Grief and Dissociative Identity Disorder: Death and Loss
Grief and dissociative identity disorder can be complicated. People experience grief at various times throughout their lives, often when someone passes away. These losses can be difficult to manage, and when you have dissociative identity disorder (DID), that grief can be even more complicated. Recognizing the complexity of grief and working through it is important for those with DID in order to get through times of loss.
How Different Types of Loss and Grief Relate to Dissociative Identity Disorder
There are different types of losses that people experience. Physical loss is the most widely-recognized, which occurs when someone dies or a relationship is severed (through divorce or parental alienation). There is also symbolic loss, a type of loss that affects many trauma survivors and people with DID. This type of loss will be discussed in future posts.
Grief in DID can be short-term or long-term. Many times, grief is resolved within a certain amount of time. Other times, grief is chronic and can lead to further difficulties (When Grief Becomes a Mental Health Issue). This type of grief is prevalent in those with DID, and can complicate the healing journey.
The Complexities of Grief in Dissociative Identity Disorder
A person with DID has multiple parts, or alters. These parts have different characteristics and different beliefs, including religious and spiritual beliefs. They can also have different ways of grieving, which complicates the grieving process even more for those with DID.
Since alters have different experiences of people in the outside world, alters can experience different levels of grief when a person dies. One alter could have been very close and attached to the person that was lost, and grieving that person may be intense. Another alter could have experienced abuse at the hands of that person, and may not grieve that person's death at all. It is important that each alter's grief is recognized.
Alters also process grief and loss in ways age appropriate to them. Even though the main person is an adult, younger parts can grieve in ways a child would. They may not have an adult understanding of death and loss because they are, essentially, children. It's important to acknowledge these differences and work with alters in age-appropriate ways, as you would for any other person grieving a loss.
Death and Loss in DID Affects Each Person Differently
There is no right way for multiples to grieve a loss, just as there is no right way for a singleton to grieve, either. A person can feel okay one day and can be distraught the next (What is the Difference Between Depression and Grief?). Sometimes, a significant loss, such as the death of an abuser, can create chaos within the system and cause significant disability. No DID system is the same and loss affects each system differently.
My Experience Grieving Death and Loss with DID
I've been going through my own grieving process recently, with the loss of my father last month. He was involved in my past traumas, so I didn't feel any connection to him even while he was living. I did not feel any grief when he died, so I assumed all would be okay.
I was wrong. While I was okay, I had some parts in fear that we caused my father's death, a young part wanting to go be with him, and yet another part relieved that he was gone. My invisible grief turned to internal chaos, and I found myself overwhelmed trying to manage it all. I am working through it in therapy, and now that I recognize what's happening, it's been easier to cope and help my parts cope as well.
Grief is a process. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Matulewicz, C. (2016, August 4). Grief and Dissociative Identity Disorder: Death and Loss, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, October 4 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/dissociativeliving/2016/08/grief-and-dissociative-identity-disorder-death-and-loss
Author: Crystalie Matulewicz
I have a dear friend with Polyfragmented DID who has around 2000 alters or alter fragments. Her youngest alter is 2 months old, and they range in age all the way up to some her current age. A major part of her trauma included bearing children who were then killed after birth. Each time one of the birthdays comes around, she goes through hell,!and I hear the pain and sadness coming from alters that talk to me. We’ve been trying for at least three years to find a therapist for her, but no therapists in the area who work with people with DID are taking new clients. She has a therapist who doesn’t know about the alters, so my friend won’t talk to her about the grief. Although I have worked as a therapist, I have absolutely no experience with DID, and anyway, as her friend, I can’t be her therapist.
This article is helpful, but what I really need to know is how to best support her when she’s going through these times. Can anyone make suggestions?
I’m so grateful for this article. I have a dear friend who has polyfragmented did. She gave birth to several babies who were killed at birth. Every time she passes one of the birthdays, she goes through hell. She goes from denial to looking for the baby, etc. The really hard thing is, we can’t find a therapist who works with DID, who will take on new clients.
I found this article very helpful! My son (who is 37)has DID, and is having a lot of trouble coping right now. I think it is because his sister is in hospice, tho' he won't/can't recognize that. He lost a half brother when he was around 11-12, and a step brother committed suicide this past year. He has a lot of denial about his sister, to the point of thinking she is causing her illness in her mind. Thanks for posting this!
I am going to show this to my therapist who does not believe in multiples thank God for this article and yes I had a diagnosed PTSD with DID it took 13 years to even get a handle on this