A woman living with 12 personalities keeps a dozen journals to cope with the thoughts and feelings of each fragmented piece of her identity.
Lauren Stott, 23, has dissociative identity disorder (DID), a condition in which a person’s psyche has been shattered into two or more distinct personality states.
The disorder is typically triggered by trauma and has been referred to as an extreme form of PTSD.
In Lauren’s case, doctors believe she suffered an unidentified trauma between first and second grade, which resulted in her personality fragmenting as a survival mechanism.
She was diagnosed with the condition in August 2017, a year after seeking psychiatric treatment following a suicide attempt in August 2016.
Since then, Lauren, of Acworth, Georgia, has attended therapy almost every day, where she is encouraged to picture her personalities in a 12-desk classroom.
She says the characters are always chattering, include ‘Sylvie’, a tantrum-throwing seven-year-old who Lauren’s fiancé Alex Wells, 21, struggles to cope with.
There is also ‘Intellectual’, a fragment of her personality that is a devout Mormon and ‘Hope’, a personality that holds many of her painful teenage memories and feelings.
Lauren, who refers to them collectively as her ‘system’, says it is too difficult to speak in detail about some of the others, including one which she describes as “animalistic”.
The former Kennesaw University student keeps journals to help her piece the personalities together and in the hope of releasing painful memories from the past.
Recently, she and her therapist had a breakthrough when her teenage personality ‘Hope’ shared repressed memories of a time Lauren was sexually assaulted aged 17.
Lauren, who volunteers at an animal shelter, said: “The memories and personalities – they are all parts of me, but my personality is fragmented into twelve different psyches.
“In therapy I’ve conditioned myself to think of everyone as if there are twelve desks in a classroom, four in a row, with a leader at the top.
“There are twelve people in that room and each hold their own memories and feelings.
“I keep twelve different journals for each of them.
“One of them is a little girl, she is about seven. I call her Sylvie.
“My therapist and I have worked with her a lot, she has a lot of anxiety, she has a lot of my memories from when I was younger.
“She has a lot of temper tantrums. She’s quite fearful and she always wants to be listened to.
“Another one of my personalities I call Intellectual.
“For a brief time I was Mormon and I was even baptized. It’s a time I can hardly even remember now but at that point she was the leader.
“Hope is the one I used to call the victim. Before I started therapy, I had no idea I had been sexually assaulted when I was 17 but Hope finally felt like I was safe enough to have those flashbacks last year.
“I hear her now better than I could before.”
Lauren said it is frustrating when people are skeptical about her diagnosis or believe she is violent.
“The way DID is presented in television and movies makes it hard for people living with it,” she said.
“In shows, people with DID are always murderers or violent villains and that’s so rarely the case.
“One of the worst things about life with this condition is that people look at me like ‘That’s not true’.
“When people suggest that I’m lying I think to myself, ‘Why would I want to lie about this?’”
Dr David Spiegel, Associate Chair of Psychiatry at Stanford University, said the condition is often confused with schizophrenia.
Dr Spiegel said: “People with schizophrenia have a skewed perception of the world based on hallucinations and delusions.
“With dissociative disorders, all of the fragmented pieces are their own but these people have trouble integrating their memories, sense of identity, and aspects of consciousness into a whole.”
Dr Spiegel said the disorder, which affects one per cent of the population, often stems from significant trauma, usually in early life.
“The evidence is there that trauma, particularly in childhood, often produces these dissociative disorders.
“It is a mechanism to protect oneself from distress and could be said to be a severe form of PTSD.”
Lauren manages her condition with medication and regular therapy but said her emotional support dog, a German Shepard named Sergeant Tibbs, will play a key role in her recovery.
Lauren said: “My dog sits with me through flashbacks and panic attacks.
“He tries to put his weight on me to help.
“He also can pull the refrigerator open, get me an ice pack and bring it all the way into another room.
“He also never leaves my side.”
Alongside her recovery, Lauren is currently planning a wedding as she prepares to marry her musician fiancé Alex next summer.
“DID can make my relationships difficult,” she said.
“Sometimes my boyfriend says it can be like dating a child when Sylvie is the leader because she is prone to tantrums.”
“But he’s my rock, the love of my life, most understanding, kind, open-minded beautiful human being. And he wants to be with me. I can’t wait to marry him.
“My hope for the future is that there will come a time where I don’t have to go to therapy every day.
“There’s still so much uncovering I need to do in my head, but I think I will get everything in working order eventually.”