Original illustration by Evelyn Patronus.

The other week, I did a translation and I was asked by my tutor why the character was using verbs in the first person plural. It took me a minute to realise that the character was speaking in the ‘majestic plural’: when a character of high status uses the plural to refer to themselves as a single person. Why did it take me so long to realise? I speak in the first person plural all the time. I did it for years at school, without knowing why, and was called pompous by fellow literature students, and then we got diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

Having DID is far from ‘majestic’; it is a debilitating trauma condition, a form of CPTSD that is caused by childhood trauma. In this condition, a child’s brain and psyche that is  undergoing severe and ongoing trauma does not fully fuse together, rather dissociating to such an extent that it creates amnesiac barriers and distinctive identity states (known as alters). 

It is estimated to affect about 1-3% of the population, which means that we certainly are not the only system in Oxford’s student population of approximately 26,497. Yet, I can admit that I have met no more than two other systems during my time at Oxford; though I am fortunate to have got to know many online and in other walks of life.

Nevertheless, being a student with DID presents a unique situation which many others struggle to understand. Our system changed hosts about a year ago, and I am certainly a very different person to our old host. They got us into Oxford and picked our specific degree; they were passionate about academics, and good at it no less! I, on the other hand, am a different person. I started my ‘journey’ in this system as a ‘persecutor’ (an alter who struggled a lot and coped with that in rather self-destructive ways), and then transitioned into being a primary protector for the system. My role was to get us well, protect us from people who caused or perpetuated our trauma, and to support the system in healing from the unthinkable. Suddenly, I am asked to learn two new languages and do two essays a week, on top of keeping a system of over fifty traumatised people safe from themselves and others and, most essentially, not let on that we have this condition! 

We are unusual in speaking out about our DID, which is largely a covert condition (meaning both that those with it are largely unaware of their alters, and that often the condition is indiscernible to others) and have long avoided doing so due to the stigma involved with such a condition. I cannot bear to count how many times we have had such conversations as these:

‘So which one of you is the ‘evil one’?’ Me, if you don’t stop talking!

‘Have you seen Split?’ No, because I know enough to recognise it perpetuates harmful stereotypes.

‘We all have different personalities at times!’ DID is far more complex than its old reductive and inaccurate name: ‘Multiple Personality Disorder.’

‘Pretending to have DID is just an unhealthy TikTok trend.’ Very few people truly ‘pretend’ to have DID, and TikTok is actually a great source of information to hear from systems about their daily life. 

The worst part? These are usually phrases spoken by medical professionals, whom I am tasked to educate about DID. I do not despise educating about this condition by any means, after all, someone has to! I do, however, find it wildly inappropriate that there is so little awareness in the medical and psychological fields that it falls to me, hospitalised in a crisis, to educate those looking after me about my condition. The alternative would be to let their understanding, from supposedly extensive training, harm me further. I will always choose education, I just wish I didn’t have to. 

This, I hope, can start to explain why their is such silence on the subject in Oxford: if the medical professionals have no awareness of how to manage this condition, why should we expect say a professor of Ancient Chinese Archaeology, say, to know what the condition is and how it may affect a student of theirs? Worse, perhaps, is the automatic dismissal of those who admit to having it as simply ‘too complex’ and ultimately even ‘burdensome’ for university staff. My SSP states my diagnosis, but I doubt my professors even have a clue what it means; and if they google it, they perhaps will be faced with the avalanche of cruel beliefs about ‘people like me.’ 

Yet, DID is an intrinsic part of my day-to-day life in Oxford: We have to balance therapy commitments with academic ones. We need to allow for time where we do not have to mask, time where our child alters (littles) can enjoy pastimes appropriate for them as children, while still having to be a ‘functioning adult’. We have to manage pervasive amnesia and the anxiety of not recognising a tutor, a flatmate, or even a close friend. We must find the strength to plan for the future, whilst being constantly reminded of the pain of the past. We need to journal and write poetry to express ourselves, yet still need to maintain an academic writing practice. We hope anxiously that a little doesn’t front during a tutorial and blow our perfectly crafted cover of being a healed and whole human, rather than fifty mental illnesses in a trench coat. I cannot reject these choices, I cannot simply be an Oxford student because I am so much more. 

I suppose then if there is anything to gain from this article it is the knowledge and reminder that people are not their exterior presentation. I look like a female-presenting enby student in their early twenties, who is a tad wobbly on their feet, has funky hair, and loves to talk about the niche parts of their degree. In reality, the description of being fifty mental illnesses in a trench coat is closer to the truth: I am adult and child; tearful and strong; academic and informal. I am not one person, and that is not my goal. I despise the origins of this condition, but I am thankful for the way in which my brain found an innovative way to keep me safe. I despise the stigma of this condition and, quite frankly, the hate speech and trolling I seem to endure whenever I speak out, but I am thankful that we have discovered our voice and will continue to educate, celebrate, and commiserate this multifaceted condition. 

So, no, I’m neither serial killer nor pompous king: I am simply a student living with DID. 


DID: Dissociative Identity Disorder, previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder. A condition where a child’s brain, due to extreme and ongoing trauma throughout childhood, does not form the same way as most people, leaving a person with distinct identity parts and a level of amnesia between them.

System: the term people with DID typically use to describe themselves as a collection of alters.

Alter: a distinct identity part within the system. Others may call these parts, identity state, headmates, or simply people. Some still use the term personalities, though this is less common and can cause controversy. Alters can be different ages, genders, look different internally, use different names, and have different interests and personalities.

Host: the alter in the system who fronts most often. For some, this is the alter who identifies most with the body; some systems do not have a single host or any at all. 

Little: a child alter. 

Resources on DID 

FPP charity (legacy site) https://www.firstpersonplural.org.uk/dissociation/complex-dissociative-disorders/ 

Mind https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/dissociation-and-dissociative-disorders/dissociative-disorders/ 

Instagram @dissociation.info