"It's nothing like Hollywood portrays it," says Jane Hart on being diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder

Jane Hart was sitting on her sofa one morning in 2014 when she realized her life had finally hit rock bottom. For the past six years—ever since she moved to rural Alaska to escape her childhood filled with sexual abuse in Idaho and got married—she’d been hearing voices.

“It felt like I always had a crowd of people around me, looking over my shoulder,” Hart tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, “commenting and arguing over everything I did.”

Her marriage had crumbled and Hart returned to her hometown of Boise, Idaho, with her two young sons, hoping to start a new life. Instead, she was being driven mad by the nonstop noise and confusion coming from inside her head.

Hart with her two sons—Daniel and Remington.
Jane Hart with her two sons—Daniel, 8, and Remington, 5.
| Credit: Vincent Tullo

“I’d reached a breaking point,” she says. “I remember thinking, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’m either going to take my life—which I knew I couldn’t do because my sons needed me—or I’ve got to get help.’”

After two years of intensive psychotherapy, Hart discovered what was wrong—and it horrified her. She harbored over nine different identities—with individual names and ages, ranging from 6 to 28—and was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder.

“It’s validating to finally know I have a reason for the way I am,” she says. “But it’s also really scary to know I have it, to know that my personality has been fragmented and I don’t have control over the identities inside me.”

Now Hart, who hopes to erase some of the disorder’s stigma, is sharing her journey into this often-misdiagnosed mental illness in a six-part docuseries on A&E called Many Sides of Jane, airing on Jan. 22. “DID literally protected me and saved my life,” she says. “It’s the mind’s way of preserving the psyche. But it’s also a life sentence.”

Jane Hart, who has been diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), is the focus of the new A&E docuseries Many Sides of Jane.
| Credit: Vincent Tullo

Experts say that over three million people—many of whom were horribly abused as children—suffer from the disorder.

“The different identities can be thought of as compartments that form as a kind of mental insulator,” says psychiatrist Richard Chefetz, M.D., a specialist on the disorder. “They isolate the everyday healthier part of the person and contain the traumatic experience in a person’s mind where they don’t have access.”

Hart now understands that her mind literally created the different identities to protect herself. “My whole childhood I knew I was afraid—I just didn’t know of what,” she says. “I didn’t know the true breadth of the abuse until after my parts began telling their stories.”

So far she’s identified nine “parts” within her, including Janie, 6, who has no memories of her abuse; Beth, 10, who protects the other younger identities; Jayden, 11, who holds all the physical pain from her abuse; Alexis, 17, who is confident and boisterous (“She a lot different than I am,” says Jane); and Madison, 28, a lesbian who serves as a protector for all her different parts.

“It’s nothing like Hollywood portrays it,” says Hart. “When people look at someone with DID they immediately think, ‘That person has someone inside who wants to kill people.’ But that’s just not how it works.”