When I think about Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) I tend to think about adults who survived severe abuse at the hands of severely mentally ill carers as this is the most usual (but not the only) cause of severe early trauma. I don’t think about whether someone with undiagnosed DID may have had children and if they did, what would it be like for their children. I don’t think about that because I’m among the 70% of people who grew up abused who did not repeat that abuse on their children – but I also didn’t have children.
Child Abuse Negl. 1987;11(2):273-80.
The parental fitness of mothers with multiple personality disorder: a preliminary study.
by Kluft RP.
Recent studies show that nearly all individuals who develop multiple personality disorder (MPD) were abused as children. The majority of identified MPD patients are women in the age range associated with child-rearing responsibilities. A review of the parenting patterns of 75 mothers with MPD yielded findings suggesting that 38.7% were competent or exceptional mothers, 16% were grossly abusive to the extent of injuring, molesting, or placing their children at risk, and 45.3% were compromised or impaired as parents. The compromised/impaired mothers were a mixed group, including psychologically abusive individuals and those whose symptoms interfered with parenting despite their best efforts. Clinical illustrations are offered.
I was diagnosed with DID in 2010 and am now in a state of semi-integration with my 15 alters. I feel ok with being diagnosed with DID. And I know others with DID who did have kids and who, like me, were in the 70% who did not then repeat the abuse on others. But what of those who were the 30%? Those who did perpetuate the abuse? If they were psychopaths, pedophiles, narcissists, borderlines, addicts, then I could cast that off more easily as them being simply ‘mentally ill’ not traumatised.
But what if that was my own abuser? My mother? And what if I had heard accounts that she had grown up around alcoholism, violence, economic deprivation, incest, family favoritism, emotional neglect, social exclusion and then lived with a womanising husband who fairly regularly violently attacked her for over more than a decade? Then suddenly my abuser becomes less easily categorised as ‘just evil’, or a ‘bad seed’.
But couldn’t that simply result in a mother with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)? Mood disorder and addictions would fit easily enough with that. And those with BPD can present as any one of the four types of BPD: The WITCH, THE QUEEN, THE HERMIT, THE WAIF and the witch would certainly fit what presented as a sadistic and relentless psychopath. But if my mother presented as all four of these at different times then she would not be one of these, she would be all of these, a Borderline who had DID.
53% of those diagnosed with DID are also diagnosed with BPD, leaving 47% with DID who do not also have BPD. Without alters who fit different faces of BPD, someone with DID who does not also have BPD may not relate to a mother who has both. One must be predisposed to BPD to develop it. It’s a mercurial personality trait that has been pushed into disorder proportions as BPD – usually due to primarily poor bonding and poor identity development before the age of 3 and then neglect, trauma, abuse then exacerbate that. The child of a mother with BPD has a 50% chance of also inheriting the mercurial trait that gives them the predisposition to develop BPD under extreme enough circumstances. She may have three children but only one of the three may recognise BPD in themselves (my older brother recognised it in himself). The others, under extreme circumstances may still develop other personality disorders, mental health issues, addictions and the like, or even DID (like me) but will not necessarily develop BPD like the mother.
I find those with BPD difficult. There’s an oil and water type reaction in me to their instability, their cling and neediness, their ‘drowning man syndrome’, the heaviness of nothing ever being their fault. Having a range of stable carers before the age of 4 and a half, I failed to bond with my mother at all but bonded well with these other carers. This makes it very difficult for me to relate to my mother as a Borderline. I have no desire to do so, no easy basis from which to do so, a natural repulsion from what I find erratic, overwhelming, confusing and dangerous that counters me from doing so. Only the part she played in the development of my brain injury and my DID have drawn me to dedicate much of my life to understanding her. And that has meant understanding addiction, psychopathy, narcissism, BPD, considering whether she also had some level of Aspergers in the mix, and facing that she may also have had DID.
Recognising my mother as fitting BPD I could say, ‘she is not like me’. That would be comfortable, convenient. I was comfortable recognising DID in my father was likely an FASD child and who grew up with a WW1 veteran father who had been quite extreme with him, was clearly several distinctly different people (and did not have any hallmarks of BPD). And if he and my mother both had DID (and 1-3% of the general population does) they’d have fairly conveniently reinforced this multiplicity for each other as ‘normal’.
I don’t easily see much in common with my mother. Although I’m diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and have seen her medicated for mood disorder, seen her live with agoraphobia, with social anxiety, heard her stories of OCD and see her ‘Aspie‘ traits, I’m not someone with her other pathologies. And most importantly, these pathologies are so headlining that they obscure that she had features of the very thing she caused in me – DID.
And a psychopath can be both dangerous as well as devoid of empathy, usually narcissistic, commonly sadistic and that could so easily present as DID too and many a convicted psychopath has probably tried to gain a DID diagnosis to escape death row yet were not found to have DID. On the other hand someone with DID can have alters with very different pathologies.
Different alters can have different collections of mood, anxiety, compulsive disorders, attachment disorders, gender identity disorders, conduct disorders, addictions, co-dependency, personality disorders, even psychopathy. So why couldn’t some alters have what presents as psychopathy, or as Borderline Personality Disorder, or as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or some be more prone to addictions than alters with some being different variations on ‘normal’? Theoretically, its possible.
So starting with the DSM criteria for DID.
* The presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states (each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self).
* At least two of these identities or personality states recurrently take control of the person’s behavior.
* Inability to recall important personal information that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness.
* The disturbance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., blackouts or chaotic behavior during Alcohol Intoxication) or a general medical condition (e.g., complex partial seizures).
I decided to set myself a checklist… to interview myself about how one might recognise if one’s mother may have DID.
Did the person appear to have different styles of dress that would be difficult to imagine belonging to the same person?
People’s dress styles change over years and decades as fashions come and go too. But there’s usually some consistency of integrated sense of self that limits the range of one’s clothing. So someone quite masculine in their integrated sense of self may feel ‘at home’ in track suit pants, sweat shirts, t-shirts and mocassins but will usually feel pretty uncomfortable in clothes that don’t feel ‘them’ such as makeup, sexy lingerie, high heels, Diva-style evening dresses and luxurious, almost drag-queen style bufont wigs. Someone quite feminine and conservative by nature may feel ok in sensible shoes, a cardigan and a crisp pink ironed shirt with frills or a lace collar but may not feel at home in thongs with a fluoro green T-shirt of a naked woman in a sexual posture with the slogan ‘Candy’s dandy but sex won’t rot your teeth’. Someone who is agoraphobic, shy and socially phobic will usually feel nervous and ‘out of character’ wearing clothes that are bold, funky, attention catching or give the message they are a ‘free and easy party type’. Someone who has a serious, schizoid, hardened sense of self will usually not feel at home in fluffy pastel mohair knits. Throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s my mother has been all of these things day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year.
A mother’s multiplicity may not only come out in her own dress but in how she dresses her child, particularly if that child has become a trigger for a variety of her alters.
As a child one does not buy the clothing available for one to wear. Until one is older one does not even usually get choose which things to wear our of what is available. Having no functional verbal speech (I was echolalic until age 9-11) there was also no verbal capacity to express choices either and certainly no modelling that this was expected, acceptable or even possible.
So around age 2-3 I was either left in a poly cotton nightdress most of the time and otherwise put into a ballet tutu for regular day use. I was put into ‘real clothing’ for photo sessions which were usually all done on the same day and I was changed from outfit to outfit for these.
From age 3-5 I was taken out in the community in these outfits which were ‘nice’ clothing, presentable, practical and usual and this continued into my first year at primary school. Then suddenly in my second year at primary school, from age 6-7 I was being dressed like a child model in expensive quite ostentatious clothing that was completely out of sync with the children around me and included things like womens-style knee high white vinyl lace up boots, sheer colored stockings, vinyl mini skirt and matching jacket, buckled bright colored ‘hot pants’, a red silk paisley ‘cat suit’, as if I was a child replica of the high fashion ‘mods’ of 1969-1970. These clothes were restrictive, not easy to play in and set me apart from same age children at school.
By age 8-11 this changed again and now I was supplied with ultra girly ’boutique’ dresses… things that were frilly, flouncy, ‘child-like’ but which commonly presented me at younger than my age and progressively this also put me completely out of sync with other children. Then at 12-13 I was supplied with my older brother’s clothing, including his PJs with front flap opening. I found this overwhelming and got myself a paper round to buy my own clothing.
This would perhaps all make sense if the mother’s relationship to gender was stable… if she say she had had unintegrated phases as a healthy ordinary child, then as a fawning girly child vying for attention, then as one who felt accepted as toughened ‘boy’, then as an unwanted second daughter consumed with envy for the fashionable clothing of her charismatic ‘golden child’ older sister, then as one who was dressed as a boy to control her attractiveness to men…. and without integration of these different senses of her own gender, this multiplicity would then play out if it were triggered by any image of herself or her older sister, such as in having a daughter.
Did the person appear to have different styles of voice that would be difficult to imagine belonging to the same person?
Our voice and vocabulary is a reflection of our experiences, our identifications, and our general character. Most integrated personalities can be sweet and kind, direct and logical, short and annoyed, depressed and indifferent, proud and too full of ourselves, defeatist and self doubting, emotional and concerned. But if as an integrated person one sounds like a venomous, resentful, sadistic bigot with the sickest R-rated vocabulary then that same person is not usually also going to sound like a girly, fawning 7 year old. If one is a sniping, pouty, bravado teenager, then one is not also going to sound like a pleasant, middle of the road ‘normal’ mother. If one is a practical, logical mind with a passion and capacity for creativity and learning, then one does not also sound like an apathetic, indifferent bogan. Throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s my mother has been all of these things day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year.
Did the person appear to have different interests and activities that would be difficult to imagine belonging to the same person?
If one has passions for compulsive gambling, getting drunk, popping pills and hard partying, the same person is usually not also a compulsive interior decorator and landscaper, who dotes on parrots and budgies and teaches themselves piano and languages. If one is a competitive stage mother then one is usually not also fixated with detailed accounts and stories of child murder, sadism and the occult or shocking others with their capacity for the extreme. If one is flirty and hopeful, able to fall in lust, fall into limerance and intentionally set out to involve themselves with married men, then one is not usually also a helpful, thoughtful person with a sense of fairness, duty and justice. If one is a haughty sniping compensatory narcissist projecting blame and responsibility onto everyone else but themselves, then they are usually not someone who is middle of the road, easy company and the ‘ideal aunt’. If one has been a compulsive and relentless bully, one is not usually also the ideal family person. Throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s my mother has been all of these things day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year.
Her music phases were also extremely different. She had a collection of romantic singles which I as left with in my room from age 2-4 with a portable record player which worked like a pop up toaster. I could drop records into it and it would play them. These were things like ‘Sentimental Friend‘, ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me‘, ‘Please Help Me I’m Falling’, ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’ and ‘Only Love Can Break A Heart‘ and later ‘Hush, Not A Word To Mary’. It never occurred to me that these were or had been my mother’s. She appeared to have discarded them… discarded this romantic girly self she may have been in her first year with my father before her dream turned progressively into a nightmare of retraumatisation with his womanising, abandonment and domestic violence. Perhaps these were ‘their songs’ before I was born, before my first 3 years in which she became the BPD gin soak calling him at work to threaten suicide and drinking herself unconscious day after day in a world she couldn’t bear. Perhaps the songs became painful and out the other side of this three years the self they had belonged to was also forgotten
There was also the standards of the Rock and Roll era; The Platters, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bill Haley and The Comets, Fats Domino, Elvis which fits with the ‘Party Girl’.
When I was 3-7 she had immersed herself in ballet music; Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and ‘The Nutcracker‘, Delibes ‘Coppelia‘ (ironically about a doll created to appear human) which would have fitted with her Stage Mother phase in which she was determined to realise her dream of being a renowned ballerina – by proxy through her ‘dancing doll’.
By my late childhood once involved in her first full blown affair, out came the steamy sounds of Barry White, and then ‘Bawdy Ballads’ played ad nauseum which was an extension of the Party Girl but progressively more and more overtly sexualised and songs about being Irish (none of her ancestry is actually Irish on either side but some part of her would claim she was from Irish) which related to who knows what part of her.
Did the person appear to have no memory of all kinds of different events?
It is misleading and simplistic to say that people with Dissociative Identity Disorder have complete and significant amnesia. More usual is that they are so compartmentalised that different unintegrated parts of themselves are so invested in protecting themselves from particular experiences, truths, threats that particular alters each remember their history accordingly. If they ‘can’t’ remember parts of their history or actions they will generally think the other person is somehow mad, confused, vindictive in telling them about events most parts of them cannot imagine having participated in.
Any of this would be expected in an alcoholic, and whilst denial would be usual in a psychopath or a Borderline. Nevertheless there is a difference between a drunk who can’t remember and someone who in one mode remembers nothing, in another mode flaunts what they had done. There is also a difference between the pathological lying and denial of a psychopath and the person who appears actually traumatised at hearing who they had been and what they had done, even to the point of then reactively developing a ‘whitewash alter’ whose job is to cover all tracks of their own past actions.
There is a difference between the role playing of a Borderline who can’t tell the acting from the lived reality and someone who is so absolutely convincing that even in the face of documented evidence and witnesses, that the only conclusion is that somehow they actually don’t or can’t bear to remember or acknowledge their actions.
This is how I experienced my mother’s responses to pretty much 90% of my memories. Quite simply, if my memories of her, of myself, of my history with that family, or my history in general, does not help her sit well with whichever version of her she is at that time, it will be denied, leaving her the only possible conclusions that I’m either mentally ill, lying, have a chip on my shoulder, am dramatically exaggerating most experiences of my life, or am vindictively seeking to harm her. Obviously, this becomes as confusing and re-traumatising for me as it probably is for her. Nevertheless, she may die never having resolved this, and never choosing to work on doing so and if so then so be it.
Did the person appear to have different ages?
We all have experienced different ages. And as we grow up who we were at age 4-7 becomes a foundation and integrated part of who we progressively become at 7-14 and that becomes an integrated part of who we become at 15-18, or 19-25, or 26-35, or 36-50 and so on. If, however, who we were at one phase becomes blocked from transitioning into the next phase, then instead of these ‘knitting’ as an integrated whole, we instead develop parts of us that are ‘stuck’… alters. My mother had times she struck me as more like someone who is emotionally 7 years old. Other times more like a 9 year old, other times like a 14 year old, and other times like a seriously disturbed adult, other times like a regular, fairly normally adjusted adult.
We may have a particular sense of self at say, 9 years old, but who were are becomes so rejected, shamed, irrelevant, traumatised, corrupted, that we simply can’t progress as that self. Instead, the environment may force us to become what it will accommodate, pathologically or otherwise. And who we were doesn’t just ‘die’, it goes ‘dormant’ and these dormant parts of our self then latter resurface later in our lives when they are triggered by things reminiscent of those times. If these triggers persist, then that part of us, that alter, then continues to ‘host’, even if we are by now in our 20s and this alter is back where it was as a child or teen. So someone who used to live itinerant and in poverty in a hotel in the bush may suddenly move to urban suburbia in a house, making who they were difficult to integrate with who they are now meant to be. They may once have had innocence and childhood as a ‘core self’ but witnessed or experienced enough blatant favoritism, deprivation and neglect, sudden responsibility for other children, drunkeness, violence and incest that that that core self compartmentalizes and another version/s or alter/s develop/s.
As these different compartmentalised selves switch the person may present as ‘disturbed’, ‘unpredictable’. Or one particular alter may become more rewarded and reinforced than the others, becoming the main ‘host’ and presenting as a ‘whole self’ for several years before life changes trigger a different alter coming into dominance and the previous host becomes ‘secondary’, though still triggerable.
So someone may have been a healthy normal child before age 4, then become a sullen, resentful, self pitying one, or a vengeful, domineering bully, or a quiet, fawning girly one seeking approval and acknowledgement of an abuser (fawning is a defense response), then the person may suddenly find themselves pregnant, leave the biological family, take up a completely new life in a completely new role, in a completely new place and develop a new alter which presents, for a time, as ‘normal’. But progressively, if there are triggers that bring out different earlier compartmentalised selves, then the partner may suddenly find they are not just married to Jeckyl and Hyde, but to a who variety of different people.
Triggers could include feeling powerless, money less and abandoned as the partner is out having affairs, experiencing domestic violence, feeling entrapped with the needs of a second, unwanted child, pressure to take on board the needs of the partner’s parents, moving house every 6 months, feeling judged as a failure, losing custody of a child (even if seemingly unwanted). Once a child is multiple, further challenges, neglect, entrapment and traumas simple continue the splitting process. It is usual that those with DID develop on average 7-14 compartmentalised selves by the time they are diagnosed in adulthood.
It is usual that a multiple will develop a range of co-morbid conditions. Mood, anxiety and compulsive disorders and, later, substance abuse and other addictions are usual and common. Extreme circumstances push different parts of the fragmented and compartmentalised personality into presenting as personality disorders. A confident trait can develop into narcissistic personality disorder, a sensitive trait into avoidant personality disorder, a solitary trait into schizoid personality disorder, an aggressive trait into sadistic personality disorder, a vigilant trait into paranoid personality disorder, an inventive trait into compensatory-narcissistic personality disorder, an adventurous trait into antisocial personality disorder (sociopathy), a mercurial trait into borderline personality disorder and so forth. Where a child, teen or adult has developed several personality disorders it is called Mixed Personality Disorder.
Where the person had a weak Core Self due to no significant early identification or healthy bonding with any parent or other carer/s before the age of 3, they may develop alters which then reflect whoever they spent most time around; the parents, an older sibling. If those parents had their own addictions, psychopathy, personality disorders, pedophilia/incest then these alters may appear to also have these. If the person is immersed in a family or social environment where these things are considered ‘normal’ they may easily not perceive themselves to have any pathology at all and they will usually protect themselves from social environments or people that could challenge them to acknowledge pathology. At the same time, fearing such judgement or its repercussions they may develop an ‘acceptable’ alter for ‘mainstream society’.
Did the person appear to have significantly contrasting gender identity?
By my mother’s own accounts, she competed with her older sister for the role of favorite daughter but was only able to win her father’s attention through becoming his favorite boy. By her own accounts this meant being able to fight and drink an introjection of her own father, she replicated him within herself. Growing up in a room in a bush pub full of drunks this would have been easily socially reinforced. But what of the other parts of her which perceived and mourned never having had pretty shoes, nice clothes, dancing lessons, dolls and a mother she could love or felt noticed or loved her? How did these two divided gender identities reconcile and integrate? Or perhaps they never did.
What was it like by mid-late childhood to be socially unpopular and come to see herself unfavorably as ‘plain’ (even ‘ugly’) with an older sister who was more charismatic and strikingly attractive? Who reinforced this insidious and painful self image, and how? How did the pain of such a negative self image integrate with that of having once also been a idealistic dreamer and girly girl who desperately pined for all things girly? Could one then additionally develop an older, hateful, vindictive, scheming, competitive, narcissistic, even psychopathic female alter? And what of the tough, beer swilling, bravado boy-bogan winning the attention and inclusion of an alchoholic fist-fighting father who punched up school children to make them ‘be her friends’? Was the earlier pining, hopeful girly girl still somewhere in there, dormant, suppressed, redundant?
And as an adult, did such different selves continue into her adult life? Did that girly girl grow up to want a doll so much that she turned her own daughter into one, truly valueing it like a loved and much wished for doll she’d call ‘Dolly’? Did the vindictive, hateful, narcissistic alter then cut off Dolly’s hair, dress it in her brother’s boy clothes, degrade it, shame it, bash it, suffocate it, mess with it, actively endanger it, all the while calling it not Dolly, but by the nick name of her own older sister Margaret – ‘Maggots’? So did one part of her have a doll and the other part of her had a representation of her own older sister?
Did the older narcissistic part of her who became a parading stage mother of the one thing she claimed her sister didn’t have, a living ‘dancing doll’? Is this the part of her which got excitement in the taboo of deliberately endangering ‘Maggots’ to others? And in between did the beer swilling, fist fighting male self refer to the same daughter as ‘it’ and ‘that thing’ as if this alter could not possibly have had a daughter at all?
In her relationship with my father could the girly girl have become the ‘good mother’ to my older brother, been the crying drunk regularly threatening suicide and drinking herself onto the floor in my first years, the one who would become the doormat who stayed and forgave over 10 years of domestic violence and womanising? Was this also the ‘normal’ mother present only out in the community, in the ‘mainstream world’ which would disappear the moment we were back inside the house, the triggering house?
And what of the agoraphobic, anxiety ridden, socially phobic mother who almost ‘hid out’ in the house and would get panic attacks out in the community and have to rush back home. Did this arrive only in adulthood? Or was this another compartmentalised child self which had been around alcoholism, violence, incest and endangerment? Did other parts of her know of this part or was it so taboo that none were ‘allowed’ to acknowledge it?
And who was the free and easy party girl who could be an extravagant ‘diva’ in high heels, evening gowns, makeup and luxurious (and over the top) wigs who would now party hard and have group sex on the snooker table, mocking my father’s powerlessness only to be severely brutalised time and again after these antics? Was this an introjection of her own older sister – Margaret – she had become her own charicature of her? Had this flirty coquette been there since childhood? At what age… 7… 9… 14? And what kind of atmosphere would she have learned that in? Or was this fired up with the ongoing degradation and pain and powerlessness of her husband now having an ongoing affair with her sister Margaret over a series of years?
And who is the emotionally incestuous one who, in my 20s, smothered envelopes with ‘to my daughter’ and ‘love from her mother’ and saturated them with kisses, all for ostentatious public display… the one who phoned my bank claiming I was a missing person when I hadn’t lived with her for over 10 years… the one who phoned one of my conference organisers claiming I was a list of missing persons during the Bali bombings? Did this ‘worried mother’ have its origins in the shame of being deemed incapable to care for me when I was in a program for ‘at risk’ children from 6 months to 2 and a half years old? Was this part of her become wounded from the disempowerment of her child bonding with these other people for its first two years, bonding with the paternal grandparents for the first 4 and a half years, bonding with the Italian neighbor for the first 4 years, bonding with the father for the first 3 years… essentially bonding with anyone other than her? Was this a product of public blame from my father’s side of the family that she had damaged me? Or was this over compensation for being unable to acknowledge that she had as much inability to bond with me as I had had in ever being able to bond with her? Was this an alter that made it impossible for her to ever imagine she had ever abandoned or abused me and so protected her from ever having to face or acknowledge that?
Did the person perceive her children in completely different roles?
Children transition throughout childhood. Nick names are normal and can change over time. What is not usual is calling your child by names that at turns convey the child is a person, then an toy, then an imposing ‘thing’, then something something damaged, then something sickening, then your own older sister.
There were times I was called ‘Dolly’, openly referred to as ‘her doll’, told that she ‘owned me’ and it was ultimately clear to me that this part of her could not perceive me as a person in my own right. I would have expected this behaviour from a child of around 5-7 years old. But I feel there was both a part of her that wanted and would ‘love’ a doll, which could not bear the responsibility, burden or actual emotional openness of connecting with a daughter, and a different part of her that saw a doll as a an achieved object, something to possess, to flag wave, to intentionally harm for emotional satisfaction and to control and emotionally harm others who might care to help save, be parental to, or reprogram the ‘doll’.
There were times she saw me as a boy or something that deserved to be or should be a (degraded and mocked) boy. When I was around 9-11 she had a campaign to psychologically convince me that there was a secret that I was ‘actually a boy but didn’t know it. Together with my older brother they’d play this ‘game’ of whispering and then going quiet about ‘the secret’ because I ‘didn’t know. It was a seriously confusing and mentally ill thing to do, particularly to a child at that critical age of development. I’d have expected this from a maladjusted adult and it would make sense to see it as a replay of what she experienced as a child.
In other words she would, at those times, have been playing out as the adults she felt shamed and mocked by as the ‘plain child’, the ‘ugly one’, the ‘boy’ or even deliberately had her hair cut ‘like a boy’ and dressed in male clothing. If there was father-daughter incest already in the family, this may even have been reinforced by a mother dumbing down her daughter’s potential attractiveness.
There were times she referred to me by her older sister’s name or the nickname she had for her – ‘Maggots’. This would have made sense from a resentful unwanted 8-14 year old with a golden-child older sister who had built up a long term and unresolved pathological envy and vengeful hatred. If this older sister then later had affairs with her own husband this would have left her with immense unresolved hatred and disempowerment. If they’d covered their tracks by blaming her own instability (she was psychiatrically sectioned when I was 3 upon catching my father having sex with her golden-child older sister) then she’d have had no validated capacity to discuss these emotions rationally with anyone.
There were times she saw me as ‘that thing’, and ‘it’, an imposition she did not even credit as a person and many times she abandoned me to a neighbor, to relatives as though she did not have a daughter, as though I was ‘free’ to anyone who’d have me. This might have made sense from someone who did not see themselves as my mother.
There were times I was actively endangered to predators and made to witness harm and killing. This could only be done by someone who could not perceive themselves as a mother at all and would make sense from someone around late childhood to teens who was playing out what had happened to them or what they had seen an adult play out on or around other children. If she had grown up with an abuser who had egged her on to toughen up and watch things that were shocking, even perhaps presenting this harm as ‘fun’ and ‘inclusion’, then this could make sense of her own compulsion to gain excitement by doing similar.
There were times she showed me off as a narcissistic object and had impossible expectations of my constant ‘gratitude’. In this mode she would refer to me as ‘my daughter’ but also using the name my father used for me – Polly. This would make sense in someone who was playing out a narcissistic ‘martyr’ like parent who could only see worth in a child if they reflected well upon that parent.
By stark contrast there were times from as young as the age of 2-3 that I was only referred to in highly sexualised terms: ‘that little slut’, later as ‘brothel face’, as ‘fuck dog’, as ‘fuck face’ as ‘Miss Piss’. Which would only make sense of someone who had seen another female child as a ‘slut’, such as witnessing a golden-child sister this way, which can only really be imaginable if that sister was involved in incest with the father. If such a person then grew up to have a partner whose womanising then re-traumatised this same person then they’d have had to do something with those feelings, express them somewhere, at a ‘representative target’.
There were other times I was referred to and presented to others in terms of my disabilities: ‘she’s psychotic’, ‘she’s disturbed’, ‘she’s a spastic’, ‘she’s a blonk’, ‘she’s a wongo’. This would make sense in someone who had grown up bullied and demeaned by others, perhaps in the community or at school, or also at home. It would also only make sense if she’d grown up around acute lack of compassion, lack of empathy, and strong modelling of compensatory narcissism and emotional abuse as ‘usual’.
There were times out in the community where she was an ordinary person, like a quite easy to be with aunt. This would make sense as someone who had always waited for and wished they had had an ‘ordinary’ friend or perhaps from someone who had been rejected by other children, by the community, who lacked friends and had poor social skills and for whom this was their idealised self.
SO WHO IS MY MOTHER?
Based on her own vignettes and different versions of her I experienced in the 15 years I lived with her and in contact with her until 2001, I can hazard a few guesses at what kind of alters she might have.
1) The Aspie
Given I inherited a collagen disorder – Ehlers Danlos Syndrome IV – from my mother’s side and that EDSIV can cause things like uterine rupture which my cousin had but so did my mother’s grandmother (her mother’s mother), as well as hypermobility which me and my younger brother have, then its reasonable to assume my mother to some degree may also have had EDSIV. Collagen is involved in brain connectivity and collagen disorders have recently been found associated with autism spectrum conditions. My mother’s mother was 14 when she had her first child, both parents were drinkers from a young age, the couple lived some time with their kids in a room at the Terang pub and ultimately became obvious alcoholics. A significant percentage of children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder are today also diagnosed on the autism spectrum. My mother was born in 1943. Asperger’s only became a diagnosis in English speaking countries since the mid 1990s and it has not been until now, in 2015 that there is any reasonable awareness about females with Aspergers and for decades females were under diagnosed.
My mother told several stories of her childhood which demonstrated her being completely perplexed that her bluntness was somehow rude or harmful to others. One story in particular stood out in which she was in in late childhood and her white aunt had had a baby to an indigenous partner. She told that she had been amazed that the baby was black and felt hurt, incredulous and confused at getting slapped repeatedly for continuing to state the obvious. At school she was unable to form friendships and resorted to bullying to ‘make kids be friends with her’. So by comparison with her socially popular older sister there were indications she had significantly poor social skills and possibly was literal and not skilled in the non verbal communication non autistic children use to socially engage, build and retain friendships.
When pregnant with me she was reading the Spanish dictionary to teach herself Spanish.
By the time I was 5-7 years old she was heavily into ballet music, went to the ballet and probably, given a different childhood, would have wanted to be a ballerina. This part of her was capable of intense focus and methodical application to honing a skill.
Until I was around 10 she collected parrots and between when I was around 5-11 she was an avid gardener (and could design a garden) who knew the names of all the plants.
From the time I was around 4 she was interested in wallpaper, paint, carpet and collected sample books. When I was 8-14 she was continually redesigning the interior and exterior of our new house and decorating and doing make-overs of rooms of the house.
When I was around 14 she took music lessons to learn piano and passed grades 1-3 exams and largely interested herself in learning to play classical pieces.
When I was in my 20s she went to a university short course to learn German.
Combined with significant inability to make any ongoing social connections or build any friendships in the community, these things could have fitted a picture of female Aspergers Syndrome. This Aspie self could have been productive but none of the pursuits of this part of her were ever socially reinforced in her environment.
It is possible that this was her Core Self, probably present but unacknowledged all her life, ultimately left by the roadside and nobody noticed. Yet it was possibly the healthiest part of her and the most vulnerable which is probably why it got replaced by and drowned out by a collection of alters that people did notice. She had nobody to share languages with, she had no friends who also kept birds, no friends who shared an interest in gardening, nobody shared her interests in design or decor, nobody really took any notice when she had learned to read music and play basic piano and no friend who was into ballet or classical music.
The irony is that by adulthood, as her daughter, I came to speak three languages (including German), composed classical music, enjoyed watching birds, love interior designed and have done the designs for extensive renovations of the homes I’ve lived in, enjoy designing gardens, landscaping and gardening. Yet the damage and dangerousness of all else my mother became make it impossible to share my life with her in any way. If I sought to connect with this part of her, I would inevitably find myself involved with all the other, more dominant parts of her.
2) The ‘Real Girl’ (shy, friendly, quiet, sensitive, humble)
Though I no longer have it I had seen a photo of my mother aged around 2-3. There was none of the fawning, the bravado, the coldness, the falsity, the vengeance in this child. I would like to believe this is the one that had healthy emotions, the capacity for healthy relationships and a healthy sense of community, values and morality. I believe this part of her was her Core Self and that it became secondary by the time she was around 4-5 years old. After this I believe this part did later re-emerge as ‘The Good Mother’ to my (golden child) older brother and the ‘1960s wife’ to my father for their first 12 months. I believe I got glimpses of remnants of these parts of her, although even remnant had gone since I was around 8 years old.
3) The Bravado ‘Boy’ (bravado, daring, competitive, Dad’s boy)
By my mother’s own reports, her older sister Margaret was apparently pretty and the favorite girl, and she tried to become the favorite girl and couldn’t so competed as a boy and became father’s
favorite boy, impressing him with ability to share beer, with toughness,
resilience, bravado… As they lived in a hotel room in a bush pub and her father was fist fighting alcoholic, its reasonable to imagine that as a child she may have been egged on by feisty drunks.
4) The ‘Good’ Daughter (cutesie, fawning, regressive, fragile,
sweet, girly, thoughtful, ‘nice’)
By my mother’s own accounts, she was deeply pained that she felt she did not have pretty clothes, dancing lessons, dolls, was pretty. By her own accounts she did not have friends. By the photos in which she is ‘cutesie’ and fawning around her father, it is reasonable to imagine she deeply longer that her father would find her sweet/pretty/endearing. By her own accounts of seeing her mother as ‘nothing but a baby making machine’, it is reasonable to imagine she may have wished for a ‘real mother’.
5) The Dark Child (vengeance, resentment, coldness, psychopathy)
By her own accounts my mother was traumatised on her 4th birthday when an attractive young adult male cousin arrived with a gift of beautiful new shoes she had thought were for her. Instead, he gifted these to her older sister. By my mother’s own accounts, her sister also got dolls and dancing lessons.
Was there a reason why this particular daughter? This daughter had her first child at 14 which was adopted out but on finding her when he was 21 was reportedly told by her that her father was his grandfather. Is this why, since at least the age of around 6-7 she was being continually rewarded with anything she wanted whilst the others were neglected? My mother’s mother had this daughter when she herself was 14 (my mother’s father was 19) so did he become her ‘parent’, educating her on what was ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’? Was this older sister somehow ‘in service’ to her mother who was almost continually pregnant and ended up with 9 children. If so, was this older daughter groomed into this ‘service’ with it even sanctioned by the mother to avoid her husband ‘straying’? Is this why this older daughter was showered with rewards? And how did her mother manage this ‘deal’ in relation to the second daughter, my mother? How might this all have felt to the one who was less than two years younger than this ‘golden child’?
By my mother’s own accounts, around age 9 she plotted to slash her sister’s face with the lid of a tin can to ‘make her ugly’ and claimed to have taken the tin lid to school and harmed two children with it, ‘practicing’.
By her own accounts she was upset at her teacher she wheeled her grandfather down to the school with a shotgun to shoot the teacher in retribution.
By her own accounts she skipped home happily having seen her older sister was hit by a bus and proclaimed to her parents they could all be happy now that ‘Maggots was dead’…. by her own accounts she was shocked and incredulous that they were appalled by this and only concerned for her sister.
By her own account, as a teen plotted with a boyfriend to lay in wait for her older sister
and urinate on the older sister’s new fur coat as she came past.
6) Bogan Boy
I gain impression of this one from a photo from around this age with boy-cut, male clothes appearing alienated, shamed, defeated. It is possible to imagine this part of her played out in psychological abuse designed to confuse and disturb me about my own gender identity.
7) The Neurotic (OCD, anxiety)
By her own accounts she said that around age 14 had episodes of OCD repetition compulsions – repeatedly putting the basin plug in and out, unable to stop repeatedly and brushing her teeth for fear that if she didn’t keep repeating something bad would happen.
8) The Party Girl (sexualised, attracted to taboo)
By her own accounts, she was closely involved with a teenage friend from a similar ‘problem family’ and it is my belief this is where she first began playing out her sexuality. It was at this friend’s house around age 3-4 where I was taken and there left tied to a bed (as had been common at home in my own bedroom) and left endangered to a pedophile.
9) age 17-27 – The ‘good’ mother/wife
From her photos, I see this one as possibly having been the mother of my older brother, (the golden child) Shane, before I was born and as my father’s partner when my mother was aged 17-19 (before I was born ). I believe only remnants of this remained once I was born and I only experienced this part of her out in the community when I was around 4-7. Then it went dormant ever since.
This is the one who from age 3-5 (upon losing her son to primary school) dressed me in normal everyday tidy but nice clothes, nothing over the top, the one with whom I shared donuts, at ice cream, went to decorator shops and food shopping with. I experienced her as this ‘good mother’ alter merely whilst being the ‘temporary stand in’ in the absence of my older brother and only whilst out in the community or in the school yard.
This was the one who gave me swap cards to help me attract other children. When my older brother was still at the same primary school as me (she moved him to another one), I believe this was the alter who showed up with iced cupcakes for us and gave them to other kids.
I believe this one was friendly but fragile, was lonely and wished she had friends but lacked the social skills and social confidence to ever make them as herself. In this sense, I believe her core self may have fitted Asperger’s Syndrome, which we now understand presents very differently in females.
I believe a later alter – The White Wash – feigns being ‘the good mother’ (like a Borderline who is role playing them) but that once upon a time these things were real and integral.
10) age 20-23 – the Borderline train wreck
Following catching Jack with a 15 year old, and having a child she could not abort, I believe this is the one that fits my father’s accounts of her as a typical Borderline train wreck, crying, threatening suicide, threatening to kill, drinking herself unconscious in my first 3 years. My view is that this could be the one that sought to have me die from neglect and threw me out of the window at 6 mths. This could also be the one whose ‘solutions’ were thwarted by welfare services through me going to Sister Jellie’s until the age of 2 and a half.
11) age 19-59 – The psychopath
This is the one I feel compulsively reveled in the taboo and silence of sadistic harm that I could never tell, the one that suffocated me and belted me sometimes on a daily basis until my body would go into shock and I couldn’t breathe, the one that harmed animals and enjoyed causing unbearable emotional pain, loss and horror. I feel this is the one that severely abused me from 2 and a half years old until around age 4.
I feel this is the one who became obsessionally and openly fixated with the serial child murderers Myra Hindley and Mary Bell when I was in late childhood and compulsively read novels around child abductors and serial killers. I believe this is the one who killed animals and involved both me and my older brother in these actions. I believe this one largely left by the time I was 4 but that a combination of my father’s womanising, lying and domestic violence and my physically reaching pre-puberty re-triggered this psychopath alter to return as host when I was around 9-15 years old. This alter continued to intermittently stalk me in the years beyond that.
I also believe this is the one that in August 1968 sat up all night giving my paternal grandfather cups of tea and who, by the accounts of two of her own sisters, the next day upon ‘finding him dead’ went and fetched a mirror to check if he was still breathing before calling an ambulance. Her boyfriend’s wife, aged 45, died around 1986 from a similar sudden ‘heart attack’ whilst my mother was ‘looking after her’ whilst her boyfriend was interstate. She apparently popped out then came back and found the woman dead’. Following her death this boyfriend moved in with my mother for a time.
As late as 1998 this part of her was continually showing violent X rated films to her 3 year old granddaughter and egging her on to tolerate the ‘excitement’ or higher and higher levels of violence. As late as 2006 this part of her was threatening her 10 year old grandson repeatedly that she would (as Mary Bell had to her child victims) ‘cut off his penis and shove it down his throat so he would choke on it’. My response upon hearing these accounts from the childrens’ mother was that as she continually failed to protect them from being left with her that I eventually reported this to the Department of Human Services.
I believe this psychopath alter could be an extension of The Dark Child from her childhood and a composite of her own obsessive vengeance and an introjection of a psychopathic carer she experienced, witnessed, identified with, was excited by or was groomed by in childhood. I personally do not believe she is ‘merely a psychopath‘. I believe something happened which developed this alter in her and that this part of her became so strongly ‘rewarding’, ‘retriggered’ and reinforced that it became addictive and developed for some time as one of her main ‘hosts’.
12) age 25-27 – The stage mother
My view it that this is the one who needed a dancing doll and from age 5 to 7 she was the proud stage mother, sitting in on lessons, attending concerts, doing hair and make up, and progressively setting impossible expectations and relentlessly drilling me to become a world class ballerina with all of the pain and endurance she saw that as requiring. I feel that this was the one who would dress me like a child ‘mod’ in a way that was completely out of sync with the children around me at school. When I quit ballet classes at age 8 this stage mother felt assaulted by my complete ingratitude and confirmed in my unworthiness and has flag waved my ‘ingratitude’ ever since as a ‘divide and conquer’ tool and to secure sympathy from others.
13) age 25-35 – The fisty bogan/apathetic drunk
The fisty-bogan/apathetic-drunk was different to the original Borderline train wreck. It was more ‘male’, full of bravado, disregarding of any sense of responsibility for children or to a partner. This was probably the part that locked me outside in the dark in the rain when I was four, referring to me as ‘it’. This was the part that never cooked, that failed to pick me up from school, that failed to give me money for a school lunch (had never made a school lunch). It was perhaps an introjection of her own parents during their height of their alcoholism when she may have felt she was ‘nothing’ and ‘no-one’.
When I was around 3 I remember my mother at the phone box placing horse racing bets to which she was addicted. When I was in late childhood this became out of the closet and once she was in her 50s, 60s it became poker machines and bingo. So gambling is the main ‘interest’ of this part of her.
When I was in late childhood the fisty-bogan/apathetic-drunk was not a gin soak histrionic like the Borderline train wreck of my first three years. It was a heavy beer drinker and it was usual when I was around 9 to carry a dozen empty bottles to the bin each morning. This part was publicly proud of having such an alcohol tolerance.
The fisty-bogan/apathetic-drunk also did no mothering and so I dressed myself from around age 5 so was often completely out of sync with the weather. There were times the teachers would buy my lunch because they had discovered that had no lunch money or lunch order or sent me home in a taxi from school because nobody had picked me up.
The fisty-bogan/apathetic-drunk began punching me in the face for fun to shock her visiting ‘friends'(Pauline, Aileen) by punching me in the face when she answered the door to me. This was the one I told when I was 13 that I had developed substance abuse issues because I was scared of having developed something I couldn’t manage. It’s response was to and scoff in an apathetic tone, ‘yeah…(snicker), I know‘. It was at that point that I realised this part of her somehow enjoyed my demise and so I spent my life countering that perverted hope and expectation, to my greatest advantage.
14) age 28-30 – The nervous wreck
My view is that this was the one who was addicted to Days Of Our Lives as if these were ‘friends’ and began having tremors and panic attacks whilst out shopping and would suddenly have to rush home if the show was about to start. At home this one was progressively agoraphobic and prone to generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety, social phobia and paranoia. This one expected Addie to look after her, be her comrade. I believe this one was an extension of the part of her that had a breakdown around age 12-14 and that this was then retraumatised through my father’s domestic violence, compulsive lying (psychological/emotional abuse), womanising and abandonment.
15) age 22-43 – The exhibitionist whore/pedophile
I believe this was the part of her that began tying me to the bed and sexually abusing me at 2, endangered me to a pedophile at age 3-4, at age 7, then at age 9-11.
My view is that this one became dominant when she fell into obsessive limerance with a married friend of my fathers. This part played up to becoming whatever this man sexually wanted. This included having group sex with this man’s brother and friends regardless of my father being home (he had been given whisky and egged on into drinking it all so was blind drunk) and children being home. This continued once she’d thrown my father out in the 1980s.
During my late childhood she was also having episodes out in the car where she’d strip off her stockings and underwear, throw them out the window, attempt to jump out of the moving car and when my father stopped to control her she’d escape and run up the street with her dress raised, naked from the waist down as though trying to randomly attract strangers to stop. I believe this is the part that read sex novels like Savage Sex and Him, Her and Us by Anonymous.
I believe this is the ‘shock-jock’ that set out to intentionally graphically disgust me about childbirth when I was around 9-13 years old and ‘where I had come from’ (sleazily repeatedly reminding me with ‘you slopped out of my creamy wet cunt’). I believe this is the part which also endangered my cousin to her pedophile father after she reported his sexual abuse to the police when she was around 12. I believe this is the part of her that dared my 7 year old cousin into oral sex with her and the one who later kept seeking a reaction out of me with provocative sexual commentary about several teenage boys when I was her house cleaner when I was 22 and also upon visiting her once when I was 24.
I believe this kind of behaviour could make sense as a result of a combination of:
a) a foundation of feeling inadequate, ordinary, awkward, unnoticed, unpopular and unloved as an ‘Aspie’ child who felt she was invisible in comparison with her (probably non Aspie) older sister.
b) sexualisation with an incestuous father and an enabler mother,
c) confusing his incest with her older sister with ‘being loved, popular, interesting, exciting and attractive’,
d) rebellion against her mother’s repression of her sexuality as she competed with her older sister for the incestuous father’s ‘attention’,
e) then later reinforced as rebellion against her womanising partner’s expectations that SHE be the ‘good wife’
f) and an introjection of her perception of her sister who had had an affair with my father… that she had essentially taken into herself her most tormented and sexualised characterisation of how this part of her perceived her older sister.
16) age 30-present – The publicly grieving/concerned mother and ‘white wash’.
When I was around 10 I was being suddenly dressed in clothing that was significantly too young for my age.
So at age 10, 11, 12 I was dressed like a child of 5-7. I believe this was the part that feared my father was ‘looking at me’ when I was 13-15 and insisted I keep myself covered up. When I left when I was 15 this was the one that was ‘heartbroken’, particularly that I’d left all ‘my dolls’ behind. This was the one that portrayed herself as ‘abandoned’ by a daughter who had chosen to go off to be a ‘slut and drug addict’. This was the one who phoned my UK bank and told them I was a missing person when I hadn’t lived with her for over 10 years. This was the one who tracked me down from a postage stamp, phoning every language school in Marburg in Germany until she found me. But the one who was then on the phone was not this one. It was the psychopath. A few months later when I lived in London, this is the one who sent letters with the envelope publicly smothered in “to my daughter’, ‘from her mother who loves her very much, I love Donna, signed Donna’s mother xxxxxxxxxx etc’
When Nobody Nowhere came out this is the one who continually sought to convince everyone I was even more seriously mentally ill than before and was now ‘convinced I was autistic’ (I was actually diagnosed at age 2). This part later contacted the newspapers ‘out of concern for my mental well being’. After this I stopped having any communication with her for four years.
I had heard she had changed dramatically and felt I could meet with her on a few visits to Australia. I found completely appeasing, even contrite, childlike and regressive. I felt sorry for her, felt she was isolated and could have been a different person had she had a daughter who liked her so I tried to at least be friendly to her. This lasted a while in phone conversations until in 2001, the psychopath part of her left a venomous and abusive message on my phone and I had no contact with her since.
In 2002 I returned to Australia and was to be the keynote speaker of a major international autism expo. On arriving, I was told she had called up the host to tell them to call her immediately if they hear from me as she’d seen my name on a list of the dead in the Bali Bombings. From around 2006 I began to hear from attendees of my private autism lectures that they’d been approached by my mother in the street and that she had introduced herself to them on the basis she saw their child was autistic. She also jumped into the taxi of a well known colleague in my field to do the same. I believe it was this part of her.
This part of her has become ‘the white wash’ which is entirely invested in the belief I am severely mentally ill and bear immense and baseless resentment toward her for which I should at best be patronisingly pitied.
I believe this part of her may be an introjection (where she has taken someone’s character into herself) of her own mother. I believe this may been compounded through not wanting to be a mother who could not bond with or care about a daughter who she sees as a threat, as a judgement upon her, as a source of entrapment, as competition. As a result I feel this part of her compensates by laying on thick the opposite. I believe this part of her was developed in reaction to fear others would see she was an empty Borderline and a psychopath and that her greatest commitment was to her addictions, perversions and taboos. I believe the role of this part of her is the ‘white wash’, the diversion, but also conveniently allows her to avoid ever working on the mess she is and the damage she has caused.
Of course, I will likely never actually know or be sure of my mother’s story nor if she was in fact a multiple
I can only piece her story together from her own accounts, from the family folklore, from my own experiences of her, and from analysis of the kinds of circumstances these things might have been arisen from, the kinds of situations in which they’d be more comprehensible.
Dissociative Identity Disorder today is barely recognisable from the charicature like media portrayals of what was once called ‘Multiple Personality Disorder’ (MPD) but is now known to be a dissociative disorder that happens in children predisposed to developing it under traumatic and challenging enough circumstances. Today DID is diagnosed in around 1-3% of people and higher rates in those with common co-morbid conditions such as mood, anxiety, compulsive disorders, addictions and some personality disorders. There are cases of those who develop DID as a result of a carers significant mental illness. This can include addiction, personality disorders, psychopathy, mood disorders, schizophrenia and psychosis… or where the parent themselves has any range of these things as part of their own DID.
This article and its content is like a series of ‘wreaths’. I lay these ‘wreaths’ in public view to honour my history and equal with acknowledgement that my mother will likely never have the integration to access the memories of the parts of her involved in this history. I lay these wreaths in public view to honor the carers before age 4 whose involvement likely kept me alive and the members of the community who helped and confessed to what they witnessed and condoned in their silence. I lay these wreaths to honor all still living in silence, still fragmented and compartmentalised… including my own biological mother.
Behind me is my mother, looking quite ‘normal’ (and her younger sister Brenda and my older brother Shane). The alter she is in the picture is the ‘normal mother’ she probably had been to my older brother in his first four years and this one probably actually has no memory access to the damage another part of her has done to me and will return home to further damage again and again.
I got free of the prison of silence. I have left the cage door open. One can choose to find it safer in the cage, or set oneself free. But the truth is not easy. It can be harrowing, retraumatising, and in its fullest depths it could easily throw some into a real jail with real bars. So the price of freedom is perhaps more than some can ever afford.
I acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Owners of this country throughout Australia, and their connection to land and community.