One of the most unforgettable guests in Oprah Show history was Truddi Chase, a woman living with 92 distinct personalities. Truddi's condition—now called dissociative identity disorder, or DID—was caused by years of brutal sexual abuse by her stepfather that started when she was just 2 years old.
Truddi's story had such an impact on Oprah that she mentioned it in her DVD collection celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah says Truddi's story moved her to tears because she was just beginning to contemplate her own childhood abuse. "I really connected the dots of how profound the manifestation of abuse can be in other people's lives," she said. "The way she shattered her personality and became a multiple is her way of protecting herself. Her own little inner-spirited child."
Truddi passed away in March 2010, but her legacy lives on.
Truddi's daughter, Kari, appeared with her mother on The Oprah Show in 1990. She says growing up with a mom with 92 personalities was by no means typical. "It was a roller coaster ride," she says. "But it's what I know as normal."
As Truddi went through therapy and began to understand how being abused caused her disorder, Kari says her parents slowly exposed her to the truth beginning at about age 13. "I would come home from school not knowing who I was coming home to," she says. "But, you know, we all have good days and bad days."
Kari says having a mother with multiple personalities could complicate friendships with other children. "When I started to tell them what was happening, a lot of them were not accepting. The few that were are still my friends today," she says. "I think it was a big fear thing. We fear what we don't understand, and they didn't want to take the time to understand. Their parents didn't understand, so their parents wanted to keep them away."
Throughout the years, viewers of all ages have told us Truddi inspired them to break the silence about their own abuse.
As a child, Erin Merryn was abused by two people she knew. She says the guilt and shame of these experiences robbed her of innocence. "It changed me from a strong, resilient, confident child to a very angry, hate-filled, self-destructive child, teenager and young adult," she says. "The abuse took different parts of my own soul because two people that I knew had abused me. I feared the world I lived in."
Contemplating suicide, Erin says her life was changed by seeing Truddi tell her story of abuse. "It allowed me that day to finally come out of the shadows of my own darkness, to let go a lot of that anger and hatred and realize that I was not alone."
Erin says Truddi gave her the confidence to confront one of her abusers and eventually get him to acknowledge what he'd done and apologize. This experience lead Erin to push the Illinois legislature to enact Erin's Law, a new law that demands sexual abuse education for children. "We teach kids tornado drills, fire drills, bus drills," she says. "We put all this information to their heads, but we teach them nothing on sexual abuse."
Next, Erin plans to take this campaign to a national level. "Kids need to be educated on sexual abuse," she says. "They need the tools to speak up and speak out."
Truddi would have been happy to hear how her story helped change Erin and Laura's lives, Kari says. "For people who are being abused: Talk, find whoever you can, and have a voice," she says. "I think she wanted to be that voice for people, to know that it was okay to talk and to step up and not hide."