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What is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)?

Dissociative identity disorder DID
Dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder or split personality disorder, is a rare but severe mental health condition. People who have this mental health disorder have two or more different identities

CW: Mentions of suicide and attempts 

What Is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)?

Dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder or split personality disorder, is a rare but severe mental health condition. People who have this mental health disorder have two or more different identities. These personalities, aka alter, control how a person behaves at separate times. Each identity has a personal history, unique traits, and likes and dislikes. In addition, DID can lead to gaps in memory and cause hallucinations.

DID falls under the category of dissociative disorders. These disorders impact a person’s connection with reality. Some other examples of dissociative disorders include:

  • Depersonalized or derealization disorder – this disorder creates a feeling of detachment from a person’s actions.
  • Dissociative amnesia – this disorder causes issues with remembering information about yourself.

How Common Is DID?

DID is an extremely rare mental health condition. It affects about 0.01 to 1% of the population. It can happen at any age, and women are more likely than men to have it.

**Note: This language features gender dichotomously as that is what is indicated in the research we found.

Who Is At Risk for Dissociative Identity Disorder?

According to research, the cause of DID can be attributed to a psychological response to extreme interpersonal and environmental stress. This is especially true if the trauma occurred during early childhood when emotional neglect or abuse interfered with personality development. In addition, nearly 99% of people with dissociative disorders have past histories of recurring, overpowering, and life-threatening disturbances or traumas at a developmental age that is more sensitive, in other words, generally before age 6.

Dissociation can also occur when there has been frequent neglect or emotional abuse. Essentially, there doesn’t have to be overt physical or sexual abuse. Findings indicate that kids can become dissociative in families where their parents are unpredictable and often frighten them. 

What Are Some Symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Some common symptoms of dissociative disorders include:

  • A significant amount of memory gaps during specific times and for people and events.
  • Out-of-body experiences, aka, feel like watching a movie of yourself.
  • Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
  • A sense of being detached from your emotions or feeling numb to your feelings.
  • Lacking a sense of self-identity.
  • Feeling detached and dissociating.
  • Having a sense of “losing time.”
  • Having confusion.
  • Showing two or more personalities (alters).
  • Behaving out of character (as a result of alternate identities taking control).

What Are Alters?

As previously mentioned, alters are personalities that attempt to control a person’s behavior. Some other terms for alters are:

  • alternate identity
  • dissociative identity
  • distinct identity
  • personality
  • personality state
  • dissociated part
  • self-state
  • part
  • part of the mind
  • dissociative part of the personality
  • part of the self

Alters are distinctly different. They may be different ages, other genders, have different names, or no name at all; various roles, which can be related to daily life or trauma; different mannerisms, attitudes, and preferences. Alters may also have different memories; for instance, some might remember traumatic events in everyday life, whereas others may have amnesia. They have even found that some alters have psychobiological differences from others. For example, they have distinct differences in vision, responses to medication, allergies, heart rate, blood pressure, and more. In addition, different alters show varying results in neuroimaging tests, like functional magnetic resonance imaging activation (MRI) and differences in PET scans. 

Since many alters have an alternate perception of their bodies, they may reject it or strongly believe they are another chronological age. Also, they may refer to the overall body as “the body” instead of “my body.” However, some alters may believe that they have a separate physical body, which can cause them to avoid seeking medical care, engaging in self-harm or suicide attempts since they believe they won’t be affected since it is not “their” body.” In its more extreme form, it can involve them to kill off “others.” 

What Is the Treatment for Dissociative Identity Disorder?

With the proper treatment, many people can successfully cope with symptoms of dissociative identity disorder. As a result, they can expect an improvement in their daily functioning and lead a fulfilling life. 

Treatment for DID generally involves psychotherapy. Therapy can help a person get control over the dissociative process. It can also integrate the various aspects of identity. However, it is essential to note that therapy can be quite intense and challenging since patients must remember difficult past traumatic experiences. The two most common therapies used to treat DID are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). In addition, hypnosis has helped treat this disorder.

Currently, there are no medications that directly treat the symptoms of DID. However, some medicines can help treat other symptoms, such as antidepressants to treat depression symptoms. 

Examples of Dissociative Identity Disorder in the Media

Here are a few movies and TV series that portray Dissociative Identity Disorder:

  • The United States of Tara
  • Split 
  • Sybil
  • Frankie & Alice
  • Waking Madison
  • The Three Faces of Eve

Some famous people with dissociative identity disorder include comedian Roseanne Barr, Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz, and retired NFL player Herschel Walker.

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Billie Olsen

AUTHOR: Billie Olsen

Billie Olsen (she/they) is a lifestyle writer, disability justice advocate, and cozy femme located in Kelowna, BC, Canada. Their works have appeared in Metro News, Discorder, Sophomore Magazine, the Post-Feminist Post, DINE Magazine, and NerdReader.

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