Australian woman "Shazi" has shared the unique element of her life — that see her living with a variety of different "people".

I had known that something wasn't right for a long time.

There were blank spots in my days where I'd lose sense of time. I would walk into the kitchen and not know why I was there, then end up having a meltdown because I couldn't get the dishes done.

Then one day I was at a friend's place and thought I'd fallen asleep at her table. When I woke up and apologised, she was looking shocked and scared and said: "You weren't asleep. You put your head down on the table, and when you sat up and talked, it wasn't you.

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"Your eyes were another colour, and it wasn't your face or your voice. You were saying things you'd never say to me."

We both panicked. I called my psychologist and she took me to a specialist where I was eventually diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID), which used to be called multiple personality disorder. I was in my 30s.

All of Shazi's 'alters' have distinct voices and traits. Photo / Suplied
All of Shazi's 'alters' have distinct voices and traits. Photo / Suplied

DID is a survival system that begins in early childhood as a result of trauma. When that trauma becomes too much for the mind to handle, it splits and someone else - an "alter" - is created to deal with the situation.

That trauma started early for me; I lived in an abusive home from the day I was brought back from the hospital.

But the earliest experience I remember of my mind splitting is when I was run over as a kid. All I can recall is this poor man standing over me yelling and asking if I was okay. I had no idea what had just happened so ran home screaming, thinking it was stranger danger.

It wasn't until I saw tyre tracks on my legs that I realised he'd hit me with his van. It's in moments of trauma like this that you can be pushed out totally and someone else takes over and handles it.

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The original me - Sharon - is far too damaged and is now well protected within. Shazi, who I am now, is an alter created in my 30s, 20-odd years ago.

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Sharon left around the time I lost my fiance through suicide. This is what happens: You can continue to split through different traumas in your life before you even become aware of what's happening.

There are a thousand-and-one of us inside of me these days. I liken my system to an aircraft where you need the pilot and co-pilot who are in charge of the main stuff. Then I have the hostesses, and they look after all the other different personalities or passengers. There's also the ground crew. Poor Shazi is sometimes just the person on the radio that no one's really listening to.

My alters are different ages and races, and a few guys are in there also. Some are left or right-handed, their eye colours range from deep blue to bright green and brown.

My personalities are all normal people; they've developed according to what they've been exposed to in life. But when you put them all together there are extremes of behaviour. This means I can lose time. I don't know what they do sometimes, to be honest.

When DID is depicted in movies like Split and shows like the United States of Tara, I'm torn between laughing and getting really frustrated and angry.

Shazi says Sharon, her original personality, doesn't come out anymore. Photo / Suplied
Shazi says Sharon, her original personality, doesn't come out anymore. Photo / Suplied

We're always portrayed as getting triggered to reveal bad guy or serial killer alters. That couldn't be further from the truth and just adds to the stigma. People see these things on TV and think that's how we are. One girl actually laughed in my face until I explained to her that my condition was borne from trauma.

I don't know all of the triggers that make me switch personalities because there are so many. Rather than try to figure them out, it's easier for me to get the group to work as a team to stop the internal conflict. When the alters have an understanding of each other we can do basic things, like the dishes and the groceries.

I'm still learning about the different personalities and the traumas they've each experienced. Often, I'll be present, even though other personalities are coming and going, so I'm not always completely separate. For example, if I have a younger alter out, there'll be a few older alters hanging out in the background just making sure the young one is safe so they can step forward if need be. Some are quite maternal, while others are streetwise.

Other alters will cut me out totally and handle emergency situations. Then I'll snap back and wonder what the hell has just happened. This happened one day when I was driving and about to have an accident I couldn't get out of. All of a sudden, I wasn't there. But somehow, I managed to get around the corner with driving skills that I didn't possess. There was a completely blank space in my mind where I just wasn't there at all, even though I was still functioning.

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After my diagnosis in 2004 I went through an extensive crisis period. I had to learn that recovery wasn't getting back to "normal" - it was learning to live with an understanding of what I needed to deal with.

For a while I couldn't even get in the shower, go to the toilet or brush my hair without being triggered. Eventually, I couldn't get off the couch and was on so much medication I was basically unconscious for a few years. I lost a lot of friends at this time.

But people can be so amazing, too. One day my neighbour just barged into the house because she thought I was dead. From that day she dropped by every afternoon without fail for years to drive me to the shops or see if she could help.

We're all dealt different hands in life, but the main thing is how we handle it. I'm a peer ambassador for SANE and every fortnight I speak to police cadets early on in their training to give them an idea of the different people they'll be dealing with in their community. This gives me purpose and means I'm doing something positive. That aids my recovery.

When you do something for others, you get a lot of benefits yourself.