What is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)?

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder, is a complex psychological condition in which a person has two or more distinct identities or personality states. These distinct identities or personality states usually have different names and temperaments. Individuals with DID often have memory problems when there are unexplained lapses in memory.

 

What is dissociation?

Dissociation is disconnection in a person’s consciousness or identity. Individuals who have experienced dissociation may feel disconnected from thoughts, emotions, memories or behaviours for a period of time. Dissociation is a common response after experiencing traumatic events as it detaches an individual from experiencing intense emotions. Dissociation may be helpful in some situations (for example, after a severe accident). However, dissociation can become problematic if it occurs too frequently or if it is the only mean of coping with trauma.

 

Symptoms of DID

A person with DID usually has a primary identity but alternates between distinct personalities. These identities often have different own names, ages, genders, ethnicities, voices, and tend to contrast heavily with the primary identity.

 

Individuals with DID may experience following symptoms:

  • Inability to remember childhood experiences

  • Unexplained events and unawareness of their occurrence (e.g.: cannot remember how they reached a destination)

  • Frequent amnesia

  • Sudden return of memories

  • Sensations are disconnected or separated from the body and mind

  • Hallucinations (e.g.: hearing voices)

  • Suicide tendencies or self-harm

  • Changing levels of functioning (from highly effective to no knowledge)

 

What are some warning signs of DID?

Individuals with DID may have very different experiences. For instance, for some individuals with DID, switching between identities is clearly noticeable while it may be more subtle for others. The following may be some warning signs of DID:

  • Switching between different styles of speech, dress or behaviour

  • Experiencing enduring early childhood trauma

  • Identifying by different names

  • Feeling uncontrollable thoughts and emotions

  • Forget important details about things that are done 

  • Feeling disconnected from the body or surroundings

  • Struggling with depression or anxiety

 

These behaviours do not confirm the diagnosis of DID; if concerns arise, please seek help from medical professionals.

 

Possible causes for DID:

The specific causes of DID are unknown; however, it is believed that there are a few factors that may play a role in DID.

  • Genetics: Genetics and hereditary chance

  • Trauma: traumatic physical, emotional, sexual experience (especially during childhood)

 

What treatments are available for DID?

Psychotherapy used in DID treatment include:

 

Individual psychotherapy

One-on-one sessions may help understanding and management of symptoms. Therapists may use different forms of psychotherapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

 

Hypnotherapy

With hypnotherapy, repressed memories may be recovered, negative behaviours may be improved, or identities may be merged.

 

Family Therapy

Family Therapy helps educate the family about DID. Understanding the symptoms that an individual with DID may experience helps family members recognize the recurrence of symptoms.

 

There is no medication specifically for treating DID. Individuals with DID often struggle with other symptoms or disorders, such as eating disorders, substance use problems, or anxiety and depression. Therefore, doctors may prescribe medications to address those co-occurring conditions.

 

How to effectively manage DID?

On a personal Level

Seek professional medical help

Experiences of severe, unexplained memory loss, or feeling disconnected from self-identity or the immediate world is grounds to seek professional medical help.

 

Early intervention   

Early psychotherapy for abusive or traumatic experiences in both children and adults can help prevent the formation of dissociative symptoms and disorders.

 

Family and friends

Understanding DID

Learning about and understanding the symptoms of DID can support communication with the individual.

 

Help them seek support

It could be difficult for individuals with DID to ask for help. Looking for treatment options for DID; providing company and support during treatment is helpful.

 

Stay calm

If an individual with DID undergoes a personality switch, stay calm and respond appropriately. Hostility or fear may increase the individual’s stress level.

 

Take care of yourself

Self-care such as eating healthily, physical activity, and resting well is important.

 

Psychological Problems Associated with DID

Individuals with DID may experience other psychological disorders including:

  • Depression

  • Suicidal tendencies

  • Sleep disorders

  • Anxiety

  • Panic attacks

  • Phobias

  • Alcohol and drug abuse

  • Eating disorders


For Additional Information:

Mood Disorders Society of Canada

Here to Help

 

References:

Made of Millions: Dissociative Identity Disorder

WebMD: Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder)

AAMFT: Dissociative Identity Disorder

Here to Help: Dissociative Identity Disorder