What is Multiple Personality Disorder?

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It’s difficult to believe that a person can split into more than one personality on a given day, but it happens for people living with Multiple Personality Disorder. What causes a person to have a split personality? This post will help you understand Dissociative Identity Disorder, its possible causes, signs that can help you tell if someone has multiple personalities, and treatment options for the disorder.

Understanding Dissociative Identity Disorder

Mental health professionals now refer to what was once known as Multiple Personality Disorder as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). The new name more accurately reflects the nature of the disorder — a person experiencing a fractured identity with more than one separate personality.

Below are some highlights of Dissociative Identity Disorder:

  • People with DID often experience life through a fractured lens of different identities, sometimes called “alters.”
  • Each personality (or alter) takes time being “in control” of the person, with them usually having no say in which personality is present at a given time.
  • A person’s separate personalities may have their own characteristics, voices, handwriting, and histories.
  • Memory lapses are frequent with DID, which can cause extreme confusion, distress, and difficulty in daily life.
  • People with DID often don’t show blatant changes in their everyday behavior, or at least not changes that are observable to acquaintances or strangers.
  • People might not even be aware of their different personality states, making this condition difficult to diagnose.

Mental health professionals link DID to trauma. People who experience childhood abuse, neglect, or other traumatic events such as a natural disaster may begin to develop dissociative qualities as a coping mechanism after the trauma. It’s a way for the brain to protect against the harshness of trauma. DID also is linked to genetics and disruptions in attachment as a child.

Other Types of Dissociative Disorders

Dissociative Identity Disorder falls under the category of dissociative disorders. There are different types of dissociative disorders.

Other dissociative disorders include:

  • Dissociative Amnesia – This disorder involves a gap in memory, usually surrounding or triggered by a traumatic event. But people can also experience amnesia surrounding their life history or ordinary events, even months to years of their life.
  • Depersonalization Disorder – People who experience this disorder go through feelings of being detached from themselves or their reality. It’s like they’re outside observers of themselves, what they are doing, or what’s happening to them.

A key difference between DID and other dissociative disorders is the presence of two or more personalities. Multiple personalities don’t exist with the other disorders. DID also tends to be chronic, whereas the other disorders may be episodic.

Common Signs and Symptoms of DID

As with most mental health diagnoses, signs and symptoms of DID vary. But there are some common things to look for.

Common signs and symptoms of DID include:

  • Significant Memory Lapses – These might be for days or include events or significant moments with certain people. It might feel like having “lost time.”
  • Switching – It may be obvious when a person switches between personalities. These changes could be different behaviors, mannerisms, tone of voice, etc.
  • Feeling Disconnected – Feeling as though you aren’t connected to the people and events happening around you. Also, feeling disconnected from your own thoughts or feelings or in a continuous state of conflict.
  • Identity Confusion – Each personality may have different likes, interests, or tendencies, which can be confusing and cause distress.
  • Distorted World – Portions of your life might seem unreal or impossible to you.
  • Difference in Functioning – Each persona has a different level of functioning, potentially leading to frequent changes in behavior and mood.
  • Trauma Symptoms – Trauma symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares, or uncontrollable, intense emotions are common.
  • Self-Harm – Self-harming behaviors and suicidal ideation are common in people with this disorder.
  • Other Mental Health Conditions – A person with DID may also experience anxiety, depression, or difficulties eating and sleeping.

Only a qualified mental health professional can assess the criteria of Dissociative Identity Disorder. If you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one, seeking advice from a professional probably is the best step.

Possible Complications of Dissociative Identity Disorder

Because of the nature of Dissociative Identity Disorder, people diagnosed may experience difficulty in multiple areas of their life.

Problems related to DID may include those in:

  • Identity – They may feel like they don’t belong or have a clear sense of their identity. They can’t recognize who they are because their self-identity is shattered.
  • Memory – People with DID lose time and have gaps in their memory. They often feel disoriented because they can’t remember significant events in their lives.
  • Relationships – Maintaining personal relationships, including significant others, friends, peers, or coworkers, could be difficult because of the feelings of disconnection, memory lapses, and changes in functioning that a person with DID experiences.
  • Work and School – Work and school may be difficult due to deadlines, everyday responsibilities, and balancing relationships necessary to adhere to duties. This difficulty could potentially lead to job loss and difficulty getting and maintaining work.
  • Isolation – Most of what people know about DID is from movies, if they know anything about the disorder. Having multiple personalities can seem frightening, so people with DID often face stigmas and feel like outcasts. They may isolate because of their feelings or from lack of options.
  • Dual Diagnoses – People with DID may experience other mental health problems like anxiety, depression, insomnia, eating disorders, substance use, and sexual problems. The combination of mental health concerns can drastically impact the person’s ability to function.

Each person is different, so experiences for people with DID vary widely. What’s important is that anyone dealing with emotional distress finds a professional in a safe, comfortable environment to address symptoms in positive ways.

Treatment for Dissociative Identity Disorder

Treatment for Dissociative Identity Disorder often involves medications to address anxiety, depression, and psychosis. The most successful treatment of DID usually involves a combination of medication and talk therapy.

Psychotherapy for DID involves a goal of integrative functioning or figuring out ways that a person’s personality states can function together for a healthier, more successful life. This therapy could include working on resolving conflicts between personalities.

Part of psychotherapy may involve attempts to address the past trauma that led to the state of dissociation. For this reason, counselors may use trauma-focused approaches such as Eye Movement and Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) or other approaches have proven to work for trauma disorders.

Therapy also aims to find coping mechanisms that work to reduce stress due to life events. These will be different for everyone, but people with DID and other issues (like depression or suicidal ideation) need to maintain positive ways of coping with stress.

How All Counseling Can Help

Finding a therapist that you’re comfortable with is key to your mental health. All Counseling provides a therapist directory that allows you to filter by location, specialty, and more. If you or someone in your life is concerned about Dissociative Identity Disorder, use All Counseling’s directory to find a therapist to help.