Dissociative identity disorder, commonly refereed to as multiple personality disorder, is a severe posttraumatic psychopathology disorder characterized by the disruption of memories, perception and identity. Dissociative identity disorder is characterized by the existence of 2 or more personalities within the individual in addition to episodes of amnesia. Clinically, only one of the personalities is present at any given moment, and one of them is dominant most of the time. These individuals often have a past history of severe trauma in childhood and exhibit borderline personality disorder, PTSD, past suicide attempts, major depression and somatization disorder. In 2016 the movie Split was released which portrayed the main character as having 23 different personalities ranging from an innocent child to an extremely violent superhuman. Although this movie and the majority of pop-culture do not display dissociative identity disorder accurately, it is important to understand the differences between the truths and myths associated with this psychological disorder.

Signs and symptoms of dissociative identity disorder

Dissociative identity disorder usually is rooted in childhood however it is not diagnosed until adulthood. The following are signs and symptoms associated this this disorder:

  • Amnesia
  • Blackouts
  • Two different personalities
  • Sleepwalking
  • Automatic writing
  • Social withdrawal
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Truancy
  • Running away from home
  • Hostility
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Referring to oneself as “we”

Causes of dissociative identity disorder

Dissociative identity disorder is thought to stem from traumatic experiences in childhood. Children who have been physically or sexually abused are more likely to develop dissociative identity disorder in adulthood compared to the rest of the population. Additionally, foster children who are mistreated are also at a higher risk for this disorder. Additionally borderline personality disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder commonly co-occur with dissociative identity disorder and are known to also stem from a history of childhood abuse. It is often difficulty to diagnose dissociative identity disorder in childhood because many children cannot discern fantasy from reality and therefore displaying different parts of their personalities can be normal for them. The loss of time and discontinuity of experience as unusual may be completely normal for children. If a child is presenting with possible dissociative symptoms it is imperative to asses for signs of physical abuse such as burns and bruises.

Treatment of dissociative identity disorder

Dissociative identity disorder is difficult to diagnose and also a challenge to treat. Dissociative episodes, flashbacks, and self-destructive and suicidal impulses are common difficulties and once the diagnosis has been made, the individual must be removed from all toxic environments that could trigger these dissociative behaviors. This includes removing the person from their abuser and entering an intensive therapy program focusing on trust, and teaching the individual to recognize themselves while enabling them to function as best as they can. Individuals must learn to deal with dissociation, flashbacks, and intense affects such as rage, terror, and despair through means of psychotherapy. Many of these individuals who are survivors of abuse have control issues and therefore therapy is needed in order for them to reconnect with their sense of self and to establish a sense of safety.