"I found this sense of self," says Dove Cameron of reflecting on her life during the pandemic

By Aili Nahas
July 21, 2021 10:00 AM
Advertisement

For Dove Cameron, filming her Apple TV+ series in Canada during the pandemic, away from friends and family, turned out to be a life-changing circumstance.

"I had to go through so many dark nights of the soul," the Schmigadoon! actress, 25, tells PEOPLE. "But because I was alone and there was nowhere else for me to go, I could not escape myself. And I was dealing with things I hadn't faced."

For Cameron, that meant "processing" her breakup with her boyfriend of nearly four years, actor Thomas Doherty, as well as the tragic deaths of her father a decade ago and her best friend and Descendants costar Cameron Boyce in 2019.

"Whenever you go through a big loss, it drums up every other loss," says Cameron, who began recording so-called "therapy sessions" into her phone as a way of navigating her emotions. "I was facing my demons all at once."

Just six months after her father Philip, a jewelry designer, died by suicide when Cameron was 15, the actress was offered her first role — as the lead on the Disney hit series, Liv & Maddie.

Liv and Maddie
Liv and Maddie
| Credit: DISNEY CHANNEL/Craig Sjodin

"I knew what was being offered and I was barely functioning," recalls Cameron. "I wasn't a person. But the switch [to work] delayed my processing and it was probably a bit helpful honestly."

For more from Dove Cameron, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

Now as an adult, Cameron, who believes her father may have repressed his sexuality, says she understands his pain in a different way.

"He was sort of like a magic man, but he was very sad," says Cameron, who identifies as queer. "I now know that he was deeply unwell. And even then, I was never angry with him. I knew how much he loved me and that he must have been in unimaginable pain. The life I live now is one my dad would have probably loved to achieve — living out loud and accepted. I feel really lucky."

Dove Cameron
Schmigadoon!
| Credit: apple tv+

The actress, who also stars in the upcoming Powerpuff Girls reboot, says she's also finding a semblance of peace when it comes to her friend Boyce, who died from epilepsy.

"I find solace in speaking to his family and our friends," says Cameron, who also has a tattoo in honor of Boyce and his charity, Wielding Peace. "I think the best way to have Cameron continue on is to continue to do work that was important to him."

And for her part, Cameron says she's better than ever. "I found this sense of self. I'm living alone, I'm single for the first time and I just feel born again," she says. "My capacity for happiness is so much greater because of my past."