What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?

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Many people first became aware of dissociative identity disorder (DID) when the book Sybil was released and made into a movie starring Sally Field back in 1976. It dropped off the radar for a while after the real Sybil admitted to making up the story, but then a fictional multiple personality person appeared in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split in 2016. The film raised questions about the capabilities of alter personalities. What exactly are dissociative identity disorder and other dissociative disorders? They encompass much more than the common misperception of someone who has multiple personalities.

What are the Categories of Dissociative Disorders?

We can break down dissociative disorder into three categories. The first, and what people think of as dissociative identity disorder, or “split personality,” is when a person cycles between various personalities. YouTube features many videos of people living with multiple personality disorders, including a woman named Encina. As Encina says, individual personalities never age. Also, someone who suffers from DID can never lose or integrate one of the personalities into themselves. Despite this, many people learn to cope with the disorder and lead productive lives.

This particular form of dissociative disorder develops when someone is exposed to multiple, repeated traumas at an early age. In fact, DID often forms by age six. The extra personalities are specifically formed to help protect the original person or personality from the trauma they are experiencing. People do not form this disorder after age six and there is no cure. Even though the disorder is rare, affecting roughly 2% of the population that is diagnosed, that still translates to approximately 75 million people living with dissociative identity disorder.

What is Depersonalization Disorder?

If you are aware of events but there are times when you feel detached, as if you’re watching a movie or watching events occur to someone else, you may have depersonalization disorder. You may even feel like the things around you are not real, which is called derealization. They can both occur at the same time, as well. Depersonalization disorder can last anywhere from a few moments or can be re-occurring. Episodes usually begin before the age of 20.

What is Dissociative Amnesia?

People who suffer from dissociative amnesia forget important information about their identity and their history. An example of an extreme form of this would be the film Memento (2000), where the main character forgets the details of his identity and past every time he goes to sleep and wakes up for a new day. Once again, Hollywood loves to exaggerate, as these episodes can last as short as a few minutes or in rare cases, even years. Unlike other associated dissociative disorders, dissociative amnesia can start at any age and many people will experience multiple episodes throughout their life.

How Can You Tell If You Have DID?

There are some common characteristics of these disorders. Most notably, you may experience a loss of time or memory about events. This can be associated with dissociative identity disorder or dissociative amnesia. You could feel detached from your mind and your body to the point that you feel like your life is a movie and you’re only watching from the outside. You may not remember important details of your life such as your name or people in your life. You may even have an out-of-body experience similar to those who have died during some medical procedure or emergency and claim they have been outside their body looking down on resuscitation efforts.

If you have any of these symptoms, you may fall into one of three types of dissociative disorders as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

How is DID Diagnosed?

The first step to diagnosis is a physical examination by a medical doctor to rule out any kind of physical condition that may cause these symptoms. A head injury, tumor, brain lesions, etc., could be the cause of your memory loss and not a dissociative disorder. Any memory loss episodes should be tested for a relationship to a physical disorder and if a medical cause is ruled out, they can go to a mental health professional to assist with diagnosis.

A dissociative identity disorder may not present in such a clear-cut case as multiple personalities. Some people have a cultural belief in demonic possession, so DID may manifest according to those beliefs. Some people may believe in other spirits or even have animal personalities. Some may speak other languages. Still, others may present with unexplained seizures or sensory loss. It’s important to have a mental health professional sort out whether your symptoms could be part of this rare disorder.

How Do You Treat DID?

Dissociative disorders can be managed through psychotherapies, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). Some practitioners prefer to use eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) for some of their patients. Sometimes symptoms such as depression or anxiety are present, requiring additional medication or treatment.

Although Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is not a condition that can be cured, many people manage it successfully, live productive lives, and navigate personal relationships despite the extra challenges it entails on a daily basis. The extreme depictions portrayed in Hollywood films aren’t an accurate picture of the realities of DID. There is hope for people who suffer from dissociative disorders. Mental health disorders can often lead to substance abuse, which is why at Everlast Recovery Center, we treat many mental health issues as well as physical dependence on substances or alcohol. At our facility in Riverside, CA, we offer counseling as well as supplementary therapies such as art therapy and equine therapy. Our inpatient program has a small staff-to-patient ratio and we complete the homelike setting with home-cooked meals so you feel like a person, not a number. We can help you get your life back on track. Don’t continue to suffer alone. Call us today at (866) 338-6925.

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