Dissociative identity disorder (DID) formerly called multiple personality disorder. People with DID develop one or more alternate personalities that function with or without the awareness of the person’s usual personality.
It is one of a group of conditions called dissociative disorders. Dissociative disorders are mental illnesses that involve disruptions or breakdowns of memory, consciousness or awareness, identity and/or perception — mental functions that normally work smoothly.
If one or more of these functions is disrupted, dissociative symptoms can result. These symptoms can be mild, but they can also be severe to the point where they interfere with a person’s general functioning, both in personal life and at work.
Three types of dissociative disorders:
- Dissociative identity disorder
- Dissociative amnesia
- depersonalization/derealization disorder
Symptoms for dissociative identity disorder (criteria for diagnosis) include:
- Ongoing gaps in memory about everyday events, personal information and/or past traumatic events
- Existence of two or more distinct identities (or “personality states”). The distinct identities are accompanied by changes in behavior, memory and thinking. The signs and symptoms may be observed by others or reported by the individual.
- The symptoms cause significant distress or problems in social, occupational or other areas of functioning.
The goals of treatment for dissociative disorders are to help the patient safely recall and process painful memories, develop coping skills, and, in the case of dissociative identity disorder, to integrate the different identities into one functional person.
It is important to note that there is no medication that deals directly with treating dissociation itself. Rather, medications are used to combat additional symptoms that commonly occur with dissociative disorders.
Different psychotherapies are used to treat dissociative episodes to decrease symptom frequency and improve coping strategies for the experience of dissociation. Some of the common therapies include;
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps change the negative thinking and behavior associated with depression. The goal of the therapy is to recognize negative thoughts and to teach coping strategies.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) focuses on teaching coping skills to combat destructive urges, regulate emotions and improve relationships while adding validation. Involving individual and group work, DBT encourages practicing mindfulness techniques such meditation, regulated breathing and self soothing.
- Eye movement desensitization and processing (EMDR) is designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. It combines the CBT techniques of re-learning thought patterns with visual stimulation exercises to access traumatic memories and replace the associated negative benefits with positive ones.
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