Dissociative Identity Disorder

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Dissociative Identity Disorder

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a condition in which a person has different personalities. This condition was previously known as multiple personality disorder. It is characterized by having different personalities in one mind.

People with DID struggle with the experience of having one or more personalities. These personalities have the ability to take control of the body. Alternate personalities may be referred to in different ways. They are considered alter identities that take control of the host identity.

A person with DID may have one or more alter identity. Each alter identity will have its own characteristics and preferences. They may have their own names, friends, and hobbies. The identities can also have different mannerisms and methods of coping. Each identity will be responsible for handling different moments of stress.

Example: An alter identity may take control of the host identity in a moment of high stress. This is often due to the host identity not being able to cope with the stress themselves.

Dissociative identity disorder can be scary for an affected person. It can cause blackouts or lapses in memory. The affected person is often left unaware of the alter identity or identities. This can cause a struggle with getting proper diagnosis and treatment. Though it is a challenging process, identification, diagnosis and treatment for DID can be successful.

Symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder

The symptoms of DID can be distressing for a person. The condition causes many scary symptoms. Oftentimes the host identity does not know what is really happening with them. They will experience blackouts, lapses in memory, and more. This is due to the altar identity taking control of conscious awareness, causing the host identity to enter a dormant state. A person who has not discovered their alter identities will not understand the cause of their blackouts. This makes the experience even more distressing for them.

The prime symptom of DID is having at least one alter identity. This alter identity will have its own personality, preferences, and interests. They will have their own independent thoughts and methods of handling challenges. They often have their own names, though may present themselves as the host identity in certain situations.

The following are other common symptoms of DID:

  • Difficulty with managing stress
  • Trouble with relationships
  • Lapses of conscious awareness and loss of memory
  • Alternating methods of coping with stress
  • Headaches or unexplained pains
  • Depersonalization and derealization
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Substance abuse
  • Impulsivity
  • Self-harm
  • Alcohol abuse

Due to the way DID functions, it is not uncommon for symptoms to be seen by others who are close to the host identity, but not the host themselves. Some symptoms that a loved one may observe include:

  • Seemingly dramatic mood swings
  • Drastic changes in personality
  • Differing levels of intellect or functionality
  • Inconsistent methods of relating to people
  • Odd and erratic behaviors

Causes of Dissociative Identity Disorder

A person will develop DID in reaction to intense prolonged abuse. Abuse leaves emotional scars on people. Sometimes, the abuse is so severe, intense and chronic that a person cannot cope with the emotional, physical and mental impact. As a result, a person with DID will create an alternate identity. This alternate identity becomes responsible for handling the moments of trauma and abuse.

People with DID typically will have experienced prolonged abuse beginning during early childhood. This abuse will be intense and inescapable. It will be so severe and intense for the child, that it will permanently affect their cognitive, emotional and mental development.

Such situations that may cause a person to develop an alternate identity to escape from the abuse include:

  • Prolonged neglect
  • Recurrent incidents of sexual abuse
  • Physical abuse and violence
  • Emotional abuse and/or neglect
  • Recurring incidents of life-threatening experiences
  • Lack of support, protection or intervention from a parent or guardian

Treatment for Dissociative Identity Disorder

Dissociative identity disorder is treatable, but treatment takes many years to complete. It can be an intense process for a person with DID, but when completed successfully, it can have a life changing impact on them. It is important for people with DID to seek therapy for their condition.

In order to receive successful therapy for DID, it is important to find a mental health professional who specializes in the condition. Typically, a condition of DID needs to be treated by a doctorate level professional.

Treatment for DID is a process. It will take time and commitment. It will be challenging, but can teach an affected person many new skills for coping. A person in treatment for DID will explore different things with their therapist. Such things include:

  • Healthy coping skills for stress, anxiety and depressed mood
  • Relaxation and mindfulness skills that promote distress tolerance
  • Self-esteem, personal value exploration and self-care
  • Healthy patterns of thought that reduce the risk of self-harm

Treatment for DID will also include cooperation between the identities. Each identity will need to participate in treatment. They will work together to learn about managing emotions and establishing healthy coping skills. They will also work together to establish goals for themselves.

A challenging part of treatment will be allowing the host identity to meet and come to terms with alter identities. This can be a challenging process for all identities involved. Sometimes, identities may choose to fuse together. Other times, the identities may choose to remain independent from each other. Ultimately, a primary goal is cooperation between identities. Fusion and unification is not necessary, though some may choose to complete the unification process.

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