Dissociative Identity Disorder: Me, Myself, and I (and I, and I, and…)

Dissociative Identity Disorder [DID], previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder, is typified by the presence of one or more distinct and unique identities within a single individual. Despite arguments to the contrary, DID is a very real and challenging illness, commonly resultant of severe childhood trauma; usually intense and repetitive physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse—most often before the age of nine.

Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, is a critically challenging illness to deal with and to control, but it can often be successfully managed with medications regular psychiatric care. There is hope for individuals suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder to live positive, enjoyable, and fulfilling lives.

Respectively, the development of another personality is a coping mechanism to shield the person from exceedingly violence memories. While this illness faces a great stigma—most people conceive of people with DID as truly “crazy” and chronically unstable—one of the illnesses hallmark traits, disassociation, is actually quite ordinary, though of course in much milder forms (i.e., daydreaming). According to WebMD, DID “is a severe form of dissociation, a mental process, which produces a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of identity. [...] The dissociative aspect is thought to be a coping mechanism—the person literally dissociates him/herself from a situation or experience that’s too violent, traumatic, or painful to assimilate with his conscious self.”

Additionally, the distinct personalities often have their own set of memories—usually highly distinct from each other—and can have differences in race, age, sex, gender, and sexuality. The form in which the split personality takes shape can range from fairly similar—for example, a woman with another woman as her alternate identity—to quite extreme—such as a woman with another species of animal as the other personality. Further, the frequency in which each personality reveals itself (clinically known as “switching”) can vary greatly: from mere seconds to minutes to even days at a time.

What are the diagnositic criteria for Dissociative Identity Disorder?

  • The presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states (each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self);
  • At least two of these identities or personality states recurrently take control of the person’s behavior;
  • Inability to recall important personal information that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness;
  • The disturbance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., blackouts or chaotic behavior during alcohol intoxication) or a general medical condition (e.g., complex partial seizures). Note: In children, the symptoms are not attributable to imaginary playmates or other fantasy play.

Additional symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder include depression, mood swings, suicidal ideation, parasomnia (i.e., insomnia, night terrors, and sleepwalking), anxiety and/or panic, compulsive behavior, psychotic symptoms, and eating disorders. People with DID may also experience extreme headaches, time loss, trances, and depersonalization. According to many inflicted with DID, the illness can make them feel as if they are “a passenger in their body rather than the driver,” which is deeply disconcerting, as some individuals may have violent episodes they cannot control or even sometimes recall.

Collectively, this dramatically alters the way a person suffering from DID experiences life. They commonly deal with regular depersonalization (“out of body experience”), derealization (the feeling that the world is not real or far away), amnesia, and identity confusion/alteration.

There Is Hope!

A DID diagnosis does not have to be a guarantee for lifelong psychiatric hospitalization. Though this is a particularly harrowing illness to deal with, as it can reduce daily functionality to a problematic low, it can be treated with highly disciplined therapy (e.g., psychotherapy and hypnotherapy), medications (the most frequently a cocktail of psychotropic drugs are used, including antidepressants [i.e., Celexa, Prozac, or Nardil], depressants to slow the brain down [i.e., benzodiazepines or muscle relaxants like cyclobenzaprine], antipsychotics, which also function as mood stabilizers [i.e., Risperdal, Thorazine, or Abilify], anti-anxiety medication [i.e., Xanax, Valium, or Ativan], and stimulants to counter depression [i.e., Provigil, Concerta, or dextroamphetamine]).

While stabilization is often trying, these medications and therapies have proven helpful in ameliorating the most baneful aspects of DID, and keeping it in check. As with all chronic illnesses, especially behavioral health maladies, remaining in close contact with one’s psychiatrist and psychologist is absolutely imperative.