Category: Amnesia

Misconceptions About Dissociative Identity Disorder | The Mighty

By Chris Alter

There are a lot of misconceptions about dissociative identity disorder (DID). Here are some common ones I’ve heard:

1. “DID is so rare, you can’t possibly have it!”

It isn’t actually as rare as you may think. The ISSTD (International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation) accept that up to one to three percent of the general population have DID, this is roughly the same amountof people who possess the “ginger” gene!

2. “If you really had DID, you wouldn’t know about your alters!”

It’s fairly common for those with DID to know about their alters. Many report hearing others talking inside and can be aware of other “selves,” even in childhood. Many individuals will not remember what they have been doing for periods of time and can behave completely out of character. This is an extremely confusing experience, especially prior to receiving psychiatric support. Internal communication between alters is often worked on and improved through therapy.

3. “Do you have an evil alter? I’ve heard people with DID are dangerous!”

This is a common misconception which isn’t helped by media portrayals of “split personalities” like the characters Jekyll and Hyde and sensationalized films like the 2017 movie, “Split.” Those with DID (like most mental illnesses) are more likely to be a danger to themselves, not others. There are no evil alters. There can be destructive alters, but they need the same amount of compassion as any other member of the system!

4. “You can develop DID as an adult!”

The only possible time that DID can form is in early childhood, generally accepted to be before age of six and nine at the latest, because normal personality development that occurs at this age is interrupted by trauma. Traumatic experiences that occur later than this age can lead to other conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but not DID.

5. “DID is the same as schizophrenia!”

They are two very different disorders. According to the ISSTD, DID is a dissociative disorder developed through chronic childhood trauma and characterized by “the presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states that recurrently take control of the individual’s behavior, accompanied by an inability to recall important personal information that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness.”

Schizophrenia, on the other hand, is a psychotic disorder potentially caused by a number of factors including genetics, biology of the brain and stress. It is characterized by delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, disorganized speech, etc. which causes significant social or occupational dysfunction.

6. “DID isn’t real! Stop pretending!” 

DID is very real and there is a lot of evidence supporting it. Despite this, it remains a controversial diagnosis to some professionals. Despite having a diagnosis of DID, a psychiatrist on an acute psychiatric ward once told me it doesn’t exist, that I was lying and it is “the stuff of Hollywood movies!” Stigma surrounding this disorder can unfortunately sometimes include professionals, despite DID being a recognized psychological condition in diagnostic manuals worldwide.

7. “You can’t have DID, I would have noticed!”

Often switches between alters are not obvious to those who don’t know what to look for. If you know someone with DID well, you may notice slight differences in body language, vocal differences, differences in handwriting, differences in vocabulary etc. that would otherwise go unnoticed.

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What Is a Dissociative Disorder?

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) (known in the past as Multiple Personality Disorder-MPD) and other Dissociative Disorders are now understood to be fairly common effects of severe trauma in early childhood. The most common cause is extreme, repeated physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse.

People with Dissociative Disorders may experience any of the following: depression, mood swings, suicidal thoughts or attempts, sleep disorders (insomnia, night terrors, and sleep walking), panic attacks and phobias (flashbacks, reactions to reminders of the trauma), alcohol and drug abuse, compulsions and rituals, psychotic-like symptoms, and eating disorders. In addition, individuals can experience headaches, amnesias, time loss, trances, and “out-of-body experiences.” Some people with Dissociative Disorders have a tendency toward self-persecution, self-sabotage, and even violence (both self-inflicted and outwardly directed).

Source: What Is a Dissociative Disorder? (From the Sidran Foundation)

Signs and Symptoms (from healthyplace.com)

While the official DID symptom list is short, the signs of DID are numerous. Dissociative behavior is divided into two categories: detachment and compartmentalization. Detachment is “a voluntary or involuntary feeling or emotion that accompanies a sense of separation from normal associations or environment” while compartmentalization isolation or splitting off of part of the personality or mind with lack of communication and consistency between the parts.”

People with DID often also suffer from borderline personality disorder characteristics, somatization disorder (physical symptoms without cause), major depression, posttraumatic stress disorder and suicide attempts.

The signs of dissociative identity disorder include a number of characteristics regarding the multiple personalities including:

  • Personalities are discrepant (disagreeing) and often opposite.
  • Each personality is well-ingrained with its own memories, behavioral patterns and social relationships that govern its behavior.
  • Transition from one personality to another is often sudden and brought on by stress.

Other signs of DID include:

  • Amnesia or blackouts (in the absence of substance use)
  • Being called by a strange name by someone who claims to know the person well
  • Finding oneself somewhere when no memory of getting there (absent substance use)
  • The person referring to him or herself as “we”
  • The person being told that they did certain things to don’t recall.
  • The person feeling they have been accused of lying when they truly believe they haven’t.
  • The person may find unfamiliar objects or samples of strange handwriting or drawing.
  • Sleepwalking and automatic writing (such as those in fugue states)
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Phobias; fear, often undifferentiated
  • Difficulty in parenting and responding to own children
  • Problems trusting others
  • Hostility and anger
  • A sense of betrayal
  • Problems with sexual adjustment
  • Increased levels of sexual behavior
  • Prostitution
  • Substance abuse