When a person goes through an overwhelmingly traumatic experience, it is common to dissociate from it if it is too distressing to remember. For example, physical or sexual abuse might trigger detachment, the same way that going through an event such as the recent mass shooting at the Las Vegas concert may cause a survivor to “blank out” the memory that is causing emotional pain. For some individuals, however, their distress is so severe they may not be able to connect with their memories, feelings or even to their own sense of identity. These people likely have Dissociative Identity Disorder. Also known as Multiple Personality Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a complex psychological disorder. Formerly thought to be an uncommon expression of trauma, studies have shown that Dissociative Identity Disorder is found in about 0.01 – 0.1% of the population. Often the result of childhood traumas, such as abuse and neglect, DID may take years to diagnose because the symptoms can be so similar to those found in other conditions. In fact, many mental health professionals argue that Dissociative Identity Disorder doesn’t exist on its own – they feel it is actually part of other disorders, such as borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia. Dissociation, in and of itself, is a phenomenon that is universal to all cultures. When you daydream, you are dissociating, in the same way you are when you lose track of time because you’re involved in a project. It is when an individual uses profound dissociation as a coping mechanism that a disorder comes into question. Most therapists have come to believe that the severity of DID is related to how traumatic the person’s experience was to them. Some people hold jobs and have families, and only those who are closest to them are aware of their challenges. Others may exhibit wild mood swings, suicidal ideation, and other self-destructive behaviors.
Dissociative Identity Disorder SymptomsPeople with DID often seek treatment for depression, anxiety, suicide risk, or substance abuse. Among other things, Dissociative Identity Disorder can be misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder, ADHD, or schizophrenia. Dissociative Identity Disorder is characterized by:
- The presence of two or more distinct or split identities or personality states that continually have power over the person’s behavior.
- Amnesia and the inability to recall significant information about themselves. This is more encompassing than simply being forgetful.
- The individual has memories that vary with each identity or “alter”. These different personalities have their own unique characteristics – they each have an age, a gender, and different mannerisms.
- The symptoms aren’t due to something like seizures or from blackouts related to substance abuse.
- Mood swings
- Sleep disorders
- Eating disorders
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Feeling like they have “out of body” experiences