There’s a Twilight Zone episode from the early 60’s which sums up the surrealistic nature of my initial diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder:
A man returns home from work one evening, walks up to his front door, discovers his key won’t work in the lock. Puzzled, he pounds on the door, and a complete stranger answers his knock. With growing apprehension, he demands to know what he’s doing in his house, and where’s his wife and kids. The stranger is joined by his own wife, and they both look at him with a mixture of pity and incomprehension.
The man insists that this is his home, only to be told again and again that they’ve owned this house for years, and have never heard of either him or his family. Dumbfounded, the man staggers down the road to the nearest diner, a familiar hangout. When he bursts through the door, the man behind the counter and the few customers seated at tables are friendly enough, but puzzled by his near manic claim of acquaintanceship.
“I come here all the time, you all know me,” he insists. They exchange looks of where did this kook come from? and seeing this, he runs around the diner in a frenzy, touching different items, as if to claim their familiarity.
“You know me!” he cries, and everyone sort of cringes. Now, I’m not recounting any of this verbatim, as I haven’t seen the old Twilight Zone episodes in a really long while. But the gist of the story is the absolute nightmare of suddenly discovering that everything you once thought to be your reality has vanished without warning, and you no longer know who you are. If I remember correctly, the owner of the diner ends up calling the authorities who promptly remove the troublemaker from their midst. By the time they practically carry him out to the squad car, he’s pretty much gone round the bend mentally, and you can’t help but feel for him.
This episode must have left quite a mark on me, to be remembering it so many decades later. Even as a child watching it for the first time, I couldn’t help but identify with the main character, though I had no knowledge then of my multiplicity. This episode cut me to the quick for, in a sense, I was that man.
During my 7th year my parents divorced and, overnight, I found myself living in a world every bit as mystifying as this Twilight Zone episode. Where once I had known myself to be the beloved daughter of an artist, suddenly I was thrust into a makeshift family of total strangers. My mother was the only original family member left to me, but she seemed to have become a stranger as well, a traitor of sorts who sided with the new facist regime.
That bizarre feeling of everything being out of whack, of nothing familiar left to me so that I might somehow manage to get my bearings, haunted me day and night and lent a Twilight Zone-ish atmosphere to my little girl world. Somehow, it seemed to me then, I had done something incredibly wrong, and nothing would ever go right for me from now until Doomsday until I manged to figure out what that was, and how it could be fixed.
Decades later, I was reminded of that old Twilight Zone episode when I received my Dissociative Identity Disorder diagnosis. My world turned upside down (again), and I felt that I could no longer trust my senses, my instincts, my perceptions of reality. Who I had once thought myself to be didn’t really exist, and the ones who lived inside and had made my survival in a world gone mad possible were strangers, interlopers, claim jumpers. What right did they have staking a claim on my territory? Who were they to take over without my knowledge or consent, or if I had consented, when and how?
Wasn’t it enough that I’d made it through the torments of my childhood, even if I’d done so by the skin of my teeth? Why now, so late in life, this need to sift through my entire history in an attempt to find all the puzzle pieces to me? What an incredibly heavy burden to take up in my 5th decade, what nonsense to have lived so long acting out the role I thought was expected of me, only to discover I’d memorized not only the wrong role, but the wrong script as well! I’d memorized a play whose lines I would never need to know. Perhaps, in a sense, I was but a mere understudy in my own life, coming to my own rescue to furnish the proper lines when my mind went blank. But there didn’t seem to be any proper lines, for multiplicity, by its very nature, is ad-lib all the way, baby.
I’m still struggling with the dichotomy of who I thought I was (the person I started out as in life), and who I really am–who we are, for if there is a me left, in any sense of the word, there is most assuredly a we.