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Dissociative Identity Disorder

Woman with ghosted versions of emotions

What is dissociative identity disorder?

Dissociative identity disorder is a complex psychological condition that produces a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of identity.

Dissociative identity disorder was previously known as multiple personality disorder.

What causes dissociative identity disorder?

Although experts are not sure what causes dissociative identity disorder, it is likely to be a psychological response to stressors that occurred, most commonly, during early childhood. These stressors affected personality development.

The most common stressor identified is extreme, repetitive physical, sexual, or emotional abuse during childhood.

As many as 99% of individuals with dissociative identity disorder have a personal history of overpowering and often life-threatening disturbances or events usually before the age of 6.

What are the symptoms of dissociative identity disorder?

Dissociative identity disorder is a severe form of dissociation, which means people with the disorder experience a disconnection between their thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and their identity. This causes people to experience several personality states or to escape reality in ways that are involuntary and unhealthy and make it difficult for them to go about their daily lives.

The dissociation is thought to be a coping mechanism; the person shuts out or disassociates themselves from the situation or experience that was violent, traumatic, or painful.

Symptoms of dissociative identity disorder include:

  • Feeling detached from yourself and your emotions
  • The perception that people or things around you are distorted or unreal
  • Confusion about your identity
  • Difficulty coping with everyday life (such as school, work, relationships)
  • The presence of two or more distinct or split identities or personality states (also called “alters”) that the person with the disorder switches between. They may feel like two or more people are living or talking inside their head, and each identity may have a unique name, voice, mannerisms, race, age, sex, and other characteristics, such as the need for eyeglasses. Sometimes the identities are animals. Switching is the crossover of the different alters, and this can occur over several seconds or minutes or days
  • Significant gaps in your memory or an inability to recall key personal information that is too far-reaching to be explained as mere forgetfulness or by a medical condition. Also, highly distinct memory variations that fluctuate according to personality are common. An episode of amnesia can occur suddenly and last for variable lengths of time (minutes/hours/days)
  • Flashbacks can be traumatic, overwhelming or associated with unsafe behavior

Other conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts are common in people with dissociative identity disorder.

What is the treatment for dissociative identity disorder?

Treatment revolves around psychotherapy and medication and may include:

  • Talk therapy
  • Counseling
  • Psychosocial therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Hypnosis
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Antipsychotics