You might be familiar with dissociative identity disorder (DID) as multiple personality disorder (MPD), which is how people used to call it in the past. No matter the name that it takes, this mental disorder is characterized by an individual having at least two personalities. These personalities are completely different from one another. They come out at different times, times that the person might have difficulties remembering. Talking about dissociative identity disorder might be a challenge. Which is why we decided to compile a comprehensive guide to look at its causes, symptoms, and possible treatments, as well as some myths associated with it.
What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?
As we’ve already briefly mentioned, dissociative identity disorder is a condition where someone has a fragmented identity that is made up of two or even more different personalities. The personalities do not show up at the same time. They alternate, taking control over the individual one at a time. People suffering from this severe condition might not remember certain episodes that happened when one of the personalities took over. The important thing to remember is that we are not talking about two separate identities. It is one fragmented identity that is made up of several splinters.
Usually, we deal with a primary identity which can be dependent, passive, depressed, and even feel guilty. When a personality controls it, it may feel as if that personality has a history of its own. It can have even an identity of its own, including characteristics such as name, gender, mood, vocabulary, and so on. These are often in clear contrast with those of the primary identity. The multiple personalities a person with dissociative identity disorder has can be in conflict with each other. Or they can refuse to acknowledge each other’s existence at times.
This disorder is extremely severe, as the person experiencing it cannot connect his or her memories, feelings, thoughts, or actions. The diagnosis remains controversial, with some people asking themselves if dissociative identity disorder can actually be real. Some specialists believe it might be a consequence of some other mental health issue such as borderline personality disorder.
Causes of Dissociative Identity Disorder
Since researchers still have a lot to uncover regarding dissociative identity disorder, it is hard to tell exactly what its causes are. However, the general belief is that people who suffered a trauma such as sexual abuse when they were young are more likely to experience this condition. In the case of trauma, the person’s mind creates these multiple personalities to use as a coping mechanism. That is how they dissociate from the traumatic event that they do not wish to face.
People who are struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and experience nightmares or flashbacks might be more prone to dissociative identity disorder. Also, if one of your close biological relatives has this disorder, you are more likely to experience it as well.
Dissociative Identity Disorder Symptoms
Of course, the main symptom of dissociative identity disorder is the presence of more than one distinct personality. The personality has its own way of thinking, behaving, and so on. But how many personalities can someone dealing with dissociative identity disorder have? The answer is somewhere between 2 to more than 100. However, most people revolve around 10 or less.
Now, another symptom is some of these identities taking active control over someone’s actions, thoughts, emotions, and so on. Each of them can emerge in different situations. They usually try to deny that other personalities exist, even though sometimes they might be critical of the others or even plain aggressive. Usually, when the individual is under a lot of stress, this is the perfect environment for the multiple personalities to surface.
People who suffer from dissociative identity disorder often experience memory loss. They can’t seem to be able to remember certain events, people, places, or even bits of their personal history. Now, remember when we talked about the primary identity which is passive? This is the identity that usually has difficulties remembering things. At the same time, the split personalities might have access to all the memories, or at least part of them.
Depression, passivity, mood swings, anxiety, guilt, and dependence are all symptoms of dissociative identity disorder as well. People dealing with this condition might even be aggressive towards themselves and have self-destructive or even suicidal thoughts and behaviors. They can also experience hallucinations, either visual or auditory. In the case of children, they will have a difficult time paying attention in school. Sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep walking, or night terrors can be other symptoms of this condition. People can exhibit certain compulsions or even rituals that they feel they have to do. They can even turn to alcohol or drug abuse.
While under the control of one of the multiple personalities, a person can do things that they wouldn’t normally do. Even if they feel guilty afterwards, they honestly believe they have no choice but to abide. That’s because they don’t feel in control of their own body, but like a mere passenger along for the ride.
I was a circus performer traversing the tightwire, and I could fall off into a vortex devoid of reality at any moment. There was, and had been for a very long time, an intense sense of despair. A self-deprecating voice inside told me I had no chance of getting better. I lived in an emotional black hole. – Suzie Burke
Dissociative Identity Disorder Treatment
Unfortunately, there is no exact treatment for dissociative identity disorder. Most people have to undergo psychotherapy for a long time. The final goal of therapy is to understand each of the personalities by analyzing them carefully. Then, attempt to unite them into one coherent identity. People with dissociative identity disorder might be advised to try creative or cognitive therapy, hypnotherapy, or movement therapy. This is normally accompanied by medication.
There is no specific medication to treat the condition in itself, but we can treat some of the symptoms. For instance, people will get antidepressants, tranquilizers, or anti-anxiety drugs to help them manage the symptoms that come with dissociative identity disorder.
Dissociative Identity Disorder Myths
Since this condition is relatively new and quite controversial, it was to be expected that people will come up with all sorts of myths regarding it. We want to take a look at some of the most common ones and explain why they are just myths.
- You can clearly notice when someone has dissociative identity disorder. At least, that is what we are lead to believe when we watch movies about this. However, movies clearly exaggerate those depictions. In reality, people take a long time until they realize they have DID, as the condition can sometimes be subtle.
- People suffering from DID have different identities. The truth is they have different personalities stemming from the same fragmented identity.
- Not a lot of people have dissociative identity disorder. In fact, between 1 and 3% of people suffer from this condition. Which means that it is as common as schizophrenia or bipolar disease. The fact that it is yet mysterious and challenging is what makes people believe it is rare.
Summing Everything Up
Dissociative identity disorder is a really severe mental condition that affects many people and that specialists still have a hard time identifying and treating properly. People who suffer from it have to deal with a lot of debilitating symptoms that completely turn around their life. Many of them spend years in mental institutions before they get the right diagnosis. Even so, people still regard them with suspicion, as humans tend to react in the face of the terrifying unknown.