The Atlanta, Georgia, native rose to fame in the early 2000s starring in TV series like American Heiress and Nip/Tuck, followed by her role as Naomi Clark in the CW's reboot of 90210. Fans didn't know it at the time, but the actress, now 33, was quietly battling serious trauma that eventually led to her diagnosis in 2018. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, McCord speaks to ET about the condition, formerly known as multiple personality disorder.
"It's formerly known as that because that is not what it is," McCord explains to ET's Melicia Johnson. "It is actually a fragmentation of the sense of self. It often is survivors of trauma, typically severe and often childhood trauma, that end up being sufferers of dissociative identity disorder."
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, dissociative identity disorder (DID) often develops as a way for people to deal with intensely painful experiences. The American Psychiatric Association says that patients tend to exhibit two more distinct identities that come with changes in behavior, thinking and memory.
"The way I describe it is, it's not different personalities -- I'm not British one day and South African the next," McCord says. "I am AnnaLynne, but it's parts of AnnaLynne that are allowed to come out at this point, and they're not safe to come out at this point. Or parts of AnnaLynne get triggered out in the world, and come out to protect."
McCord tells ET that she first experienced trauma during childhood, with years of sexual abuse she later uncovered in therapy. She previously opened up about being raped when she was 18.
"For 10 years, I thought it was my fault," she admits. "My body actually completely shut everything down and wouldn't let me fight back, because I thought that was the only way to cope with abuse."
McCord shares that she should have noticed something was wrong back when she was "wearing black wigs" in public and "randomly changing."
"All of these different parts of myself were coming out in a kind of a carousel of expression when I was in my early twenties," she recalls. "I just thought, 'Other people are boring and I'm much more interesting.' This is the story I told myself."
"What I often would find myself in was protective mode, with this very masculine energy," she continues. "This kind of balls to the wall, middle fingers to the sky, in your face situation. And that part of me was clearly necessary because of all the things that I went through and now remember going through as a child."
As many of her fans may recall, during a hiatus from 90210 in 2012, McCord took on a role in an indie horror flick called Excision. She tells ET that when she stepped into character as Pauline, a disturbed and delusional high school student, she felt her DID taking control.
"I was so good at slipping on the shoes of anyone but myself," McCord confesses. "I never wanted to do anything that was even remotely like me."
"That was the first time I was really exposing my nuanced ideologies and mindset. It wasn't the homicidal side of her that I related to, just so everyone knows. It was this strange little girl," she adds. "That was the first time that DID, with my acting, actually got all misconstrued. Because I went into the shoes of someone and they were my own shoes and it was terrifying."
Now that she's more aware of her condition, McCord is changing the way she works, including in the new Power prequel, Raising Kanan, that's narrated by 50 Cent.
"The new process requires my whole self. I got to dive in with all of me," she shares. "We were in one of those meetings with the director and the actors and everybody, and we were talking about my character, Tony, how she just owns her sexuality. They were like, 'Oh, she's a power woman. She's this, she's that.' And I said, 'No, she's hurt.'"
"How many times do we give our soul away, just because all we wanted for a moment was to feel loved?" she asks. "That, for me, was my life, because of all this. And now my whole self knows that my body's a temple, honey!"
Before the interview concluded, McCord offered up some words of encouragement to anyone who may also be struggling.
"It's so courageous to be human. It’s so courageous, it's so brave, these things are not easy," she says. "You don't have to look at it until that moment when you're ready."
"I wasn't ready ... and then it all came like a tsunami. If you can look at it before it becomes a tsunami, that's great," she adds, "but sometimes some of us have to get knocked down."
If you or someone you know has a mental illness, is struggling emotionally, or has concerns about their mental health, there are ways to get help. Refer to the National Institute of Mental Health's resources here.