Image by Maggie Bao

Note: Please note that throughout this article, I switch between personal pronouns. This is on purpose, which will hopefully be explained by the topic of the article. Typically, ‘I’ describes a specific alter, whereas ‘we’ is used for our collective system in this shared body. A glossary of  terms used is at the end of this article. 

Before starting this column, we wrote an article ‘Simply a Student with DID’. Within this, we wrote to explore the stigma of living with Dissociative Identity Disorder and the prejudice which we as a system face daily. The message was this: I’m neither a serial killer nor a pompous king, I am simply a student living with DID

Our very existence is controversial: our psychiatrist doesn’t even acknowledge the condition exists. And yet, each day, we still get up and live our life. How? Well, that is what I am writing to explain, and hopefully along the way destigmatise this condition. And so, this is a day in the life of a student with DID. 

8:30 am: Alarm blares! We sigh and gradually drag ourselves out of bed and summon our medical caretaker (an alter who supports the system with all our medical needs) to take the first round of medication for the day. We wonder if the medication does anything – she makes us take it anyway.

9 am: Therapy time. A twice-weekly affair which varies between littles playing with teddies, just swearing for 50 minutes, or actually processing some trauma. Today is a swearing day. ‘How are you?’ my therapist asks kindly. ‘Fucking shit!’ I respond. The session continues on for the allotted hour in a similar vein. 

10:30 am: Finally, I reach the time when I am forced to assume the costume of a ‘Functional Human’ rather than ‘50 people in a trench coat’ (my favourite description of our experience as a DID system). I get dressed, eventually! Thankfully our therapist has known us long enough that our slightly deathly appearance in kitty cat pyjamas doesn’t seem to phase her! 

11 am: Attempting to do work, whilst heavily dissociated. Yet again, I don’t know who I am. It’s a strange existence, residing in a body that is not your own and living a life you had no part in planning. Existing only because many terrible traumas happened to a child, and no matter how much older I get, we are still that terrified child. Working amongst the existential dread feels too much… I pause. 

12 pm: Another meeting, this time with the local sexual assault charity, OSARCC. We are grateful for their support, their understanding, and their kindness. Yet, meetings like this always drain me: the purpose of the support we get from such a charity is to help us live life in the wake of sexual violence. I keep pondering how I am to live life after the trauma we have gone through: it feels pervasive and inescapable. 

1:15 pm: Time to finally eat some food. A high trauma response level means that our appetite is low, and taking care of a body that feels foreign is incredibly challenging. 

2:30 pm: Time to put the mask back on and head to class. We take off our (rather large!) badge that declares ‘We Have DID’ and wipe off the name and pronouns of the person fronting.  For this hour we are back to being ‘Legal-Firstname Legal-Surname’: an entirely functional, non-traumatised, non-disabled, Oxford student. We answer questions in a voice we don’t recognise, and respond to a name we have not laid claim to in years. 

4 pm: Second attempt at doing work. This time, we managed to trigger a switch and our academic protector, also known by our system as a ‘future-proofer’, started fronting. She voraciously sets about reading the set texts for this week’s essay. As system host, I am most certainly grateful for her help… I was never the ‘clever one’ in the system, but that doesn’t matter because we can share the workload. How do singlets do it? You can’t just ask someone else to do a tedious task! Regardless, an essay plan has been formulated at last. 

6 pm: One of our favourite parts of today was speaking to another system! One of the difficulties of living with DID is the fact it is an incomprehensible experience to most of society, and no matter how hard our singlet friends try to understand (and, indeed, they are certainly compassionate), it is something they cannot comprehend. That is a statement without judgement, and in many ways, I am grateful they do not understand. To understand what it is like to live with DID would mean undergoing extreme abuse from childhood, and I would wish that on no one, not even our abusers. However, those friendships we have with other systems are invaluable. Today’s ‘catch-up agenda’ covers our respective ‘therapy wins’, us swearing about our idiotic psychiatrist, the littles discussing their newest toys (some of which we allowed them to buy, others which just appeared in the post!), and a conversation about different alters having different handwriting. Unmasking entirely for even an hour has been invaluable. I feel heard and understood. I feel it is a friendship that is safe. 

7:30 pm: The nightly squabble of deciding what to eat for dinner and what to watch on TV. Sometimes I feel we need a system voting system because we cannot agree on the simplest decisions like what colour to paint our nails, or even what t-shirt to wear. Eventually, the littles win and it’s another night of beige cuisine: chicken nuggets and chips. We put on Malory Towers, a childhood comfort that the littles are especially enjoying at the moment. 

8:45 pm: A few episodes later, it’s time to reflect on the day. We’ve made journalling a core part of our day, and have actually succeeded this year so far on doing our bullet journal regularly! Tonight we do our usual daily notes, fill in the therapy reflection, and do a gratitude list (or as we call it, a ‘glappy’ list after a much-loved senior school teacher once tried to tell us to write down things we were glad and happy about but accidentally combined the words). I’m slightly saddened tonight flipping through journal pages as I can see some drawings that our trauma holders have drawn, drawings of horrible things that happened to us. I take a picture and message it to our therapist: ‘Can we talk about this next session? I’m worried about what the others remember.’ Her gentle reply only a few minutes later: ‘Of course. Be safe.’

10:30 pm: Sadly, we are not feeling safe. Rather than phone the useless and, dare I say, harmful NHS mental health line, we pick up the phone to Samaritans. The familiar greeting of ‘Samaritans, can I help?’ reminds me that for however long is needed, there is someone there listening without judgement. I cry. I don’t want to cry. But it is better than my current alternatives. I am thankful that despite our amnesia, their number is always memorised, as well as secretly saved in our phone contact book as ‘Sam’. I am still amazed how someone not trained as a mental health professional is the most helpful in a crisis: I’ve not yet been told by them to just have a cup of tea or take a bath. 

11:15 pm: Eventually, brain catches up with body and we are unable to fight sleep. As most students begin a night out full of drinking and dancing, we instead force down our second daily round of medication: an antipsychotic, a few antidepressants, our crucial PTSD medication, our physical health medication, and tonight (just to be safe) our emergency medication. This is the only ‘cocktail’ we have! 

I drift off into dissociation, the lesser known cousin of sleep. Surrounded by an army of stuffed toys, our mind calmed by medication and the audio-book on repeat, we try to rest. For tomorrow, the challenge of existence begins again. 


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.

Singlet: the affectionate term people with DID typically use to describe people without DID.

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.

Fronting: a term used for when a specific alter is out and doing things as themselves.

Switch: when the alter fronting changes. 

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. 

Protector: an alter who protects the body, other alters, or other people. We have many types of protectors, for example a medical caretaker who ensures our medical needs are looked after, and an academic protector who ensures we do our work sufficiently!

Trauma holder: an alter who holds specific trauma memories. 

Little: a child alter. 

Resources on DID: 

FPP charity (legacy site) 

Mind (Instagram)