What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Dissociative Identity Disorder (also known as Multiple Personality Disorder) is a dramatic identity disorder in which two or more relatively independent personalities appear to exist in a person.

A person with DID may have up to a hundred different personalities (called alters), but the average reported number of personalities is ten. The relationships between the personalities are generally complex but only one personality is evident at a time.

The alternation of personalities produces amnesia in the personality that has been displaced. The alters  may or may not be aware of each other and differ, sometimes to opposite extremes.

Dissociation is a mental process wherein a person's thoughts and feelings may be separated from their immediate reality; however, it is NOT the same as Dissociative Identity Disorder. There are a number of dissociative disorders, including dissociative amnesia, dissociative fugue, and depersonalization disorder.

Dissociative Identity Disorder is more common in women who have experienced childhood physical or sexual abuse and typically manifests before the age of twelve.

Despite controversy, Dissociative Identity Disorder is a real disorder.

Causes for Dissociative Identity Disorder:

The cause for Dissociative Identity Disorder hasn't been pinpointed, but it's generally agreed that DID is caused by a combination of environmental and biological factors.

Individuals with the disorder are likely to have personal histories of overpowering and often life-threatening disturbances before the age of nine.  Dissociative Identity Disorder often (BUT NOT ALWAYS) occurs when a child is subjected to neglect, emotional, sexual or physical abuse.

Symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder:

Dissociative Identity Disorder is characterized by two or more distinct personalities, or alters, each with their own sex and race. Each alter has unique gestures and ways of talking. The personalities are imaginary people and occasionally are animals.

Switching refers to what happens when a personality reveals itself and controls the behavior and thoughts of the individual. Switching can occur for seconds at a time or for days.

Major Symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder:

Amnesia: gaps in memory for long periods of their past; sometimes their entire childhood. DID patients often experience gaps in time when an alter has taken over and report finding things they don't remember buying or other unexplained activity.

Derealization: feeling like the external environment is unreal. May be experienced as objects changing size or shape.

Identity Disturbances: DID sufferers tend to have one "host" personality that is generally not the original personality of the person but one developed as a result of childhood trauma.

Depersonalization: feels like their body is unreal, changing or dissolving.

Other Symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder:

  • Feeling impulsive and out of control
  • Abnormal behaviors
  • Mood swings
  • Compulsions and rituals
  • Psychotic-like symptoms (including hallucinations)
  • Sleep disorders (insomnia, sleep-walking, night terrors)

Diagnosis of DID per the DSM-IV:

  • Two or more distinct personalities are evident; each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, thinking, and relating to their environment.
  • At least two alters recurrently take control of the individual's behavior.
  • Individual cannot recall personal information, too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness.
  • The disturbance is not due to substance abuse or a general medical condition.

Treatment For Dissociative Identity Disorder:

There is no cure for DID, but a multi-pronged approach to treatment has been found to be effective for those with Dissociative Identity Disorder, including:

  • Treatment of any underlying symptoms such as depression or anxiety with medications.

  • Hypnotherapy to help person recover repressed ideas and traumatic memories.

  • Long-Term Personal Therapy with a therapist who has special training with DID. The goal for therapy is to deconstruct the various personalities and unite them as one.

  • Family Therapy to assist the family of the individual dealing with DID.

  • Group therapy with others who have Dissociative Identity Disorder.

  • Art or Movement therapy

Related Resources on Band Back Together

Child Abuse

Child Neglect

Dissociative Amnesia

Dissociative Disorders

Emotional Abuse

Incest/Child Sexual Abuse

Mental Illness



Additional Resources for Dissociative Identity Disorder:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides information and resources for many types of mental illness, including Dissociative Identity Disorder.

The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Disassociation (ISSTD) is an international organization for healthcare professionals who treat complex trauma and dissociation disorders.

The Dissociative Identity Disorder Sourcebook by Deborah Haddock. This book bridges the sensationalized issues surrounding DID and provides clear answers for people with DID, caregivers of those with DID, and therapists who treat those with DID.

Psychology Today provides an excellent overview article on Dissociative Identity Disorder.

NetworkTherapy.com provides links to information on DID, ongoing research, mental health associations and support groups for those who suffer with DID.

Art Therapy and Dissociative Identity Disorder from Oprah.com. The video shows drawings created by all 8 of the DID sufferer's personality.