Magical Thinking and the “Not Me” Phenomenon

There are some major differences in the way people experience dissociative identity, such as the number of alters present and how often they switch. However, there are two phenomena that nearly all people living with DID experience magic thinking and the “not me” phenomenon.

Today we’ll explore together these extraordinary experiences and how they impact the lives of survivors.

The Common symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder

To compare each other’s overall symptomology is as worthless as comparing apples to oranges. However, there are a countless number of different symptoms that occur with dissociative identity disorder that those living with it have in common.

For a list of those symptoms, there is only one place to go to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders edition 5 (DSM-5). According to the DSM-5, the following criteria must be met for an individual to receive the diagnosis of DID.

  • The individual experiences two or more distinct identities or personality states (each with its own enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self). Some cultures describe this as an experience of possession.
  • The disruption in identity involves a change in sense of self, sense of agency, and changes in behavior, consciousness, memory, perception, cognition, and motor function.
  • Frequent gaps are found in the individual’s memories of personal history, including people, places, and events, for both the distant and recent past. These recurrent gaps are not consistent with ordinary forgetting.
  • The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

The above are the most common symptoms, as observed in the DSM-5. However, there are two symptoms they do not list, magical thinking or the feeling that things happening to us or by us aren’t our responsibility.

Magic Thinking

All children go through a stage when growing up where we believe in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. We treated our dolls or other toys as though they were alive and gave them names. This stage is called magical thinking.

Most children grow out of this stage and enter a later stage where they know their toys aren’t real and lose their belief in the Easter bunny. Interestingly, it is during the magical thinking stage that we formed our first alters to handle the unmanageable dangers we faced as children.

Being small and helpless, we pushed aside what was happening in bed at night to face the next morning. These pushed aside memories became parts of ourselves who held our traumatic memories and kept us sane.  

Traumatized children grow up to be adults who are still pushing away fearful events and do not take responsibility for their thoughts or actions. Forever trapped in magical thinking, these adults who have formed dissociative identity disorder still believe things are not happening to them or being carried out by them but by someone else.    

The “Not Me” Phenomenon

The “not me” phenomenon is a common trait among most people who have the diagnosis of DID. This fact is especially true among those who are newly diagnosed and just entering treatment. ‘Not me” thinking involves doing or saying something and then claiming an alter did it.

This statement isn’t saying that alters do not or cannot take over and do things or say things, but ultimately the reality is there is only one of you. So, you are entirely responsible for anything said or done no matter who is in charge.

An example from my own life is when I tried to die by suicide in 1995. After I left the hospital, I continually blamed one of my altars for the attempt on my life. However, my therapist gently reminded me there was no one else in the room when the pills were washed down my throat. Even knowing that it was me, the only me there is, who tried to die by suicide was sad to me and set the stage for my future healing.

Defeating Magical Thinking and the “Not Me” Phenomenon

Healing from dissociative identity disorder often takes many years of learning to handle emotion without dissociating, and this is a vitally important step. However, until we can look in the mirror at ourselves and claim those emotions as our own, we will be forever caught up in magical thinking.

Claiming your own actions and emotions sounds frightening, and believe me, it is difficult at best and horrendous at worst.

In my own life, I have learned that no matter what, I am responsible for my words and actions. If I were to steal something from a store while dissociated into a child alter, I, the only me there truly is, will pay the price. I’d go to court and sit there humiliated because of my actions.

Had I been successful in 1995, no matter how dissociated I had become, all of me would now be dead.

It is magical thinking to believe that one can get off the hook in some way by claiming someone else did our deeds. I know this is hard to accept because I’ve gone through the stage where I felt helpless, but I never truly was. I had the power to take control of my life and move past magical thinking.

Getting Control Over the Alters

One of the most vital stages in my recovery was when I took responsibility for my actions and words. It was then armed with this knowledge and began to get control over my life and my actions.

I’m not saying doing that was easy, no, no, it definitely was not.

It took me many years of trying to figure this stuff out, and that is why I share my experiences here on this blog. I want to, hopefully, aid you in moving forward in your healing faster than I did.

Getting control over the actions of the alters took a lot of discussions in my inner safe place among myself and the others. I reminded them over and over again that anything they did, I would pay for, and if I died, so did they.

Finally, after working hard for decades, I began to pull ahead and now live a relatively quiet life. I am asymptomatic, for the most part losing time rarely, and when I do, nothing untoward happens.

You, too, can reach fusion. It is NOT the death of the alters; it is the incorporating of all their talents, thoughts, and intelligence into you. They will forever be with you, but they do not need to control or destroy your life.

It is your life, reach out, grasp it by the tail, and make your dreams come to life!

“The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That’s the day we truly grow up.” ~ John C. Maxwell

“No-one will come in to rescue you. You just have to step out somehow, and make your dreams come true.” ~ Moffat Machingura



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