Polly's pages (aka 'Donna Williams')

Ever the arty Autie

Autism, identity and dissociation


As the author of 10 published books, an international public speaker and professional autism consultant I’m best known in the autism world. But I have a wide following in the D.I.D (Dissociative Identity Disorder) and MPD populations too.

It used to be believed that Autism was one thing.  But professionals today have acknowledged that autistic withdrawal, autistic encapsulation, autistic development can be underpinned or exacerbated by a wide variety of things – mood, anxiety, compulsive disorders, gut, immune, metabolic disorders, sensory hypersensitivities, sensory perceptual disorders, neurological integration disorders, motor planning disorders, speech and communication disorders.

As an autism consultant I experienced verbal and non-verbal people with autism express issues with gender identity, involuntary avoidance, diversion and retaliation responses, attachment disorders associated with severe sensory perceptual disorders and other selves.

Those with autism are more likely to experience bullying, to be treated as a condition not a child, to have parents divided in their perspective on the child and its autism, to be in classrooms where it is over managed or disliked, to be in frequent respite care, to experience siblings struggling with their autism, to experience family break up and the loss of a carer, and the number of autistic children in children’s homes indicates that many autistic children have also experienced significant neglect, abuse and trauma before going into care and some whilst in care.

DID doesn’t just occur in those who have lived with severe trauma, neglect, abuse or loss. It has been found in those who have never experienced these things and in those who had a dissociated parent, indicating there’s a heritable aspect to dissociation. Whilst dissociation is also a common part of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), this is commonly mistaken for true DID although those with BPD may be more susceptible to it.

I was assessed as psychotic at the age of 2 in 1965, the same year I dissociated into the first of my other selves – a male self called Willie. The second self developed at age 4 – Carol.

I have diagnoses of language processing disorder, visual perceptual disorder, autism and gut, immune, metabolic disorders. I have been treated for mood, anxiety and compulsive disorders, including PTSD. It was, however, not until this year, 2010 that I was formally diagnosed with D.I.D.

I live with:

  • Little Donna, who is the original self.  She is tactile, sensory, sensual, gentle and warm.
  • Willie, who was fully formed by age 2.  He is the warrior, the protector, proud of detachability, resilient, reliable, autonomous, just, serious, logical, methodical, conscientious and a loner.
  • Carol, who was fully formed by age 4.  She is a generally cheery, theatrical, idiosyncratic, sensitive, emotional, idealistic, romantic, blind optimist and the home of hope.
  • Da Boy, who began around age 4 was fully formed by late childhood.  He is hedonistic, adventurous, rude, surreal, comical, highly physical and a fighter.
  • Aunty Donna, who was fully formed by late childhood.  She is quiet, gentle, warm, self sacrificing and takes responsibility for everything.  Aunty Donna and Da Boy who were fully formed by late childhood.
  • Nobody (Anne, from my middle name LeAnne), who existed around age 4 in parks, gardens, connects to trees, wind, water but disappeared and re-emerged around age 9-11, then at 13, then from 16-18, then, then 26-27, then 36-37, otherwise intermittently since.  She is very quiet, warm, highly sensing, empathic, secretive, private, aloof, ethereal.   Unlike Aunty Donna, Nobody (Anne) feels no guilt or responsibility, just empathy.  She believes in belonging with, in simply being, and is the main painter and sculptor.

These 6 Donnas are each a complete identity in their own right.  There are  others who have particular functions:

  • Dodds who started at 13 and is the foundation of my interest in journalism.
  • Marnie who was the wild child and street kid and was present on and off from age 13-17.
  • Dondola who was the Italian self who gained acceptance and food from Italian families otherwise unaccepting of the equality of Anglo Australian girls.
  • Shirley/Audrey who was a practical farming woman with the style of Ma Kettle and developed from being sent to the country for respite.

I’d like to hear your stories.

  • To those who are functionally non-verbal and use typing, when you type do you have one self wanting to communicate and the other screaming to avoid it? If so, do you experience this as two selves? If so how do you distinguish the two?
  • To any autistic adults who had been significantly more autistic but learned to function socially and interactively, to become parents or hold jobs, do you experience a division between the more internal autistic self and the one who has come to function in the external world or are they integrated? If you experience duality or multiplicity, how do you distinguish each?
  • To those with the involuntary avoidance, diversion, retaliation responses of Exposure Anxiety, did you rely on dissociation to escape the otherwise crippling degree of your Exposure Anxiety?
  • To those with BPD who have other selves.  Are these roles or fully developed selves with their own sets of memories, feelings, perspectives and mannerisms?
  • To those with DID.  How do you feel about integration of the selves?  What do you see as the resolution to your DID?

You can find more info at my website http://www.donnawilliams.netincluding my consultation page for DID where I offer online Peer Support.