again.

DONNA:
My animals are fragments but my human alters are not. I never developed any who were strictly for a particular role.

JENNIFER: i don’t have any animals but many DID’s do. Trudy Chase is one example. Perhaps it’s growing up in Brooklyn NY City where there was just concrete to interact with. Plus no trauma involving any animals as sadly some people have. For me fragments are parts that do a function, write, drive, get dressed, bathe, etc.. but have no real life, no friends, no memories, no real comprehensive personality. I don’t really count them when i count my parts and i don’t believe they take offense to this. since they just do a job and have no real feelings or experiences.

DONNA:
In my fruit salad is DID and Autism (which is its own fruit salad). My autism fed into my DID by predisposing me to acute Exposure Anxiety, the sensory perceptual and health disorders contributed to delayed development and lead to my over investment in dissociation skills. My autism has shaped the nature of my alters, each one is differently autistic but each is still autistic. I didn’t develop fragments as you describe them, though different alters do have different abilities and so naturally take to different jobs and activities, but each of mine would feel to anyone meeting them that each was a whole person, a comprehensive personality as you say, each with their own real life, friends, memories. So, for example, I always did much of the typing, but Willie and Da also do a lot of typing. Polly and Esby are very tactile and the most playful, Ning, Foosh, Polly and Esby are the most snuggly, Anne is one of the most sensual, Rose one of the most sexual, Da the most comedic, Willie the most academic, Polly, Esby and Da are all surreal and love silliness, Marnie, Willie and Katrina are the most serious, Marnie is the most droll and anarchic, Angel and Marie are fighters, Carol and Addie are pleasers. There were two I know little about; Shirley and Audrey, I think Shirley was a gardener, Audrey does office work. I don’t think they were roles though, I think people meeting them would have found them to be whole people.

How do you feel AS shaped or fed into your DID?

JENNIFER:

Yes, i understand. Well for me i think I was Autistic regardless and because of severe trauma I created parts (DID). I don’t think my Autism fostered my DID. For me the trauma and abusive experiences fed the need to “flee the building”. I think my Autism led to my exposure anxiety and avoidance of the world and it’s people, not my DID. If anything, my DID allowed me to, at least appear to, connect to people.

DONNA:
Yes, I can relate to that. I agree that my DID allowed me to adapt far more broadly to my autism than I would have without DID. But I also feel that my autism meant I dissociated more often, more deeply than most children so it created fertile ground for PTSD and DID, which are both dissociative disorders I feel happened to me because I was more prone to dissociation processes than most children.

JENNIFER:

So often i get “Are all your parts Autistic?” I feel irritated by that question. Autism is not a transient issue. no one asks me “Are all your parts Caucasian?” LOL, oh well i suppose i should be grateful they are trying to understand.

DONNA:
Groan, er, sure πŸ˜‰

JENNIFER:

But more often than not it just feels like they are invalidating or minimizing my Autism experience. It’s surly my personal issue and i should try harder to be understanding. πŸ™

Like i have also said to professionals, YES all my parts have Autism, they just all handle it differently.

DONNA:
yes, I completely relate to that. Like Carol, Da and Polly were freely and openly echolalic, but Addie, Anne, Marnie, Katrina, Willie were selectively mute (echolalic but silent). Esby is largely aphasic. She can type simple responses, but verbally she’s very limited and most people wouldn’t understand her. When we came to understand speech in late childhood, I attempted to speak but my stammer was so ferocious I couldn’t and gave up. Willie kept trying no matter what and was the first one to gain functional speech and the one who came to devour indexes, then encyclopedias, later our most ‘Aspie’ of the team. Polly, however, still remained largely echolalic. Esby still has only a few words and phrases (diggy dig – tickle, ni diggy way = no tickling, go away, en-gu-ee = angry, nuh-guh-dee = not going there, em away = get them away, er baby = rock the baby/dance) but once she teamed up with Polly, Polly began teaching her words and then she did strive for sentences (yum, smellness, spagghetti, plate = yum, this pasta dinner smells nice) and she’s quite big on ‘ness’… lots of things are ‘ness’, even cats are ‘catness’, so she’s bigger on nouns and adjectives. But Esby makes up in gesturing what she lacks in speech, so she’s actually an effective communicator. What people don’t get is that the phases of communication development can be compartmentalised in the brain of someone with DID and that until those compartments, those alters, link up, befriend and help each other, they don’t get to learn from, tune in to or borrow each others abilities.

JENNIFER:

All my younger parts are non verbal which compounds issues around healing. And like any treated HF Autistic individual, as parts get older they possess more coping and compensation skills. But also like any Autistic, learning to “cover and hide” deficits are not the same as recovering from them.

Parts 0-7 Don’t speak. 0-5 don’t even have thoughts in the form of words making translation torture.

DONNA:
I can relate, especially re the animals and Esby, but Katrina is also non verbal, so a lot of the communication has to be via arts or another alter interviewing those who can at least type one word answers, or me or other alters trying to represent verbally what is expressed by a non-verbal part only behaviourally or in movements or sounds or art.

JENNIFER:

Those that are 7-10 Speak but can’t express emotions when they arise. Teens 10-18 Speak but don’t always say what they mean and the high emotions wreak havoc on the communication process. I don’t think it was until i was 25 that i learned that other people in the world existed with lives and experiences that had nothing to do with my immediate interaction with them. I was in awe when i learned this information. Unfortunately it is still something i can not visualize. when i leave my therapist office, I think she remains in that room until the next week. i know it sounds stupid. I know the “facts” that she most likely is not there doing nothing but waiting. But it’s hard to grasp.

DONNA:
no, I can relate to that, as I can’t visualise, but because I can think in movement, I certainly imagine the person having left and got on with their own life, just that imagination is not visual, perhaps more like the imagination of a blind person. This is because I grew up with Simultagnosia – unable to see objects, faces, bodies, rooms as a whole. So my adaptation was to map movement and tone.

JENNIFER:

Learning about this alternative (non-Autistic) reality has transformed my world and experience of it. But i can’t say it’s made things easier. I can’t seem to “imagine” what others are doing when not in front of me. In adulthood i learned that if i disconnected from all human contact, then i wouldn’t have to know or care what they were doing. it was either that or literally grieve the loss of people, like they were dead, the moment they left my visual sights. That in and of itself became traumatic.

DONNA:
I was bonded with the light bulb, the wallpaper and the frosted glass so I don’t remember having any thoughts at all about where people had gone, nor if they continued to exist. Often I felt I had left the room with them but my body clearly hadn’t. Maybe it was a mirror neuron experience πŸ™‚

JENNIFER:

I have since learned some tools to “hold on” to the idea of people. Having them tell me where they are and painting a visual picture of their existance, seems to help greatly. But frankly it’s rather humiliating to ask for this from anyone. So i’ve often opted for disconnection from people. the lack of connection allows me to not be repeatedly devastated, but it also disallows me to know anyone or have any attachment to anyone.

DONNA:
Goodness, you make be feel awfully blase now πŸ™‚ When people disappear, I just figure their stuff is their stuff and they’ll get on with it and mine is mine and I’m quite happy when they return (if I like them πŸ˜‰ but I’m also happy when I’m alone. I’d obviously make a great Buddhist.

JENNIFER:

I think my real outside children transend this experience becuase i DO know their constant where abouts and have contact with them so frequently.

DONNA:
Wow, that would freak me out. I’d drive you balmy! When my team was physically around age 3 we’d leave the house off to the park or other people’s gardens, and around 8 off into the community, riding on trams, eating at the supermarket, wandering into factories and office buildings, walking around blocks of flats. Nobody had a clue where I was and all attempts to contain me were futile, I was Houdini. My mother really went to town when I was around 10, I copped it big time and was trained, rote style, to at least shout, ‘going now’ as I left. Can you imagine if your children were that autonomous!

JENNIFER:

I’m hoping that i will solve this problem before they begin to explore the world without me. I will not choose to hold them back regardless. I was a product of a narcissistic borderline who kept me as a hostage in her hell to avoid being alone. Hmm Well at least that was what i felt was true. I’m just now beginning to wonder if she too suffered from AS. πŸ™

DONNA:

I think it comes down to the degree of AS versus personality disorder. Like I feel my mother fitted NPD, BPD and Psychopathy. She also seems to live with OCD and I see OCPD there for sure. So the OCPD part would resemble AS but the level of her other stuff is so much greater, any degree of AS she had would be irrelevant. Although, its true, that if you have a seriously personality disordered parent, you certainly don’t want them to also have the control freakdom of OCPD added to that mix. That’s stalkerville.

Now, your journey with your core self is very different journey to mine.

For me, it’s like I was quite adult in there, just had lost connection to the body and had no emotional relationship to what any of the others had lived once I’d left the body. But once I got reconnected to it, partly through hearing them all telling their lives to the therapist, I began to feel for them inside, then I realised, shit, I’m reconnecting to the body, I’m not a ghost, then what the hell was this, what had happened and what was I going to do with all these other people in here? I handled it really well, very pragmatically. They all seemed to have their own vested interests, tragedies etc, but my only tragedy was that I had missed almost all of my life… I’d been sleep walking as these other parts lived in my absence. So in a sense DID was my biggest trauma. Of course now I’m resolved about that. I love them all like my internal family and they trust me as their house parent. Guess I’m lucky. I attribute this to having had good attachment before age 2-4. I has slept with my very warm, kind, autie grandmother from birth to around 3-6 mths. At 6 mths my mother had apparently been pushing my pram through Mrs C’s gate and leaving me there for her to have to look after (thrusting me upon this non-English speaking Italian woman) and Mrs C was great to me until I was 3 and then she began closing me out of the house as I considered her my parent. At the same time from 6 mths-2.5 years old I was in a welfare program for at risk kids so had very consistent, regimental, methodical care, headed by an iconic warm, firm matron called Sister Jelly and on weekends was still with my grandparents in their shed in the backyard until I lost them both when I was 4. I also was taken out all the time in the car with my father until I was around 3-4 and treated the car like a glass womb. So I bonded well with him too. So without that, guess my core self would have been very different, undeveloped, insecure.

I’m able to trace each of mine back to the person they most identified with and against so I know what made each who they are. I also have a reasonable history now of what pivotal events or environment gave birth to each of them.

JENNIFER:

πŸ™‚ Well i think “different” is dependent on who’s writing. I was and am not in my “core” part when i wrote to you. Like i mentioned earlier, that part rarely comes out and engages the world. They have little or no skills and the parts have been doing life without her for so long she has little function. As i said i was shocked to know that it was SHE that was in charge and responsible for all this. She is probably my most Autisticly debilitated adult. While other adult parts learned how to “appear” normal, she is without those skills. Perhaps that is why she remains “at the helm” but not part of the solution as she should be. It’s very complicated, as i’m sure you know first hand. Perhaps thats what you meant by “how do you keep track of them”. Hmm yes, it’s very hard.

I believe if that part was up and she had a little more communication abilities and more integration, she would say the same things you said above.

I do not believe i had “good attachment” from anyone. i’m sure i had some insecure attachments and intermittent ones, but nothing that allowed me to understand attachement until very recently. Sadly it was that therapist that finally reached my world. She worked very hard and successfully with me on attachment. i think when she learned i was Autistic she wrongfully believed that i would never be capable of attachment. Why do people think we are incapable?? When will people learn that Autistics are delayed in development no incapable of development.

DONNA:

I think attachment really matters before age 3. It makes one solid, autonomous, one has the template of what it is to love and be loved or at least cared for. Attachment drives identification. My problem was that I had 5 primary attachments and each was so completely different or unconnected to the others that there was no pruning off or integration of these identities. So Polly is like my paternal grandmother, Willie is like my paternal grandfather but also got a lot of ‘his’ identity from Sister Jellie, Rose sees Mrs C as her mother, Carol identified as my father’s daughter and Da identified as his son. Marnie identified with an aunt we were commonly left with, Gladys. Addie identified with two aunt who took an interest since a baby, Brenda and Ronda. So mine didn’t just develop in response to trauma, abuse, loss, neglect, mine also developed due to too many primary carers before age 4. Sometimes I feel it was like growing up in a Kibbutz which was regularly inhabited by a dangerous psychopath.

Do you know who each of yours identified with and the events that gave birth to them (suddenly or progressively)?

JENNIFER:

Yes, absolutely. Well now i do. I can say i always did. Writing the book of parts and much of my therapy work has been devoted to educating myself on who they are and how they came about. Yes the 50 parts makes a very complicated challenge, seem impossible at times. So much to uncover and so much work to do. I’m starting to wonder if i will live to see integration. While i do believe it is a good cause, it is certainly a messy one. πŸ™

I know for me, when i started this process i had only been aware of a handful of parts. it wasn’t until i began the work that i uncovered the “many parts”. Over the years, i’ve noticed this is a common experience with DID’s. They come into treatment thinking they have 5 parts and then a year later their system blows open and the many appear. Has this been your experience as well?

DONNA:
Polly knew of Willie since she was 2 and of Carol since she was 4. We knew we had been called Da, used the name ‘Aunty Donna’ (A.D, Addie), introduced ourselves as Marnie, there was a vague memory of Anne whispering her name at the mirror, Dondola (later called Rose) would name herself to people, and several knew of Katrina but she, like Marnie, was ‘unmentionable’. So there weren’t too many suprises for me. We named Ning, Foosh, Opie who we already knew of in there (out cat, rabbit and bear respectively). We knew of S.B (Esby) as feeling we had become a snooker ball (object alter) but didn’t differentiate Esby from Polly, we thought she was a regressed form of Polly. Similarly, we didn’t distinguish Angel from Marnie or Willie, thought Angel was part of one of them, but, er, nope. So it was more like that. As for me, I was in a dream state, seriously dissociated, completely depersonalised. So for me, they were all like a dream, like a big sleep walking episode of 45 years since I went dormant around age 2. My job was to wake up, take hold of the ship, be the fruit bowl and gather the fruit back into it. I was really bad at that but eventually stopped constantly disappearing. So hard to wake up and stay awake.

JENNIFER:

I have been working on my DID for literally 28 years! And i have not achieved what you have reported. I’m pretty sure that it was the Autism diagnosis that was blocking my ability to heal. There is a trauma website “isst-d.org” that is an international society on the study of trauma and dissociation. Many of the professionals i have worked with in places like “Del Amo Hospital’s National Trauma Center” are members of this group. They wrote an 85 page paper on “how to heal from trauma”. It was this paper that along with your book opened the door of healing for me. In this long paper the bottom line came down to this:

There are Three steps to healing:

Achieving Trust and forming an Attachment with an individual that you will work with.

Working through the memories and

integrating those memories into the present self.

All of that was well and fine until it stated it’s final note… That with out step ONE, nothing else would be possible. I was rather devastated!

DONNA:
I never needed attachment to a therapist. Trust, yes. But I am always ‘if I am free to leave, therefore I can stay’, and I had enough attachments in my past, and to Chris, so attachment to a therapist didn’t matter as long as I trusted them. But in my teens, sure, I hadn’t trusted anyone since I was under 3-4 years old. I did form identification with my therapist then, but I didn’t have the communication. I spent most of the sessions in silence (well, Willie did πŸ˜‰ The only one in my team who is a hand holder (someone who does attachment) is Carol. The rest of the team can form attachment but its not essential to trust, almost the opposite, most would rather trust a therapist we had rapport with but no attachment to.

I do think that if someone has never known early attachment, sure, its an essential experience.

JENNIFER:

Since Attachment was seemingly impossible for me with my trauma issues and the Autism that plagued me, i had always tried to do step 2 and 3 to no avail. It was then that i realized my failure and what i would need to do to make it possible. It was imperative that i learned how to attach and trust before i could go on. But that in and of itself seemed impossible. I’m not exactly sure what i did but i read your book. I found myself on the journey that you were on in the book and then i tethered myself to it and followed you out of my own hell. There WAS a point in your book i realized “i have not traveled this far” and basically i simply took the steps you outlined in your book in attempts to arrive at the same destination. I believe it worked although i can’t really say specifically how or why. I was able to see this first therapist as a person and not a being that obscured my view. I forced myself to not “abandon ship” which was my MO. I returned and returned and returned to conflict with her and promised myself i would not quit. It was torment to say the least. I coined it “Attachment Hell” because it truly was. But it was my first trip off my own private planet and attempt to connect to another. Like i said, when she bailed, I retreated back to my own world believing it was HER that had the power to make this happen and the belief that she took that power to connect to me with her when she left. She left me no blueprints or alternative connection, she just left. I know now, or believe now it was her own human-ness that caused her to give up. And perhaps her ignorance and lack of understanding to what Autism truly is. I truly believe it was her self doubt that was her greatest failure in our work. We had achieved much success regardless of her lack of Autism knowledge. But now i see how ending that connection truly was the best thing for me. As i said the person i am working with now is so much more skilled and capable of enduring this difficult journey.

Hmm is there a question in here?? πŸ˜›

DONNA:
Maybe πŸ˜‰ My first therapist back patted herself with my achievements, calling me HER star patient and showing my achievements off to others. But I didn’t take them as HERS, I took them as MINE. I didn’t see her as magical or the only one who could x, y, z. I was always hungry for tools with which to teach and parent myself. Even my littles do that. Some kids seem almost born independent. Maybe we were like that. Carol was the biggest idealisist, a dreamer, romantic, and a follower, but also enough of an eccentric that when push came to shove even she was essentially solitary, she much prefered to replay life in her ‘own world’ than being primarily oriented toward interaction in the external world. And Addie was a pleaser, ever accomodating, but Addie had an ‘I’m a burden’ complex, she couldn’t cope with relying more than lightly on anyone, no matter how much they were trusted. So its interesting the way personality traits in different alters create this filter through which we see the world, therapists, therapy.

JENNIFER: What has your healing experience been?

DONNA:
great question. Each alter had their own and those relevant to one had little or no bearing on another. Then there was my healing experiences, as the ‘fruit bowl’ to them as ‘fruit’. Willie: education, psychology, insight, responsibility, public speaking, writing, classical music (composition) Marnie: horses, photography, boxing, a punching bag Da: music, performance, entrepreneurship, comedy Carol: friendship, belonging, volunteering, dressmaking, painting Addie: Marnie’s modelling and acceptance of her, having memorials for the animals killed, working with children Polly: singing, play, animals, nature, building with Chris what she had with our paternal grandparents, the sistership established with Carol Anne: closure to her loss of our paternal grandmother, painting, sculpture, nature Rose: the sisterhood established with Addie and Anne Esby: the sistership established with Polly. Katrina: acceptance by me and eventually by the team. Angel: acceptance by me Ning and Foosh: a safe stable consistent place of home As for me: typing, being woken up by the disclosures of my alters, Taoism, nature, arts. And all benefitted overwhelmingly from their individual relationships with me and with Chris and the therapist (me too). Yoga, arts, nature, and Chris have also helped as a shared focus for the whole team, to build shared relatable experiences with each other.

JENNIFER: Do you feel that your understanding of your Autism helped you to surpass what was no doubt huge road blocks for me?

DONNA:
Our autism fruit salad included gut, immune, metabolic disorders, mood, anxiety, compulsive disorders, visual and verbal agnosias and Exposure Anxiety and communication and functioning challenges associated with these. Understanding and working with these things has helped make each of the alters more functional and the team as a whole. It’s about less straws on the camel’s back.

JENNIFER: it’s pretty common knowledge that it takes approx. 4-10 years to heal from DID. Would you say you are still on this journey?

DONNA:
Hmm. I was in therapy for PTD for 4 years, around 1997-2001, then for DID from 2010-present and I had a year of therapy around 1979-1980. So really that’s around 7 years all in. But the last two years really got most of the heaviest stuff done. I’m still supported weekly but feel ready to go fortnightly once the health stuff is more sorted. I don’t feel I see a therapist because I’m crazy. I’d say I go there because I’m sane and responsible and it has helped me to reinforce what it is to keep everything held together and functioning. I see a mental health Social Worker, not a psychiatrist or psychologist, so the style is more ‘real life’, ‘laid back’, I don’t feel ‘therapised’ and that’s really important to me. I am looking forward to going fortnightly. I don’t have any parents so maybe this is a good neutral place to just debrief in any case.

JENNIFER: i must say it’s hard for me to even write all this to you and try to stay present in one part. I think that has always been my concern when being told i should write a book. I wondered how on earth i’d ever keep one part up long enough to finish a thought. You’ve written many books, How did you deal with this problem? Was it a problem?

DONNA:

Are you kidding? Look at Nobody Nowhere… it was partly written by Willie, partly by Carol, I’ve typed some of it whilst in a dissociated state, channelling various alters and their experiences and perspectives.

Somebody Somewhere was still written by several.

The poetry is by all and sundry in the team.

Willie primarily wrote the text books.

JENNIFER: Has allowing your “parts” out in your very public arena hurt or helped you? While i’ve personally noticed some teen responces to things on your page, has anyone ever noticed it was a teen responding or do you think/know they thought it was you being spicy.

DONNA:

goodness knows. Polly, Da, Carol, Willie, Marnie, Addie, Rose and even Angel have spent time on my FB page. People have got used to the ‘variety’ πŸ˜‰ I know people don’t get DID, or they still imagine it was Sybil, but I hope I humanise it for them. Some have been really biggoted, stuff like ‘I came here because I thought you might be knowledgeable about autism but I didn’t realise you were a nutter’ etc. Some have been worse. Most, however, are not as self righteous or biggotted.

JENNIFER: one last question that might seem off topic, but… A friend recently read the wonderful book “The Flock”. I had recommended it to her to help with understanding of the integration process. She was shocked that a DID can have both male and female parts. While i completely understand this experience and have both parts as well, i wasn’t sure how to answer her WHY? question. I told her that if anyone could, Donna Williams could. LOL I marvel at your ability to dissect a diagnosis down to the most basic parts and understand it.

I know personally that (assuming you are biologically female) one can create male parts because they appear a safer gender choice when experiencing sexual abuse. Another reason can be that we internalize a male abuser believing that if this person is terrifying me then appearing like them or being them will protect me from others. i don’t know if i said that clearly. But so these are the two reasons i know of that can cause a DID to create a male part. But truthfully i have about 50% male/female parts and there are some that just “are” and have no traumatic reason for their existance. Or at least none that i’m aware of.

What is your take on this phenomena??

DONNA:
great question.
My primary abuser was female. But I was also sexually abused by males, which I experienced as generally facilitated by my mother as an extension of her own abuse. So as someone with 3 males in my team, each developed for different reasons.

Willie is a straight male, but that meant ‘she’ became attracted to women, so by default, a lesbian. Willie was male for three reasons. One was that ‘her’ primary identification aged 2-4 was with our paternal grandfather. Willie’s other identification was with Sister Jellie, a 60s ‘matron’ at the care centre from 6 mths to 2 and a half, which helped Willie become rather ‘masculine’ but caring, parental, responsible, practical. Another was that when sexual abuse started at home around age 2 (female abuser), Willie became consolidated as a male to be both protector, survive as ‘our grandfather’, but also to undo all connection to female genitalia… Willie didn’t experience having anything from the waist down.

Da was a gay male. ‘She’ developed out of a primary identification with our very colorful, flamboyant, eccentric father, combined with Rose being closed out on the doorstep by Mrs Cappellazzo so Da felt that being a boy meant you didn’t have to feel such loss because boys could be homeless and didn’t need mothers, then also being identified by our younger brother as ‘Da boy’ (a brother) and then by age 9-11 Da couldn’t accept the sexual abuse at that time (male visitors to the parties at our house) so being male meant none of this could have happened to ‘her’ and then in our teens Da had a best friend who was a gay male teen, so identified as a peer.

Angel only emerged recently. ‘She’ was present since at least age 9 but we didn’t differentiate ‘her’ from Da or Willie or Marnie until recently. Angel is a straight male, very different to Willie. I describe Willie as like David Frost, Da like Jim Carey, and Angel as like Robbie Williams. Angel identified with out father too, but with a completely different side of him to the side Da identified with. Angel identified with him as who he was when down the car yard he ran, sleeves rolled up, grease monkey, a ‘bloke’. In our teens, Angel became consolidated in response to a male we lived with, forming a sort of ‘brother’ perspective on him. This was probably part of dissociating from what this guy was doing to the females in the team, particularly Addie and Carol.

So just like any whole human being, no one single experience in the lives of those alters made them develop as males. It was a combination of factors.

Thank you for the interview.

It’s been great to explore the similarities and differences.

Warmly,

Donna

Donna Williams, BA Hons, Dip Ed.

Author, artist, singer-songwriter, screenwriter.

Autism consultant and public speaker.

http://www.donnawilliams.net