Mental Health Spotlight: Dissociative Identity Disorder A mental health disorder with more mythology than fact

In Download Live Wire, Health and Wellness by Ismael Miranda

We all have moments of dissociation. Moments when the mind wanders, lost in a daydream or in-depth train of thought. Moments when one can become oddly aware of them self and pull away in a situation that is overwhelming or stressful.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is characterized by the presence of two or more distinct or split identities or personality states that have control over the individual’s actions. There is often bouts of amnesia and severe forgetfulness. There is generally a core personality, which serves as the base of the person and alters. Alters are other personalities which inhabit the mind of the patient and claim control of the body. The alters and core alternate in control of the person for bouts of time. There must be a core and at least one alter for a patient to be diagnosed with DID.

A common misconception of DID is its confusion with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality. They experience a type of breakdown that results in the relationship between thought, emotion, and behavior fracturing. This leads to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships, and a sense of mental fragmentation. While the word schizophrenia does come to mean, “split mind”, it is a distinct and different disorder from Dissociative Identity Disorder.

While the causes of Dissociative Identity Disorder are not fully understood, DID is thought to be caused early in adolescence, attributed as a result of interpersonal and environmental stresses, emotional neglect, severe and repetitive physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse. These traumas can interfere with personality development.

The dissociative aspect is believed to be a coping mechanism, the mind will dissociate from a situation or experience when deemed too violent, traumatic, or painful to assimilate with their conscious self. This is the point when the mind segments itself and an alter will appear. The first alter is usually a defender personality. A stronger alter that can defend the core from the trauma around them.

The “alters” or different identities can vary greatly, such as having their own age, sex, or race. There have been cases where the alters can vary in physical attributes such as capability, postures, gestures, and distinct way of talking.

These dissociated states are not fully mature personalities, but pieces of a disjointed sense of identity. Amnesic episodes can result in the different identity states remembering different aspects of autobiographical information. There is usually a “host” personality within the individual, who identifies with the person’s real name.

Each personality reveals itself and controls the individuals’ behavior and thoughts. The switching can be caused by a variety of things. A therapist can use hypnosis to speak to the person’s different “alters” or identities. This can allow the alters to be very responsive to the therapist’s requests.

Along with the dissociation and multiple or split personalities, people with dissociative disorders may experience a number of other psychiatric problems, including symptoms such as:

  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Sleep disorders (insomnia, night terrors, and sleepwalking)
  • Anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias (flashbacks, reactions to stimuli or “triggers”)
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Compulsions and rituals
  • Psychotic-like symptoms (including auditory and visual hallucinations)
  • Eating disorders

There are many who are skeptical of Dissociative Identity Disorder. This is understandable as the exact nature of most mental disorders fall within a spectrum and diagnosis can be difficult. There is some dissidence; some mental health professionals believe that a patient suffering from other mental disorders can exhibit the characteristics and traits commonly associated with did.

The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (dsm-5) provides the following criteria to diagnose dissociative identity disorder:

  • Two or more distinct identities or personality states are present, each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self.
  • Amnesia must occur, defined as gaps in the recall of everyday events, important personal information, and/or traumatic events.
  • The person must be distressed by the disorder or have trouble functioning in one or more major life areas because of the disorder.
  • The disturbance is not part of normal cultural or religious practices.
  • The symptoms cannot be due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (such as blackouts or chaotic behavior during alcohol intoxication) or a general medical condition (such as complex partial seizures).

There is no cure for this mental disorder. did is normally treated with therapy and over time a patient can improve. a psychologist will aim to unify the personalities so the patient can assimilate the alters into one persona.

Statistics show the rate of Dissociative Identity Disorder is .01% to 1% of the general population. Low numbers of “true” DID cases make understanding and studying this mental disorder difficult and is the reason information is scarce.

The media has been known to portray things in a particular way for the silver screen; mental health receives this treatment as well. The true nature of these disorders is often painted in ill light for the sake of an inspiring narrative. Films such as M. Night Shyamalan’s Split while showcasing many truths concerning DID, in the end aids in obfuscating the reality of it. While entertaining, this false mythology keeps people misinformed. Dissociative Identity Disorder is a rare and exotic mental health issue that while intriguing must be studied further to fully comprehend and treat properly.