AnnaLynne McCord Announces Dissociative Identity Disorder Diagnosis: What It Is & What Causes It

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Annalynne McCord on the red carpet

AnnaLynne McCord has gone public with her dissociative identity disorder (DID) diagnosis, hoping that her celebrity status can shed some light on the disorder and help to fight the stigma of shame associated with mental illness. 

The actress has worked on a variety of films and TV shows, but viewers may know her best from shows like “90210,” “Nip/Tuck,” and “Dallas.” 

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McCord recently explained that she was once aware of having a co-consciousness, or split personality, at the age of 13. “Little Anna,” was a persona born out of personal tragedy, as McCord would come to release later in life that she’d been sexually abused as a child for several years.

“I spent a lot of time as the split I was when I was 13 and on,” McCord said. “And she was a balls to the wall, middle fingers to the sky, anarchist from hell, who will stab you with the spiked ring she wears, and you will like it and she’ll make you lick the blood from it. She was a nasty little creature but I have so much gratitude for her because she got me out of the hell I was in.” 

In a recent YouTube conversation with Dr. Daniel Amen, McCord says she’s speaking out now because she is “absolutely uninterested in shame.” 

What is dissociative identity disorder?

DID is characterized by repeated episodes of involuntary escape from reality. This can involve losing one’s identity and transitioning into another personality altogether, which is likely what most people think of when they hear about the condition. 

Once upon a time, it was referred to as Multiple Personality Disorder. But now, awareness and research have found that, like most disorders, there’s a wide range of effects and challenges faced by those afflicted with DID. 

“It’s on a continuum,” says Dr. Sandra Cohen, a psychotherapist operating in Beverly Hills, California

“I think that everybody does a certain amount of splitting on issues that are troubling,” she says. “In a severe case people lose time. It can take over for months or years and the traumatized person loses all that time. They can end up in a different city or state and have no idea how they got there.” 

The concept of “splitting” occurs when an individual faces something challenging enough to cause them to hide within their own unconscious mind. It’s generally done in response to an extreme traumatic event, such as abuse or wartime combat. 

In AnnaLynn McCord’s case, repeated sexual abuse that she experienced as a child forced her out of her own reality and into that of another. 

“Think about AnnaLynn’s alter as a survival mechanism,” says Cohen. A protective mechanism to protect the vulnerable child self. Here’s a little child who’s so vulnerable and the person who’s supposed to protect them is nowhere to be found. ‘You are not going to touch me, you are not going to hurt me, if anything I will hurt you.’” 

While DID can manifest in some fairly intense symptoms, dissociative disorders in general can have much milder effects. Not all dissociation manifests in “splits,” or “alters,” as they’re sometimes called. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 75% of people may experience symptoms of dissociation at some point. 

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Relationship Crisis Consultant Dr. Rhoberta Shaler says that episodes of dissociation can be as simple as losing connection. 

“It’s got several different pieces,” she says. “People can have just a depersonalization where they feel detached from their feelings and thoughts. You just don’t feel connected. You feel like you’re watching a movie of a life but you don’t feel connected to it as being yours.

This happens because inner you is looking to somehow escape from the current reality. In cases of depersonalization, which is a kind of dissociative disorder, feelings of derealization can make a person feel as if people and environments they’re experiencing aren’t actually real. 

Derealization can be extremely uncomfortable, but sufferers are generally aware of what’s happening and understand that what they’re feeling isn’t true. 

Whereas, in heightened cases of DID, people may lose themselves completely, along with any memory of what they did while splitting into a separate personality. In extreme cases, they may have several personalities that take over through involuntary means, though this is rare. 

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In fact, only 2% of people who experience derealization actually go on to suffer from repeated, acute episodes. Dissociative disorders are very rare, much more so than other more familiar conditions like anxiety and depression. In general, one in five Americans struggles with some type of mental health condition. 

The rarity of the condition is also why it’s so important to increase awareness. AnnaLynn McCord’s decision to go public with her diagnosis will likely make great strides in that direction. Not only will it help the average person become educated about dissociative disorders, it’ll also hopefully work toward increasing the effectiveness of care. 

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What can you do if your partner or loved one experiences dissociative episodes? 

It’s not an easy thing for a caregiver or partner to continually support someone with dissociative episodes. And it can be scary to witness them for the first time. 

“Be patient, and wait for the person to come back to their usual self,” says Shaler. “You can’t say ‘snap out of it.’ Just keep a safe environment so that they’ll feel relaxed and safe.” 

Urging someone to seek treatment from professionals is the best route, since there isn’t much for the average person to do. Helping your loved one to find a therapist is probably the biggest contribution you can make. From there, therapy will be an appropriate outlet to work through foundational traumas at the root cause of the dissociation. If medicine is required, then a psychiatrist can prescribe it. 

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“Be human,” says Cohen. “Be aware. Be empathic. As you would (at least it’s important to) with depression or bipolar or anxiety, know that these are based on feeling states and are there for a reason and need to empathically be understood – which most likely they weren’t as a child.”

Kevin Lankes, MFA, is an editor and author. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Here Comes Everyone, Pigeon Pages, Owl Hollow Press, The Huffington Post, The Riverdale Press, and more.