"People I trusted told me to do bad things. I just shut down — that was the trigger point," AnnaLynne McCord tells PEOPLE

By Aili Nahas
June 09, 2021 09:15 AM

After nearly two decades of living with the fear and uncertainty of an all-consuming identity disorder, actress AnnaLynne McCord has finally found peace - and is opening up about her journey.

"I've experienced hell," says the former 90210 star, 33, who developed Dissociative Identity Disorder - a mental illness characterized by the presence of two or more distinct personality traits - as a way of coping with the severe sexual trauma she endured as a child.

"And healing can be painful. But I uncovered my uncomfortable truth and finally faced it," she tells PEOPLE for this week's issue. "And now, I'm just feeling supremely grateful." 

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McCord, who was raised in rural Georgia, was just 5 years old when she was first sexually abused, by someone she knew. "People I trusted told me to do bad things," she recalls. "I just shut down - that was the trigger point." 

The abuse continued into her preteens, which is when McCord began "disassociating" to cope. "It was about disembodiment," she says. "It's a disconnection from mind to body."

annalynne mccord
AnnaLynne McCord
| Credit: Paul Archuleta/Wireimage

By 16, she recognized the presence of her first so-called alter, Little Anna, during a fight with her boyfriend. Over the years, McCord would add to her alters, who would appear and dictate behaviors. There was Domino, "a very salacious young lady - a toughie"; 13-year-old Anna, who was "dark, cynical and jaded"; Autopilot Anna, who "had the perfect tailored response at all times"; and the loving and nurturing Earth Mother.

RELATED VIDEO: AnnaLynne McCord Reveals Her Dissociative Identity Disorder Diagnosis: I'm 'Uninterested in Shame'

"One of the questions I despised most on the red carpet was, 'What's your sense of style,'" remembers McCord. "I didn't know how to answer the question because there were so many different parts of me." 

McCord suffered more pain in her late teens when she was raped by a friend at 18. "My body froze," she says. "And it did what it did when I was little. I just cut out awareness of what was happening."

AnnaLynne McCord
AnnaLynne McCord
| Credit: Presley Ann/Getty Images for Visionary Women

Despite her past pain, McCord found success in Hollywood on shows like Nip/Tuck and 90210. But she still grappled with her mental health, cutting herself and having suicidal thoughts. By 2017, she hit a breaking point. "I went into a depression I could not get out of," she says. 

Finally, after intense therapy and medication, "the bubble popped" the following year and McCord was finally able to face the pain of her past. "I could connect to the abuse," says the actress, who was diagnosed with DID by early 2019. "Mental health issues can be activated by trauma, but they can be healed." 

Today, McCord is no longer on medication and says the alters have largely disappeared. "Before it was like a tornado, and now it's like a beautiful breeze," she says. "It's more a mood than something that takes over me."

And ultimately, the actress says she hopes to change the stigma about mental illness.

"I've been called crazy in my life," she says. "But we need to dig deeper and get to the root of symptoms. I can't count how many points in my life I didn't think I'd be okay. But I love myself now and to others who are in pain, I'm able to give that love to them."

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to rainn.org.