Imagine being yourself at day, and at night you are a completely different person with another personality – and not knowing what it’s like.
This is a real case, and many of us know what this is called. This disorder is displayed in tons of movies, where the most brilliant actors and actresses can personify the disorder almost perfectly. We may know it as its former name – Multiple Personality Disorder, Split Personality, or its current name, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Throughout this disorder study post, I may refer Dissociative Identity Disorder as DID, a shorter abbreviation alternative.
As I find the brain engrossing, I also find the study of mind and behavior, also known as Psychology, an engaging topic. DID is one of the most fascinating mental disorders to me because of how unreal it seems. I have yet to meet someone with DID, but watching several documentaries on YouTube can give someone a perspective on this mental disorder. DID can cause anxiety, since you have no clue what your other personality does, and it can be a very scary thing. Let’s dive into the details.
Causes: DID is a controversial topic, with causes varying from left to right, and is still being researched. Many claim that it starts from trauma, others say it’s produced from inappropriate psychotherapeutic techniques that causes a patient to act as if they had DID, and some create their own hypotheses branching off from the trauma and into memory processing in children. Many patients with DID indeed did have trauma at some time in their life, often cases being prolonged and in childhood. Disturbed or altered sleep, along with altered environments have been suggested as having a role in dissociative disorders in general.
Symptoms: The following are the official symptoms as described by AAMFT:
- Unexplained events and inability to be aware of them (such as finding yourself somewhere without remembering how you got there or new clothes that you have no recollection of buying).
- Frequent bouts of memory loss or “lost time.”
- Sudden return of memories, as in a flashback and/or flashback to traumatic events.
- Episodes of feeling disconnected or detached from one’s body and thoughts.
- Hallucinations (sensory experiences that are not real, such as hearing voices talking to you or talking inside your head).
- “Out of body” experiences.
- Suicide attempts or self-injury.
- Differences in handwriting from time to time.
- Changing levels of functioning, from highly effective to nearly disabled.
- Inability to remember large parts of childhood.
They can also be susceptible to depression or mood swings, phobias or reactions to “triggers”, sleep problems, eating disorders, and severe headaches or pain.
Treatment: Treatment can help in various ways, with varying impacts that depends on the severity of the case. Common treatment methods include a mix of psychotherapy techniques, including cognitive behavioral therapy, insight-oriented therapies, dialectical behavioral therapy, hypnotherapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Medications have been used for comorbid disorders and/or targeted symptom relief. What can be scary is that some alters may be completely against the treatment, fearing that their existence will disappear. It’s highly likely that while undergoing treatment, if the patient had multiple alters, at least a few of them will reduce and stop appearing. Although rare, in some cases, patients with DID can be integrated into just one identity.
The first case of DID was dated in 1646, by a Swiss-German philosopher Paracelsus. Eventually, as cases became more common, people were intrigued and started to research the disorder. Although rare, the people took inspiration from this almost unreal disorder, and started making DID a popular theme for books, television shows, and other forms of media. A notable book is “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”, written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886. The very phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” originated from this book. It means a person who is incredibly different in moral character from one situation to the next.
Now that we’ve got a grasp on the basic concept of DID, shall we take a look at a case example?
An interesting real case example is the story of a woman named Judy Castelli. She had suffered physical and sexual abuse, later having depression. Over the next several years, she struggled with voices inside of her head telling her to cut and burn herself. Judy was hospitalized several times for suicide attempts, and returned home each time being diagnosed with chronic undifferentiated schizophrenia. It was only later during therapy that she was diagnosed with not just 4, but 44 different personalities. Since then, she has been a strong advocate for the disorder and works as an artist teaching art to people with mental illnesses. She was featured in the New York Times with her story. If you found this case example interesting, click here to view more.
Overall, Dissociative Identity Disorder is a very interesting disorder in which a patient has multiple personalities- imagining a loved one with a completely alter-personality can be difficult, and the thought that it occurs to some people can be astonishing and yet terrifying. The disorder is mostly found in young men and woman, often in their 20s-40s, although there can be cases as late as 60+. The disorder is rarely found in young children, since DID stems off trauma in most cases, and it is often rare that a child has a large trauma to trigger their DID early on in their life. Usually, the trauma that causes DID for young adults comes from their childhood experiences. There can as little as just 1 other personality to more than 44. I hope fellow readers have found this as a very interesting topic like I have, and stay tuned for more.