What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Most experts agree that dissociative identity disorder, sometimes shortened to “DID”, is one of the most unusual and dramatic personality disorders, posing lots of challenges and unanswered questions for both researchers and clinicians.
Formerly known as multiple personality disorder, this condition is characterized by the presence of two or more distinct identities or personalities.
Most often, people with dissociative identity disorder have a primary personality which can be passive, hesitant, depressed, and dependent. However, his or her alternative personalities may be at the opposite pole, displaying extraversion, openness, and charm.
Furthermore, alternative personalities may have different genders or ages and exhibit different preferences, interests, beliefs, behaviors, and feelings.
These personalities take over successively, changing the person’s entire attitude towards himself or herself, others, and the world. When one personality ‘takes the wheel,’ the rest remain on ‘standby.’
In other words, if a personality is on standby, it dissociates or detaches itself and does not know what happened while it was on standby. And that’s why people with this condition can struggle to recall significant portions of their everyday life.
The impact this condition has on our personal and professional life depends significantly on the number of existing personalities. But as you can probably imagine people who suffer from dissociative identity disorder face numerous challenges.
Signs of Dissociative Identity Disorder
Experts agree that even though this condition occurs during childhood, symptoms become obvious during adolescence and may worsen when the person reaches adulthood.
The main signs of dissociative identity disorder are:
- Presence of dreams and painful memories
- Lack of focus
- Seizures – especially in response to trauma or unpleasant memories
- Unexpected changes in clothing, activities, and preferences
- Feelings of detachment and dissociation
- Memory loss
- Lack of sleep
- Dizziness and confusion
- Lack of temporal and spatial awareness
- Pesence of two or more personalities which trigger behavioral and emotional changes that may be labeled as ‘bizarre’ or ‘baffling’ by others.
Aside from the symptoms mentioned above, one reliable indicator of dissociative identity disorder is dissociative amnesia. In other words, the person is unable to recall recent important or stressful events. Dissociative amnesia can result in anxiety and depressive symptoms.
How is Dissociative Identity Disorder Treated?
DID can be a severe mental illness that wreaks havoc into the lives of those who are dealing with it. Unfortunately, there are no treatments designed specifically for this condition.
However, mental health professionals can use a wide range of pharmacological and therapeutic approaches that can help people manage the unpleasant effects of this condition and enjoy a relatively stable life.
Although there are no drugs that target this condition, psychiatrists often prescribe antidepressants or anxiolytics to help with the anxiety and depressive episodes associated with dissociative identity disorder.
Psychotherapy is the most popular form of intervention for dissociative identity disorder. Depending on the severity of the symptoms and number of alternative personalities, people with this condition could stay in therapy for years before reaching the point where they can take full control over their life.
It’s important to remember that the primary goal of therapy isn’t to reduce all personalities to one but to teach the person to handle all personalities and make them work harmoniously toward the same personal and professional achievements.
And so the purpose of therapy is to help the client understand their condition, increase awareness, control emotions and impulses, cultivate stable interpersonal relationships, and manage stress.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.
If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.
And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.
Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:
- Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
- Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
- Encourage resilience and self-management
- Identify and change negative behaviors
- Identify and encourage positive behaviors
- Heal pain from past trauma
- Figure out goals and waypoints
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?
Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.
So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.
Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.