In previous articles I have written about how borderline, which is a personality disorder, is confused with C-PTSD and DID. In this article, I would like to explore whether DID can co-occur with personality disorders. DID, or dissociative identity disorder (a dissociative disorder, not a personality disorder that is more about behaviour than dissociation) is a dissociative condition in which traumatic events, emotions, pain and traits are encapsulated in different identities, or parts. It occurs because of extreme trauma in childhood. You distance yourself from what you are experiencing by beginning to perceive that a child other than yourself is experiencing it. As more traumas occur the splitting multiplies. One suffers from memory loss along with the split. However, DID is not carved in stone, but changes over the course of a lifetime.

I would like to look at borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder and psychopathology to try to understand if these can co-exist with DID.

To return to DID and what DID is: well, DID is first and foremost trauma. The fact that you split up is primarily because you are experiencing an existence that you cannot survive. These divisions are more than blocked emotions and memories. But less than a whole personality. One part may be angry, another afraid. Some like to paint, another is bad at math. How a person functions in general and what they can cope with physically and mentally depends very much on how they feel emotionally. This is also the case for the DID parts. The split runs deep and also affects the body in a variety of ways. A very young part may not be able to read. Someone has allergies. Vision and hearing are affected. Someone's body hurts, another doesn't feel pain. We know a lot about psychosomatic illnesses today and how mind and body affect each other, so the fact that DID involves a fractured physique may not be so surprising after all.


DID is about emotions and experiences rather than character and personality. It's not like an Asian gentleman moves into the body and just speaks Mandarin. DID is not as dramatic (as seen in the movies.) However, living with DID can be quite difficult, especially when you are young and have not yet realised your condition. Then you often lose time, feel threatened and invaded, have a phobia of the other parts if you suspect they are there, which is because the need to forget them and what they were involved in was so acute when they were formed. For some time, you don't even know they exist. But with processing, one can learn to feel acceptance and empathy for the parts and memory gaps and distances diminish considerably. On the other hand, one can never fully control one's DID, one does not control the other parts and the shifting. (But can learn over time to recognize when it is happening and have an inner dialogue, so if not control then coexist.)


All people carry varying degrees of trauma, including people with borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. Their personality disorder is their way of surviving/managing life. Then we are born with different traits, strengths and vulnerabilities. How we all become who we are has to do with a variety of factors. But somewhere in the beginning of life, care has been lacking for people with personality disorders. Perhaps the baby becomes so distressed at not being reassured and seen that the psyche goes into a tailspin. The backlog doesn't go away, it takes over the whole personality. The baby hasn't got what it needs so it has to force itself into care. People get stuck in their survival strategies, which appear differently depending on the personality disorder. A primal defence of sorts for a creature as complex as a human being.


As I understand it, a person suffering from borderline becomes sort of defenseless, as if his core is without a shell. Relationships become hell because the person is terrified of being abandoned and can't handle their feelings. Anxiety, depression and suicide attempts occur. They either love or hate. They dissociate and can split, for example, one woman with borderline found 300 different identities on Facebook.

Both DID and borderline are rooted in trauma and this means there is confusion, dissociation, difficulty trusting, fear of abandonment. But DID is its own form of dissociation and needs to be dealt with in a certain way, namely that it involves multiple identities, each of which carries its own experiences. Therapy is like family therapy. Whereas a person with borderline needs to be kept together and helped to cope with their emotions and their everyday life. With borderline there is a vagueness, an emotional disorder. With DID there is a clear structure. Therefore, I would say that the conditions are too different to coexist. You can have parts without having DID and everyone who experiences severe trauma and betrayal is split to some degree. However, it is not DID unless it goes as deep as the split I describe above.


My mother has narcissistic personality disorder and my father is a psychopath, so I can't be completely objective or impartial, because they hurt me so badly. However, I have my experiences to draw on. In many ways they were similar and in other ways they were different. Mum is very scared inside and has difficulty making decisions, taking initiative. Dad is impulsive and strong-willed. Mum needs the strength of others, to control and exploit other people - much like a vampire - in order to cope with herself and life. She is emotionally manipulative. Dad is more dependent on power and poise. He is brutal and sadistic. Both can be charming. Both think they are much better than others. Both have different sides, or parts, masks or roles.
Both had a childish, open-minded part. Every time Mom woke up in the morning, it was there. She was calm, open, kind. Then it was like life caught up with her. I could feel the fear settling in her. And then the whole armor snapped into place, the malevolent look lit in her eyes, the sneer curving her lips. She spent the rest of the day in the iron grip of her personality disorder. That is to say, caressing and slapping anyone who was in her vicinity. She stole your money and cried with self-pity. She mocked one's body and said that one was the finest thing she knew. She gave one hateful looks and smiles in the same sweep. She called one crazy and pretended to try to kill herself. To neighbors and acquaintances she was a star, amazing, charming, cool. To children she was a monster, screaming and hitting. And if you stood up for yourself, you had to regret it, then came personal attacks and denial, emotional blackmail and all the tragedies of her life, until you felt like a perpetrator yourself.
Dad also had a childish untouched part of his personality and, like Mum, he shifted when he became insecure. He went from childishly mischievous to furious. He went from gentle to totally ruthless.
Båda mina föräldrar for illa som barn. Men de valde (man väljer ändå i hög grad sina handlingar och är ansvarig för dem) att överge sin mänsklighet i stället för att kämpa för den. De blev förövare, hade en medfödd empatibrist i pannloben – man kan nämligen se empatibrist i hjärnan via röntgen, så till stor del är den medfödd. I stället för den extra kärlek och vägledning de hade behövt för att klara av relationer övergavs de som små barn.
They both had something untouched and innocent left, a part of their souls/identities that was separate from the otherwise pronounced perpetrator behaviour. Everyone was an innocent child once. Perhaps that child needed to be separated from the rest of the identity in order for them to commit the inhumane acts they did, as a way of surviving life, as vampires, predators and parasites. Forgive the strong language, but I think it's important nonetheless to see perpetrator behaviour for what it is, nasty, but something we humans could learn over time to manage and prevent.

This is not DID. Not in any way. I have met others who have DID and none of them have had a good part or a bad part. None of them have had a part that can commit heinous crimes such as rape or murder, because they all share the same heart, the same empathic capacity. I would think that you need to have access to a large portion of empathy to be able to develop DID. One splits to preserve oneself, to be able to have jobs, relationships, creativity, soul, despite everything.


Everyone dissociates and these are the dissociative states we know about today:
Dissociative amnesia: you do not remember large parts of your life.
Dissociative depersonalisation: you feel unreal and alienated, emotionally disconnected.
Dissociative derealisation: people experience acquaintances and their surroundings as strange or alien, sometimes with visual and auditory hallucinations.
Dissociative fuge: you wander off and wake up somewhere not knowing how you got there, confused.
Dissociation as physical symptoms: convulsions, muscle twitching, mutism or slurred speech, numbness, aching, pain, blindness, loss of consciousness.
DID: två eller flera identiteter som okontrollerbart tar över, ofta tillsammans med ett eller flera ovannämnda dissociativa tillstånd.


Even perpetrators such as narcissists and psychopaths dissociate. They deny that they are committing disgusting acts and see themselves only as excellent or as victims. They will always deny their crimes and also dissociate from them. They cannot be in touch with their inner monsters while having to present a facade to their colleagues. Their innocent part does not understand the malice the rest of the identity possesses. But they are in control in a way that people with DID are not. They can also use their innocent child parts in manipulative games. As if they are also their own younger selves perpetrator.


For those who want to, watch the Netflix series about Billie Milligan, who was arrested for rape in the 1970s and exhibited a collection of personalities. This was when the book "Sybil" had been published and DID, then called multiple personality disorder, was on the news and a sensational diagnosis. It is an interesting series from many aspects. Partly how mental health care works. Partly how DID and psychopathy may or may not co-exist. I don't believe that a psychopath can have DID, but a psychopath can be split. It seems that Billie Milligan dissociated and split, but it is also clear that he was very controlling and manipulated constantly. DID is not a manipulative disorder, rather a powerlessness. We can have a very angry part, but for that matter not a perpetrator, big difference there. With psychopaths and other personality disorders, the split seems to be about "good me" and "bad me", or the child and the perpetrator. So I think Billie Milligan had a personality disorder with complex childhood traumas and not DID.

Childhood trauma shatters identity, how deeply and in what way varies. You can have parts without having DID. One can dissociate and lose memory without having DID. One does not develop DID in order to become a perpetrator. One develops DID out of love and care for oneself and those one loves, in order to be loyal to a psychopath father and narcissist mother who tears one apart but whom one still loves above all else. Such love does not exist in children born with empathy deficits, they cannot empathize with others but only focus on their own needs.


Then there is also a question of ego. Some would think more about ego, more scientifically and evolutionarily. That people need to protect the ego, rather than the soul which is a more vague and spiritual concept. Thinking like that, dissociation and DID could happen to anyone if the need is there. Personally, I think of the ego only up to a point. That we as animals and pack animals develop a lot of strategies to survive, that is true. But for me, it's not a fully sufficient explanation. Evolutionary theory cannot explain building temples before dwelling houses or dying out of love for another person or idea. So for me, living with such deep cracks as DID is (steadily healing though), it becomes clear that empathy/love affects both the DID and the healing. It would have been less painful and more effective to just shut down and disregard people. But my heart forbade me. That meant enormous pain for my heart, but also an opportunity to love, both others and even myself more and more.

So my personal conclusion is: You can be split in different ways but not essentially seperated, one behavior is not compatible with the other.