What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a condition in which a person exhibits the behaviors of two or more distinct identities. Often various identities display amnesia for the actions of other identities, making people with DID seem forgetful. Formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder, the condition was first popularized in the media by books the books The Three Faces of Eve and Sybil.
How common is Dissociative Identity Disorder?
There is a myth that Dissociative Identity Disorder is extremely rare, but that is not true. Approximately 1% of the general population suffers from DID, making it about as prevalent as schizophrenia. People think DID is rare, because many people with the condition don’t know they have it.
How does Dissociative Identity present?
Despite media portrayals of DID as a dramatic condition in which various alternate personalities announce their presence and act strangely, in truth the changes among identities are usually subtle. They are so subtle, in fact, that even those closest to someone with DID might not realize he or she has it.
It is the nature of DID for sufferers not to recognize when they have switched personalities. While they often forget the things they’ve done when they are a different identity, people with DID also have what is known as “amnesia for the amnesia”—meaning they do not recognize that they have forgotten time.
What causes Dissociative Identity Disorder?
It’s generally believed that Dissociative Identity Disorder is caused by severe and repeated abuse in early childhood. In order to cope with frightening and dangerous situations, the child dissociates (or “zones out”) during abuse. Over time, the repeated dissociation affects the child’s still forming personality, leading to abnormal development.
The so-called “controversy” surrounding Dissociative Identity Disorder
Many sites and articles claim that Dissociative Identity Disorder is a “controversial” diagnosis. This is not true. Dissociative Identity Disorder is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and has been for decades. In addition, all mainstream organizations that study psychological trauma recognize the validity of DID.
What are remedies for Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Because people with Dissociative Identity Disorder usually don’t realize they have it, they rarely seek treatment for the disorder. Instead, people with DID often seek treatment for other conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD or suicidality. During the course of therapy, if the therapist has had training in dissociative disorders, he or she may be able to recognize a case of DID. However, because most therapists haven’t been trained to look for symptoms of DID and believe it to be extremely rare, the condition is routinely misdiagnosed—on average for seven years.
Once a person knows that they are suffering from DID, he or she should work with a competent therapist to treat the disorder. Treating Dissociative Identity Disorder usually takes many years of psychotherapy. In addition, medication is often needed to treat depression and anxiety, which are both common in people with DID.
With proper diagnosis and treatment, people with Dissociative Identity Disorder can improve immensely and go on to lead happy, fulfilling lives.
Dr. Michelle Stevens is a psychologist, writer, and expert on trauma. She wrote the bestselling book, Scared Selfless: My Journey from Abuse and Madness to Surviving and Thriving (Putnam, 2017).