Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), or Multiple Personality Disorder is a psychological disorder which a person can develop when they undergo a serious traumatic event such as childhood abuse or repetitive sexual or physical abuse. Many of us daydream or let our thoughts take over us, however, DID is a more severe degree of dissociation in which an individual is disconnected from their thoughts, feelings and actions.
The most common symptom of DID is the experience of an ‘Alter’ identity. This occurs when two or more personalities of a person takeover their behavior. The alters have their own sex, age and race; they can even be animals. The act of switching from one personality to another can take seconds, minutes or days depending on the person. Along with the multiple personalities, other symptoms can include depression, insomnia and suicidal thoughts.
DID and schizophrenia often appear very similar as both involve the “transformation” into a whole different person. However, the difference is that people suffering from schizophrenia often hear or see things and those with DID have multiple personalities.
A person that suffers from DID often experiences life in a different way than a normal person due to their differences in psychological processing. Patients go through ‘Depersonalization’, which is the sense of being detached from their body. ‘Derealization’ occurs when the world seems like it’s not true. A widely known psychological process called ‘Amnesia’ is when an individual fails to recall personal information. Another process is known as ‘Identity confusion’, which occurs when the person is confused, about who they are. A person can even be confused about their sexual orientation or their personal beliefs. These alters interfere with a person’s way of dealing with life as environmental factors can cause a person to change to a different personality. A person can have up to 15 personalities; however, the host personality is usually unaware of all the alter personalities.
DID is difficult to diagnose as the symptoms overlap with other psychological disorders. The DSMV-5 used by psychologists for the diagnosis of disorders has the following special criteria for DID:
- The individual must have two or more personalities, each with its own pattern of thoughts and behavior.
- After the person comes back to his original personality, amnesia must occur where they don’t remember turning into the alter.
- The person must have trouble functioning in his daily life.
- The alter is not a form of a cultural practice or behavior.
- The symptoms cannot be caused by other factors such as drinking, drugs or seizures.
There is no age or gender that is more prone to DID. It can be caused by a number of different factors such as interpersonal or environmental factors, but the root cause of DID is childhood abuse. 99% of DID patients have experienced a reoccurring traumatic event during their most important developmental stage before the age of 9. Other risk factors include childhood neglect as well as sexual and physical abuse.
There is no known cure for DID but there are several ways in which a person can cope with it. For example long-term treatments such as psychotherapy, hypnotherapy and talk therapy can help the individual understand and therefore “control” better. There are no medications that can be taken so therapy is the best treatment. On the other hand, symptoms of DID overlap with symptoms of depression or anxiety, so medications such as SSRI’s or antidepressants might be given to the patient along with psychotherapy.
Written By: Maria Evangelopoulos