Dissociative personality disorder, also known as dissociative identity disorder (DID), is a mental health condition in which someone experiences having two or more distinct personalities living within their mind. These personalities are described as being able to “take control” involuntarily, often without the individual involved being aware of what’s happening. They may manifest a host of different personality traits, memories, preferences, and behaviors. Researchers believe these separate personalities represent suppressed or isolated parts of the self and may often be a result of severe trauma experienced during childhood.
DID is part of a broader family of dissociative disorders, which are characterized by involuntary escapes from reality involving separation between identity, thoughts, consciousness, and memory. Dissociative disorders usually involve symptoms like depersonalization and derealization, which leave a person feeling detached from their experiences and emotions and lacking a solid sense of self. People from all age groups and racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds can experience a dissociative disorder.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Dissociative identity disorder can manifest in a variety of ways. However, according to the DSM-5, the following criteria must be met for an individual to be diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder:
- An individual must experience a minimum of two identities, or states of personality, each characterized by its own pattern of perceiving, thinking about, and relating to the environment and self.
- The individual frequently has trouble recalling events, places, and people from both the recent and distant past. These repeated gaps cannot be explained by ordinary forgetting.
- There must be a disruption in identity, including changes in self-awareness, sense of agency, behavior, consciousness, memory, perception, cognition, and motor skills. In other words, a truly distinct personality must be manifesting.
- A significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning resulting from the symptoms.
Additionally, feelings of depersonalization and derealization are common. Depersonalization involves feeling detached from your identity and your body, almost as if you are living in a dream. It may feel as though you are numb to your memories and surroundings or like you’re observing yourself from outside of your body. Derealization involves feeling as if the world around you isn’t real or that you’re experiencing it through a haze or fog and cut off from it all.
Understanding Dissociative Identities
Prior to 1994, DID was known as multiple personality disorder. Still, the name has since been changed to reflect a more accurate understanding of the condition – namely, that it is characterized by a splintering of identity rather than by the existence of multiple unique identities that operate independently of each other. Despite this, dissociative identities often feel and present themselves as being very real, and to the person experiencing them, at least, they are.
In DID, various aspects of identity, memory, and consciousness are not integrated into a single unified self, typically due to either trauma experienced at an early age or chemical imbalances in the brain. A person’s primary identity, which usually carries their given name, is often passive, dependent, guilty, and depressed and may feel inadequate to the task of facing daily life.
Each distinct personality state or alter represents other, often suppressed, aspects of the individual that aren’t able to find expression under ordinary circumstances. Alters differ in many ways from the primary identity, often including their name, reported age and gender, vocabulary, knowledge, and mood. The circumstances or stressors that bring about a particular alter can vary. Various identities may deny knowledge of one another, criticize one another, or appear to be at odds with one another.
How Is Dissociative Identity Disorder Treated?
Treatment for DID typically involves long-term psychotherapy designed to deconstruct different personalities into one and make them cohesive. Currently, there are no medications available specifically for dissociative disorders themselves, although some symptoms might be treated with medication. Other treatments include cognitive-behavioral and creative therapies, including case management and assertive community treatment services like those offered by our Team here at Life Adjustment Team.
Outpatient treatment options like LAT’s Intensive Outpatient Program significantly improve outcomes for people with a dissociative identity disorder. We bring personalized, one-to-one support to you where you are to meet your unique healthcare needs. In addition, our hands-on group and individual Cognitive and Dialectical Behavior Therapy sessions help clients find ways to accept themselves, feel safe, and manage their emotions to help regulate potentially harmful or destructive behaviors. Schedule a meeting with a member of our Clinical Team to get started today!