Dissociative Identity Disorder, previously called Multiple Personality Disorder, is the result of chronic and severe childhood trauma. What are the symptoms of DID, how is it diagnosed, and what are the treatment options?
We've all heard of Dissociative Personality Disorder — though many of us still know it only by its previous name, Multiple Personality Disorder — but what what really happens to people who have this disorder?
What Is Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Dissociative Identity Disorder, DID for short, is a complex phenomenon that can be described as one of a range of normal responses to highly traumatic events. Dissociative disorders can arise from severe and chronic physical or sexual abuse during early childhood. Indeed, dissociating can be seen as a powerful coping mechanism that enables trauma victims to get through situations that thet would otherwise not be able to cope with.
Dissociation refers to a disconnection — between parts usually connected together, between different aspects of reality. To trauma victims, dissociating is a powerful, sometimes voluntary, other times not, way to cope with traumatic experiences, by banishing them from daily life outside of the presence of abuse or trauma.
In people with DID, this dissociation goes a lot further: people with DID manifests as two or more seperate personalities, identities, within one person. In short, people with DID have a fragmented sense of self.
These personality states, also known as "alters", may come out involuntarily depending on circumstance, or the person with DID may have some control over which alter emerges when. Alters may be more or less developed, but it's common for them to have their own names, ages, genders, and their own way of behaving. What's more, alters have their own set of memories — experiences they can recall. Switches from one personality to another may happen frequently and seemingly randomly, or in reaction to certain impulses, such as fear.
People who are aware they have DID may refer to themselves as "we", acknowledging the presence of multiple persons within the same body. While the now defunct term "Multiple Personality Disorder" promoted the idea that people suffering from DID are essentially more than one person in one body, DID is now seen as a fragmentation — the person with DID isn't multiple people, but rather the different alters are, together, the sum of the person.
Dissociative Identity Disorder: Symptoms
Primarily, two or more distinct states of identity, with their own memories, personalities, views, and behaviors (including physical gestures and voices), occur within a person with DID. Some people with DID harbor more than 100 identities, while around 50 percent of reported cases were found to have 10 or fewer identities.
Specific identities may emerge seemingly randomly, but they frequently come to the forefront as a result of specific triggers. The identities may or may not be aware of the existence of others. Where they are, they may be critical of one another. The differing memory sets of alters results in the inability of some alters to recall skills, people, or events other alters can recall. Some alters may have a complete set of memories of what the person experienced, while others recall little. Some may be passive, while others are aggressive and protective.
While people with DID are quite likely to experience depression, anxiety, depersonalization (a sense of being detached from the body), and derealization (the feeling that things are not real), the alters cannot be attributed to psychosis, substance abuse, or any medication they are taking.