Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), once known as multiple personality disorder, is a complex mental health condition characterized by the presence of two or more distinct identities or personalities. This condition is widely misunderstood, due to its complexity and inaccurate portrayals in media and film.
While DID has been depicted in popular culture as a rare and sensationalized disorder, it is estimated that up to 1% of the general population may have some form of dissociative disorder, with DID being the most severe type.
Despite its prevalence, DID remains a poorly understood and often stigmatized condition. This can lead to misdiagnosis, mistreatment, and lack of access to appropriate care. The goal of this Reconnect Center article is to clear the air on DID, spread awareness and understanding and to hopefully inspire the reader to seek help, if it’s needed.
Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)
Daily living with DID can be quite challenging. This condition can disrupt the ability to plan ahead or follow through with tasks. Memory loss, confusion, fear and flashbacks often hinder concentration. This can make even routine activities like shopping for groceries or commuting to work difficult to manage.
Relationships are often impacted by DID as well. Someone living with DID may have a hard time understanding their own feelings and thoughts, let alone expressing them in a healthy way. This can make forming and sustaining relationships with family members, loved ones and friends difficult.. Similarly, DID may cause disruptions in one’s ability to commit long-term to another person, which presents an obstacle to forming romantic relationships.
Career and education decisions can also be affected by DID. One might also struggle in the workplace due to symptoms like difficulty concentrating or overwhelming anxiety while performing tasks. Education plans could also be hindered if an individual has trouble staying organized or managing their time effectively enough to complete assignments or take exams on time.
People Who Are Living with DID:
- May feel overwhelmed by routine life responsibilities.
- Can struggle with forming and sustaining close relationships.
- May become confused, which can affect work and school performance.
- Can feel isolated or lonely due to trouble forming relationships and feeling ‘out of sync’.
- Benefit from people they can trust and rely upon to help them navigate everyday life.
- Deserve compassion, understanding and support in getting the help they need.
Signs and Symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)
The symptoms of DID vary from person to person. They are not always easy to recognize. Remember that only a trained professional can formally diagnose a dissociative disorder or any other mental health condition. However, it is still helpful to be aware of the signs and symptoms.
The hallmark feature of DID is the presence of two or more distinct identities or personalities, which are also known as ‘alters’. These identities may have their own unique names, ages, genders, voices, mannerisms, memories, and behaviors, and may take turns controlling the person’s behavior or consciousness.
Signs of Dissociative Identity Disorder may include:
- Frequent episodes of memory loss or amnesia, especially for traumatic events.
- Detachment from body or place, as if watching oneself from a distance (depersonalization)
- Sudden and dramatic shifts in mood, behavior, or personality that cannot be explained.
- Dissociative seizures or other physical symptoms that cannot be explained by medical tests
- Hearing internal voices or having internal conversations with oneself
- Feeling as if one has multiple personalities or identities inside oneself
- Experiencing things as unreal or dreamlike (derealization)
- Recurrent nightmares or flashbacks related to past trauma
- Self-harm behaviors or other forms of impulsivity or risk-taking
- Co-occurring substance use disorders
Causes of DID
The exact causes of Dissociative Identity Disorder are not yet fully understood, but it is believed to arise from a combination of genetic, developmental, and environmental factors. One of the primary theories is that DID develops as a coping mechanism in response to severe and chronic trauma, such as childhood abuse, neglect, or other forms of interpersonal violence.
DID may develop as a way for the individual to compartmentalize and dissociate from the overwhelming feelings, thoughts, and memories associated with trauma. By creating separate identities or parts, the person may be able to avoid the pain and distress of traumatic experiences, and maintain some level of functioning in their daily life.
It is important to note that not all individuals who experience trauma develop DID, and not all cases of DID are related to trauma. Other potential risk factors for DID may include a family history of dissociative disorders, certain personality traits or disorders, and certain neurological or cognitive vulnerabilities.
Diagnosis of DID
The diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) can be challenging. It usually requires a careful and comprehensive evaluation by a mental health professional with expertise in dissociative disorders. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) outlines the criteria for DID, which include:
- The presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states, each with its own 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 symptoms are not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance or a general medical condition.
Because DID can be easily misdiagnosed or overlooked, it is important for mental health professionals to consider a range of other factors when evaluating a patient. This may include assessing for other dissociative disorders.
Help for DID and Other Mental Health Conditions
Life for someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) can be quite challenging. DID can also place a strain on loved ones and others who are close to the person. This is one reason why awareness, compassion and access to appropriate care are so important.
The good news is that symptoms of DID can be managed with the right help and there are numerous tools and coping practices that can make a tremendous difference in quality of life. It is crucial to raise awareness and combat any stigma or misinformation surrounding DID as best we can. People with mental health disorders deserve our compassion and support.
At Reconnect, our specialized mental health programs offer intensive trauma and mental health treatment for a wide range of conditions, including dissociative disorders, including DID. Our therapists and experts are passionate about helping people learn to manage their conditions and live better lives. If you or someone you love is living with a mental health disorder or the symptoms of trauma, Reconnect wants to help. Give us a call at (310) 713-6739 today, to find out what we can do for you.