Dissociative Identity Disorder

Dissociative Identity Disorder was formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder because it is defined as “a severe condition in which two or more distinct identities, or personality states, are present in...an individual” (Psychology Today, 2018, 1). Marilyn Monroe, a prominent American model, actress, and singer suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder throughout her career, and many theorize that due to having this disease, she overdosed on prescription drugs in 1962 (Health Research Fund, 2013, 1). Dissociative Identity Disorder was first diagnosed by Paracelsus, a Swiss physician, in 1646. He described people with DID as having two conscious states of mind and switching between the two (Farrell, 2011, 402-406). Dissociative Identity Disorder is extremely rare, but some experts estimate 1% of the population suffers from the disorder. It is more commonly found in victims of child abuse (Tracy 1, 2018, 1).

Symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder include memory loss, a sense of detachment, a distorted perception of the world around you, significant stress or problems in important areas of your life, and any other mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Other disorders related to DID include Dissociative Amnesia and Depersonalization-Derealization Disorder. Dissociative Amnesia patients suffer severe memory loss, worse than normal forgetfulness. They cannot recall information about people or events in their life, most often traumatic experiences. An amnesia episode occurs suddenly and usually lasts for minutes or hours at a time. Dissociative Depersonalization-Derealization Disorder includes a continuous sense of detachment from yourself, similar to watching a movie of your life. The world around you becomes foggy or dreamlike, and time speeds up or slows down. Symptoms can last a minute or two, or they can come every so often for years. People with Dissociative Identity Disorder can also suffer from Depression, which is low feelings of self-esteem and Generalized Anxiety, constant worrying over non-essential things (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2017, 1). A man named Billy Milligan was arrested in 1977 for “kidnapping, robbing, and raping three women around Ohio State University” (Tracy 2, 2018, 1). A psychiatrist saw him upon his arrest and diagnosed him with DID. Because of this diagnosis, Milligan’s lawyer argued that he should not be arrested because other personalities were controlling him in the act of committing the crimes. The jury agreed and Milligan thus became the first person to be found not guilty due to DID (Tracy 2, 2018, 1).

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Trauma is a key contributor to causing Dissociative Identity Disorder. “About 90% of the cases of DID involve some history of abuse” (Cleveland Clinic, 2016, 1). DID can also be linked to natural disasters, accidents, or serving in a war. The disorder is often thought of as a way to cope with these horrible circumstances. Like other mental disorders, people affected with DID often suffer headaches or severe pain in other parts of the body (Cleveland Clinic, 2016, 1). Also, a disorganized attachment of the Orbitofrontal Cortex in the brain combined with traumatic events in a person’s life are the main causes of Dissociative Identity Disorder. People who are affected by DID are most often people who were abused as a child, whether that be emotionally, verbally, physically, or sexually (Manton, 2018, 1).

Psychotherapy is the most common and most effective method of treatment for patients diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder. This treatment involves therapists trying “to help clients improve their relationships with others and to experience feelings they have not felt comfortable...with” (Dryden-Edwards, 2018, 1). Hypnosis is also used in treating DID in order to learn the information a patient already knows about their other states of mind so that the patient can have more control over them. Another method used to treat people suffering from DID is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, which is “a type of treatment that integrates traumatic memories with the patient's own resources” (Dryden-Edwards, 2018, 1). Medications can also be prescribed for patients in order to treat the other mental conditions they suffer with DID, such as depression, anxiety, and anger. Medications are often least effective because they do not specifically target Dissociative Identity Disorder itself but rather the other health conditions that go along with DID (Dryden-Edwards, 2018, 1). Billy Milligan was hospitalization, and he was admitted and confined to a mental institution in 1988 where the psychiatrists concluded that all three of his personalities had molded into one (Tracy 2, 2018, 1).

Since many people diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder had previously suffered through a tragic and traumatic event, in order to prevent DID you must limit yourself to being exposed to traumatic events. If a traumatic event were to occur, then survivors of the event must be helped to understand what they have gone through in a healthy way (Dryden-Edwards, 2018, 1). One common misconception about Dissociative Identity Disorder is that it is the same thing as Schizophrenia. “People with DID are not delusional or hallucinating their alters” (Peisley, 2017, 1). Some of the symptoms, most often hearing voices, are similar to Schizophrenia, but DID and Schizophrenia are two different official mental disorders. An additional myth concerning DID is that people with the disorder are violent. There are not many cases of people with DID linking them to committing a crime, and people with DID are actually more likely to experience more violence rather than be violent people themselves. The idea of having a sinister alternate personality is false. Another lie about DID is that the multiple identities of a person diagnosed with DID are blatantly obvious and act out in an extreme way. Movies and entertainment dramatize switching from one personality to another when in reality, someone who is around a diagnosed DID patient can’t tell if a switch were to occur (Peisley, 2018, 1).

Some other things to know about Dissociative Identity Disorder include key terms such as “the core,” “alters,” and “switching.” “The core” is defined as the original state of mind for a person with DID. It is the personality they were born with. “Alters” refer to the other personalities an individual possesses apart from the core. “Switching” is the term used to describe when a person changes from one identity to another. An interesting fact about DID is that it can occur in any race, nationality, or at any age, however, it is most commonly diagnosed in American children. There is currently no known cure for DID, but therapy has been found to significantly help those who have been diagnosed with the disorder. During therapy sessions, each personality is focused on, and they are not seen as problems to the person. Switching usually occurs when a person with DID feels some sort of outside threat so that an alternate personality can deal with it. Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disease are oftentimes mistaken for DID. Schizophrenia patients’ main symptoms are hallucinating and they become delusional, and people with Bipolar Disease just suffer from frequent mood swings. However neither of these disorders’ symptoms include having multiple and uniquely different personalities or states of mind. Lastly, people diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder are far more likely to harm themselves than to harm others. Overall, you shouldn’t be afraid of people with DID because they are not the monsters the media portrays them to be. Instead, if you know someone who has DID, you should be there for them and be willing to help them out if they need it (Weaver, 2017, 1).